Big Ideas exhibition to showcase new technologies from Irish start-ups

Technologies include sepsis test and navigation system for disabled people

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A navigation system that helps people with intellectual disabilities get around, a more accurate test for sepsis and a breakthrough in sound separation are three of the new technologies on show at the Big Ideas exhibition at the Guinness Storehouse on September 5th.

Big Ideas is an annual Enterprise Ireland event for investor-ready start-ups from the Irish higher education sector. It gives participants the chance to pitch to potential investors and to mix with start-up and commercialisation experts who may be able to help them turn their ideas into viable businesses.

Big Ideas has been on the go for almost 10 years. In that time a number of its alumni have gone to notable start-up success. This includes UCD waste water treatment spinout Oxymem, in which Saudi Arabia’s national oil and gas company took a stake in 2017, and medical devices company Loci Orthopaedic, which recently raised €2.75 million to fund the commercialisation of a joint implant that could revolutionise the treatment of arthritis at the base of the thumb.

Hoping to attract the attention of investors this year are Robbie Fryers and Talita Holzer, co-founders of WaytoB, a smartphone- and smartwatch-based navigation solution that helps those with intellectual disabilities find their way around independently.

“WaytoB users follow intuitive, icon-based instructions on their smartwatch or phone to reach their destination safely,” Robbie Fryers explains. “The instructions are calculated based on the user’s real-time location and orientation and a user is alerted via a vibration when they need to check for a new instruction. Apart from helping people find their way, WaytoB’s solution improves the user’s independence and the ease with which they can stay socially connected.”

A user’s “connected partner” (such as a parent) uses the system to plot a safe route to the required destination for the person in their care. All key points, such as when to turn or cross, are marked with easily recognisable signs. The connected partner can track the user’s location as well as their heart rate and battery life in real time and will be alerted if the user deviates, stops for too long or starts feeling anxious. The user can also reach an emergency contact through a panic button on their watch or phone.

Fryers and Holzer met while studying engineering with management at Trinity College and started working on WaytoB in 2014 as part of an Innovation in Product Development module. “We chose the challenge of helping people with intellectual disabilities to integrate more into society,” Fryers says. “After speaking with more than 100 stakeholders one problem kept cropping up: lack of independence because people were unable to navigate on their own. After nine months we had a prototype and the positive feedback, combined with seeing the problems on the ground, both shocked and inspired us to continue.

“The potential addressable market for our technology is sizeable. Approximately 200 million people globally have an intellectual disability and 60 per cent are dependent on others for transportation. Existing products lack functionality, take a lot of time to set up and users struggle to follow them.”

It has cost in the order of €400,000 to develop WaytoB with €100,000 coming from Trinity College and the rest from Enterprise Ireland through a commercialisation grant. The company’s product is due to be launched at the end of 2019 and it has funding in place until then. Initially, the model will be B2B with the system licensed to disability support service providers for a subscription fee. In due course other applications for the technology will be considered, including dementia and impaired cognition.

Sound separation

If Cork-based AudioSourceRE’s dreams come true at Big Ideas it will land an investor who can see the potential of its sound separation technology and is willing to back it to the tune of €950,000. Music studios, video and film post production suites, broadcasters, DJs and amateur music enthusiasts are all potential buyers of the company’s technology which saves time and money while offering new ways of recording and remixing tracks.

AudioSourceRE’s roots are in CIT Cork and specifically in its School of Music, where music technology expert Derry Fitzgerald has been working on sound source separation for the last 18 years.

“AudioSourceRE is the culmination of Derry’s work and the company’s powerful technology can isolate, separate and extract any instrument or sound in a locked music or audio track. It is revolutionary and has already been called ‘the Photoshop for music and sound’ by some of our beta testers,” says the company’s chief executive, John O’Connell who estimates the market for the company’s technology at about $4.5 billion.

O’Connell has a background in developing and scaling digital brands and was introduced to Fitzgerald by Enterprise Ireland. Over the last 18 months he has been working closely with Fitzgerald (the company’s chief technical officer) to turn the technology into a scalable, commercial product with global reach. The company has three products in beta testing with high-profile recording studios including Abbey Road in London, Native Instruments in Germany and Windmill Lane and RTÉ in Dublin. The products will be officially launched at the AES (Audio Engineering Society) show in New York later this year.

“Our technology is the holy grail for the pro-audio industry and we have an immediately addressable market of $1.6 billion. Ultimately, however, we believe the real scalability lies in apps and low-cost software products for the Generation Z market,” O’Connell says.

New test for sepsis

Sepsis is a serious bloodstream infection that is notoriously difficult and expensive to treat. “Last year alone approximately 30 million people were diagnosed worldwide with sepsis and eight million died,” says Kellie Adamson, co-founder of SepTec, which will be showcasing its solution to this worldwide problem at Big Ideas.

“Sepsis-related healthcare costs cost the EU €7 billion and the US $24 billion last year and there is a clear, global unmet need for more rapid sepsis diagnosis,” Adamson adds. “Broad-spectrum antibiotics have a 30 per cent failure rate and only approximately 10 per cent of samples sent off for sepsis diagnosis are diagnosed as such. The current gold-standard blood-culture system presents 10-15 per cent false positive results and sensitivity is as low as 65 per cent. Our patent-pending solution is a rapid screening platform that can definitively identify sepsis-causing bacteria directly in approximately 15 minutes instead of days. We are in the middle of validation trials and so far have had no false positives and our sensitivity rate is higher than 90 per cent.”

SepTec is based at National Centre for Sensor Research at Dublin City University and Adamson has two co-founders, Prof Robert Forster, the centre’s director who has a long track record in industrial research collaborations, and Elaine Spain, an electrochemical sensor technology expert. Adamson’s background is in diagnostics and therapeutics.

SepTec is an in-vitro diagnostic test and Adamson says it will require “significant funding” to get it to market. To date the company has raised in the order of €1 million, which includes €600,000 in commercialisation funding from Enterprise Ireland. It is now looking for €2.5 million to bring the product through regulation and certification with a view to launch in 2020. The company is currently collaborating with St James’s and Beaumont hospitals on clinical-proof-of-concept studies.

National health services in Ireland, the UK, France, Germany and Spain are SepTec’s initial target markets and Adamson says ICUs and the consultants that run them are the first port of call. “Time is critical in an ICU setting and if we can demonstrate the efficacy of our system to the consultants they are going to want to have it used,” she says. “We are actively searching for a CEO at the moment and in the meantime we are establishing an advisory board to get the necessary strategic and commercial expertise.”

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