Ingenuity on display: Profiles of the finalists in The Irish Times Innovation Awards 2023

Three finalists feature in each of the five categories of the awards, with winners announced on November 15th

Judges for The Irish Times Innovation awards 2023 were (left to right): Eoin McDonnell, Ciara O’Reilly, Chris Horn, Grainne Mullins, Peter Clifford, Conor O’Boyle, Sarah Cloonan, Sarah Healy, Patrick Gibbons, and Conor Buckley. Photograph: Conor McCabe

This year’s Irish Times Innovation awards are in full swing, with the 15 finalists undergoing the final stages of the judging process, before the winners are announced on November 15th.

The finalists are across the five categories: sustainability (sponsored by Skillnet Ireland); IT and Fintech (sponsored by Mason Hayes & Curran); life sciences and healthcare (sponsored by Science Foundation Ireland); new frontiers (sponsored by UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School); and first-time founder.

Over the years, finalists have varied from college spin-outs and kitchen table start-ups through to major corporates, charities and sporting/cultural organisations. The common thread through them all is that they have delivered positive change with an innovative product or process.

There was a very impressive quality and diversity of entries to this year’s awards, according to the judges who gave up significant time to take part in the process. Though it can be a long and arduous task going through the entries and the finalist presentations, all the judges highly commended the innovative ideas and efforts pitched by applicants this year.


Once again, the competition – which unlike many others is free to enter and doesn’t involve finalists buying tickets to the awards ceremony - attracted entries from a wide array of college students, small enterprises and multinationals.

Judging of The Irish Times Innovation awards takes place over two phases. Firstly, after application the entries are inspected, an initial judging round is held, with significant involvement from our awards partners. This year the first-round judging panel comprised: Sarah Cloonan and Rowena Fitgerald of Mason Hayes and Curran; Peter Clifford and Stephen O’Driscoll of Science Foundation Ireland; Eoin McDonnell of Skillnet; Luca Pistilli and Giuliano Sansone of UCD; and Michael McAleer of The Irish Times.

After the 15 finalists were selected, they then pitched their innovations to a final-round judging panel in The Irish Times Building last month.

Final round judges

The final round of judging was chaired by entrepreneur, investor and Irish Times columnist Chris Horn. He was joined by:

Ciara O’Reilly, head of product, propositions, and customer value management at Three Ireland. Ciara leads a team of product professionals who build solutions for customers from functional, commercial, and resourcing perspectives. The solutions range from mobile, fixed and cloud communications products for sole traders to large business customers as required.

Prof Patrick Gibbons is a professor of Corporate Planning at the School of Business in University College Dublin. His current research interests revolve around control practices of MNCs, the impact of strategic planning systems on organisational behaviour and performance, and the application of social theory to strategic process research.

Sarah Cloonan is a Partner in the Mason Hayes & Curran Financial Regulatory team. Sarah advises a wide range of clients on all licensing and regulatory issues. Sarah’s clients include credit institutions, insurance undertakings, virtual asset service providers, electronic money institutions, payment institutions, investment firms and those looking to operate in Ireland for the first time.

Sarah Healy is founder of Tools for Better, which offers Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging solutions to any business seeking to better their DEI&B outlook. It delivers DEI&B strategies, people policy development, organisational change, leadership and team workshops, train the trainer sessions, interview panel representation, general guidance and insights. Sarah’s previous roles included global head of strategic initiatives at Meta and prior to that management roles at Accenture and Paddy Power Betfair.

Conor Buckley is founder and CEO of the fashion and lifestyle brand Human Collective, which designs sustainable Irish Urban Leisure clothing that features an equal “=” symbol on every item to signify your support for racial, LGBTQI+ and opportunity equality. With a background in sales and marketing but with activism in his blood, Conor began devising a plan for what would eventually become Human Collective after seeing American Diversity Educator Jane Elliot wearing a slogan sweater that read “There is only one race, the human race”.

Self-taught chef Gráinne Mullins was already an award-winning pastry chef when she launched Grá Chocolates from her parents’ shed in her hometown of Kilchreest in 2020. The chocolate business, which features local Irish ingredients and hand-painted designs, has since won her multiple awards and stockists including Brown Thomas and members of the Leading Hotels of the World group.

Eoin McDonnell is head of Strategic Programmes at Skillnet Ireland. He is a digital Learning professional with significant & diverse experience across both public and commercial organisations. Eoin is passionate about the opportunities for positive change offered by emerging technologies.

Dr Peter Clifford is Head of Strategy at Science Foundation Ireland. Peter leads on Science Foundation Ireland’s organisational strategy, including development, implementation, and progress monitoring. Recognised as a thought leader on research and innovation policy, Peter influences and innovates to bring best practice to SFI.

Conor O’Boyle is the co-founder & Director at Drive Inc., an automotive technology group of companies that incorporates Sweep, TradeBid and Nevo. After spending a number of years in the investment industry, Conor’s role as co-founder now encompasses the financial and operational aspects of the group, as well as legal, HR and strategy alongside his co-founder Shane Ennis. Conor is a past category winner at The Irish Times Innovation Awards.

Along with the prestige of winning, the overall winner will receive a UCD Smurfit Executive Development scholarship for three from a selection of their Executive Development short courses commencing in 2023/2024 Academic Year. The winner will also receive a complimentary annual premium digital subscription to The Irish Times.

Each category winner will receive access to one place on a course from the Communication Suite from Irish Times Training in 2024. They will also receive a complimentary annual premium digital subscription to The Irish Times.

Olive Keogh

Olive Keogh

Olive Keogh is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in business