Information technology security start-up takes top award
PicoPUF wins Invent Award in the North that pitches hi-tech geniuses against each other
PicoPUF was founded in 2013 by three researchers from Queen’s University (above). Photograph: Alan Betson
The Belfast spin-out from Queen’s University’s Centre for Secure Information Technologies is the Northern Ireland start-up with the “most global commercial potential”.
PicoPUF has just won the 2015 Invent Award in the North, an annual, highly coveted talent competition that pitches the best local hi-tech geniuses against each other to win hard cash and a chance to tell investors and partners in California about their dreams.
The awards, organised by NISP Connect, the Northern Ireland Science Park’s non-profit established to promote innovation, have a track record of helping past winners catch the eye of impressive investors.
Last year’s winner Plotbox, the Co Antrim-based husband- and-wife team who came up with innovative cemetery and crematorium software, caught the eye of 500 Startups, the Silicon Valley venture capital seed fund and accelerator founded by former PayPal and Google employees.
This year’s winner PicoPUF was founded in 2013 by three Queen’s researchers – Neil Hanley, Maire O’Neill, and ChongyanGu. They developed a tiny device that guarantees that even the cheapest microchip can be equipped with strong, unique authentication.
“There is a perfect storm happening in IT security right now,” Hanley says. “The huge number of devices on the market, combined with the low-cost nature of these devices, makes it impossible to use heavily computationally resourced security solutions. Lightweight security will be a gamechanger and we are set to capitalise on that.”
The Belfast start-up is in the process of raising £250,000 (€337,000) to finance its next stage plans and Hanley hopes the Invent award, as well as the prize fund of £13,000, will help speed up the process.
It has already applied to patent its inventions and hopes to bring its first product to market by early 2016. According to Steve Orr, director of NISP Connect: “This year we have seen some incredible new inventions entered and it’s really encouraging to see the strength of our start-up scene accelerating here in Northern Ireland.”
The competition, which is sponsored by Bank of Ireland, attracted more than 82 entries in six categories, which were whittled to just 12 finalists.
The judging panel of the 2015 competition, which included Michael O’Hara, a former senior Microsoft and Nortel executive and currently chief marketing officer of Boston-based GSMA, chose six category winners, including PicoPUF, which came out top in both the electronics category and the overall award.
But the passion and enthusiasm displayed by all the short-listed start-ups and in this year’s awards could eventually make them all winners in the long run.