How companies have moved on from innovation finalists to business success

Since competing for the award, businesses have entered markets in Europe, Asia-Pacific and North America

Gabriel Scientific

Gabriel Scientific took the 2012 overall Innovation Award for its Sleep Angel pillow which significantly reduces exposure to allergens as well as lowering the risk of patients contracting hospital-acquired infections, such as MRSA, from lying on contaminated bedding. The Sleep Angel pillow uses a membrane that is normally used as a filter in heart stents to keep out bacteria and is sealed by melting the edges together rather than sewn.

Conventional sewn seams on pillows allow air and liquid borne bacteria to get in and can harbour infections and cause allergic reactions. The problem with a pillow is that it has to be capable of breathing in and out if it is to be comfortable and serve its purpose. Simply sealing it to prevent bacteria and allergens getting in is therefore not the solution.

Gabriel solved this problem by using a highly specialised micro-porous membrane laminate normally used as a purifying filter in heart stents. This enabled the production of a hermetically sealed pillow that is a highly effective barrier to bug and bacteria yet breathable and comfortable.

Since winning the award, the company has successfully entered markets in Europe, Asia-Pacific and North America and continues to grow strongly. "We have entered the important Arab market and are continuing to grow sales with the UK NHS, " says marketing director Conor Stapleton. "The NHS has recognised the effectiveness of the product in infection control and this has been very important in driving increased sales."

Ammado

Ammado reached the 2011 Innovation Awards final with its unique charitable donation software platform. The solution allows users to donate to charities or other not-for-profit organisations at the touch of a button or the click of the mouse in their own currency. It is now in use by more than 1.6 million charities and non-profit organisations in more than 140 countries around the world and is capable of handling 84 currencies.

The Ammado platform takes the complexity out of the donation. Companies and individuals wanting to raise funds internationally traditionally gave their potential donors complex instructions to facilitate donations depending on currency, payment method, tax jurisdiction, and so on. However, the Ammado platform makes all of this possible through a single configurable widget on a website.

"If a company like Allianz wishes to fundraise from its staff for an emergency like Haiti, it can use our widget in conjunction with an organisation like the International Red Cross," says founder and chief executive Peter Conlon. "Its 157,000 staff around the world see the appeal in their own language, click on the widget to donate in their local currency and make the donation to their local Red Cross organisation to facilitate tax relief and so on."

The company is now headquartered in Switzerland with development operations in Dublin, Serbia and the Czech Republic. Its business model sees it charge a standard transaction fee of 5 per cent of each donation with no fees for charities to use the service.

New services are continually under development, according to Conlon. “We will shortly introduce the world’s first global online gift card which will allow recipients to donate to the charities of their choice or to choose from a list decided on by the person or organisation who gave them the card.”

Clubs to Hire

An increasingly familiar feature of airports in holiday destinations around Europe is the Clubs to Hire outlet where golfers can pick up rental clubs for as little as €35 a week and avoid the hassle and expense of bringing their own clubs with them. The 2013 Innovation Awards finalist rented out more than 50,000 sets of clubs last year and on current trends is set to exceed 70,000 this year.

The idea for the service came to chief executive Tony Judge back in 2010 when he and a friend went for a break in Portugal and noticed lots of people going through the airport with golf clubs. "We got to talking about the cost and hassle of that and I went off and did some research with airports and, on the basis of what I learned, we decided there was potential to start a clubs hire business," says Judge. "The statistics in relation to golf tourism which Faro Airport gave us were impressive and we agreed a deal with them to set up our first outlet there. We are now have 22 outlets in Europe and north Africa."

Price is certainly an important selling point. "If you look at our UK customers, they have to pay £100 sterling to bring their clubs on holiday with them with Ryanair, " he adds. "That's €140 and they can rent from us for a quarter of that.

“In the early days, price was the key factor with customers but now it’s more the convenience factor. Our customers can come to us and have the latest clubs waiting for them at the airport when they arrive. They can also use us to try out the latest equipment before buying it.”

The company is about to start up a new line of business selling used sets of clubs. “It’s like setting up a brand new business,” Judge explains. “We hope to locate a warehouse and start hiring soon with the business up and running by the summer.”

BFree

BFree Foods

made the final in 2014 and is back again this year with world’s first allergen-free fajita kit. The idea for the new product came out of discussions with the

Coeliac Society of Ireland

, according to BFree junior brand manager

Freya Ivory

.

“They told us that there weren’t really any meal options that the whole family could enjoy while not alienating the allergy sufferer. They usually have to make one meal for the non-allergy suffering members of the family and another meal for the one or two allergy sufferers. That was what prompted us to look at the idea of a meal kit.”

The challenge was to create a new product that was first to market, allergen-free but also had taste qualities that would appeal to a wider audience. “We saw that Mexican food was a hot new food trend and decided to develop the BFree Fajita Kit,” Ivory says.

The new product, which is based on the highly successful allergen-free BFree multigrain wrap, provides a meal for a family of six at just 127 calories a serving. It was an instant success with BFree's existing customers, including all the multiples in Ireland as well as Asda in the UK. It has also led to a breakthrough with Tesco UK.

“Tesco UK saw the real innovation and the value that it would bring their consumers. The kit is now available in more than 1,400 Tesco Express stores throughout the UK and sales from those stores alone have boosted our turnover by €3.7 million.”

Sonru

Sonru actually became part of the 2014 awards process having made the final the previous year. The company’s online video platform was offered to entrants as a means of supplementing their applications. The company’s secure, low-cost, remote online interviewing service offers a faster recruitment process at a significantly lower cost.

"It provides a smart, convenient, and economical tool for remotely interviewing people online," says founder and chief executive Edward Hendrick, who chose the name Sonru from the Irish phrase "bí le sonrú", meaning "to stand out".

The company secured a new round of investment arranged by Saphir Capital Partners last September and is using this to fund ongoing growth. "We've beefed up the teams in the UK, Australia, and Singapore and we now have sales administrators and support staff here in the Wexford office working in shifts to accommodate the different time zones," Hendrick says.

“We have specific regional sales teams for Austria, Germany, Nordics, Benelux and so on working out of our new HQ in Wexford town. We now run our development team out of Dublin’s Digital Hub because that’s where you find the technical talent. We’ve the best of both worlds and the team in Dublin is getting bigger every day.”

Sonru’s first user conference, StandOut, takes place in London on April 22nd. “We are setting up a global user group where they can engage in an active community assist each other with best practice”, Hendrick adds. “We will have global industry leaders there advising other users on how to best implement the change of introducing video interviewing into their recruitment process.

“There is a lot of competition out there, which is fine as it demonstrates there is a market for asynchronous video interviewing. Fortunately, we’re one of the market leaders. We maintain a competitive edge by consistently and constantly reinvesting in product design, user experience and best in class technology.”

Climote

Climote is a device which connects via an inbuilt SIM to allow remote control of all home heating. The device can be controlled manually or remotely via a free smartphone app and makes control of central heating timers simple and easy.

"It is a fairly simple concept and it arose out of the Smarthomes Group some years ago," says chief executive Eamon Conway. "When the Smarthomes team were out installing home entertainment systems and so on, they'd often be asked to help out with programming central heating timers – and then they'd get a call a few weeks later asking them to help again. Existing controls and timer systems can be difficult and confusing to use and that's what brought about the idea for Climote."

Conway is a former chief executive of the Honeywell Group and he joined Climote in 2010 when the product was at beta stage.

"We launched the product in 2012 and started selling in earnest in 2013 when we made it to the Innovation Awards finals. It has been an interesting and exciting journey. We now have 15 staff – we had six when we started – and we have formed partnerships with Airtricity and Electric Ireland in the Irish market and Power NI in Northern Ireland. We also won an international tender last year to become Scottish Power's connected homes strategic partner."

The company recently completed a retro-fit of the devices in 2,000 Louth County Council homes in a project supported by the SEAI and ESB. “Louth County Council wanted to help its tenants control their heating systems better,” Conway says.

For the immediate future, the company’s main growth path will be through partnerships such as these. “There are 28 million homes suitable for Climote in the UK and Ireland and the best way to address these is through energy providers. They are using the product as a customer engagement tool. They can offer to install it as an incentive for a customer to switch provider, for example.”

Mash Direct

Co Down-based family-owned farming and food-production business Mash Direct has been manufacturing a range of quick-serve, convenient mashed root vegetable, potato and other quality vegetable meal accompaniments which offer the taste and texture of homemade food since its foundation in 2004.

In 2011, the firm decided to move into the food-to-go market with a new range of Mash Pot, healthy, tasty individual meals which can be heated in a microwave in a few minutes. Three meals were created, bangers and mash, creamy bubble and squeak and mashed potato, carrot and parsnip with bacon.

Consumer reaction has been positive and the challenge facing the company has been availability. "That is the issue," says Mash Direct director Tracy Hamilton. "Lots of people have told us that they love the products but can't find them. The difficulty is finding the right positioning for them on the supermarket shelves. We are doing a lot of work on this at the moment."

Overall business is healthy with strong growth in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain and a major new contract with Asda in the UK won late last year. Another recent significant milestone for the company was achieving full gluten-free status with the Coeliac Society of Ireland.

“The entire company is gluten-free now and that’s very important to a lot of our customers,” Hamilton says. “We have had some excellent feedback with people writing to us to tell us that they are able to enjoy croquettes again for the first time in many years. We now have 40 products in the range and we are constantly developing new ones.”

Read More

Recommended