Irish Times Innovation Awards: Six companies on the shortlist

From health innovators to manufacturing pioneers, here are some of the contenders

innovation
 

The Irish Times Innovation Awards will be held later this year. A record number of entries have been received, and some 15 companies across five sectors have been shortlisted for the awards, with the overall prize going to one of the category winners. This week we profile the six shortlisted companies across the life sciences and healthcare and manufacturing and design sectors. These companies will be given the opportunity to present to our panel of judges, who will then have the difficult choice of choosing a winner.

Life sciences and Healthcare

Myles Murray of PMD Solutions. Photograph: Clare Keogh
Myles Murray of PMD Solutions. Photograph: Clare Keogh

PMD Solutions

Cork-based PMD Solutions is the driving force behind RespiraSense a continuous, motion-tolerant respiratory monitoring device that can detect a change in a patient’s breathing before it becomes a problem. The non-invasive device (it’s a discreet patch worn on the side of the chest) transmits its data via Bluetooth. This means clinicians can follow patients’ respiratory rates remotely while extra peripheral sensors can be added for high-risk patients.

Founder Myles Murray first had the idea for RespiraSense when he saw the challenges A&E clinicians face in monitoring the breathing of seriously ill patients by physical observation.

“Respiratory rate has been shown to be the earliest and foremost indicator of a problem and I felt a solution was needed that combined human skill and smart technology,” Murray says.

RespiraSense has really come into its own during the pandemic as it allows for remote monitoring of Covid-19 patients without the need for additional PPE. “Our technology can make an immediate contribution to treating Covid-19 patients in a hands-off way, thereby reducing the risk to healthcare workers while also helping medics by highlighting which patients are most in need of escalated care,” Murray says. “It allows doctors to look at groups of people and quickly determine those likely to be at risk of serious deterioration, allowing them to use their limited resources better throughout the health system. Its remote delivery also maintains the integrity of isolation areas in hospitals.”

PMD had a turnover of €1.4 million last year, and its device is now in use in the majority of respiratory wards across acute hospitals in Ireland. It is also in the process of being evaluated by the HSE for use at home by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients who have been recently discharged from hospital. “We have begun pilots in the UK and are also working on a growth strategy that will bring RespiraSense international in 2022,” Murray says.

Aoife Ní Mhuirí, founder of Kerry-based digital therapy platform Salaso Health Solutions
Aoife Ní Mhuirí, founder of Kerry-based digital therapy platform Salaso Health Solutions

Salaso Health Solutions

Aoife Ní Mhuirí is the founder of Kerry-based digital therapy platform Salaso Health Solutions, which is on a mission to change how rehabilitative care is delivered worldwide to those recovering from injury, illness or disease.

Ní Mhuirí is a chartered physiotherapist and is passionate about the importance of physical activity and rehabilitative exercises to the recovery process. However, in order to be really effective, programmes need to be widely available and individually tailored – and there’s the rub. Scaling physiotherapy services is a tall order where resources are thinly spread. To address this need for scale Ní Mhuirí created the Salaso platform, which can be used by all healthcare professionals to provide cost-effective, clinically validated exercise programmes to their patients.

“Our innovation breaks with convention to bring a ‘formulary for exercise’ to all clinical providers, effectively enabling them to safely prescribe evidence-based exercise programmes for multiple conditions and diseases,” she says. “As things stand, only a small number of people can benefit from existing services provided by physiotherapists or exercise physiologists. We are the first company to take a global, holistic approach to exercise prescription across the care continuum, and our personalised self-management care plans are constructed based on complex algorithms that tailor the exercises to match the disease state, injury and functional status of the individual.”

Salaso’s vision is that an “exercise prescription” should form part of the standard of care for all patients, and since 2016 the company has been working with Northwell Health, a large integrated health system in New York with 23 hospitals and 830 outpatient clinics.

“We now have a significant footprint on the east coast and our customers include the Visiting Nurse Association Health Group – New Jersey’s largest provider of home health – and the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, which is the world’s leading academic medical centre focused on musculoskeletal health,” Ní Mhuirí says.

Smart Reactors chief executive Brian Haddigan
Smart Reactors chief executive Brian Haddigan

Smart Reactors

The widespread use of medical devices such as stents and valves is now commonplace in clinical settings. However, their use is not without potential complications. Devices interacting with human blood can cause unwanted inflammation and coagulation and produce a reaction similar to traumatic shock. For over 30 years, heparin has been the gold standard coating for these devices, but this has begun to change in favour of more biocompatible alternatives. One of the companies leading the charge in this respect is Galway-based Smart Reactors, which has developed a high-performing, cost-effective, heparin-free technology designed to reduce complications such as clot formation and equipment blockage.

“There is a significant demand for a coating technology to improve the clinical performance of blood-contacting devices and our technology addresses this need. It incorporates a physiological component present in blood and is therefore not recognised as a foreign body. In-vitro testing to date has demonstrated very encouraging data,” says company chief executive Brian Haddigan, who co-founded Smart Reactors with chief technology officer Mark Brassil in 2019. Both founders have backgrounds in medical devices with start-up and commercial experience.

The addressable market for the company’s launch product is around $1.5 billion and its target market is medical device manufacturers worldwide. The company has recently signed a licensing agreement with a leading-edge perfusion company in Europe to commercialise its technology, while the development of a portfolio of next-generation coating products is already under way.

“Our technology has been shown to be superior to both the heparin and heparin-free coatings currently on the market, but in addition we have focused on creating as much value by design as possible by producing a coating that is significantly less expensive to manufacture and can be easily scaled for growth,” Haddigan says. “Our technology has also demonstrated excellent haemocompatibility and speeds up progress on the regulatory pathway for medical device manufacturers.”

Manufacturing and Design

Brother and sister Niamh and Ruairi Dooley, co-founders of BiaSol
Brother and sister Niamh and Ruairi Dooley, co-founders of BiaSol

BiaSol

Brother and sister Niamh and Ruairi Dooley are the brains behind BiaSol, a 2020 start-up focused on repurposing leftover ingredients from food manufacturing to produce a range of healthy, sustainable, zero-waste new food products.

Traditional food manufacturing is linear. Ingredients go in at one end and come out as waste and a finished product at the other. BiaSol’s aim is to replace this with a circular cycle that allows it to take waste ingredients, such as spent grain from brewing, and turn it into a nutritious product for human consumption.

The company’s launch product, Super Milled Grains, is a high-fibre, high-protein topping made with leftover grain from four Irish craft breweries which has been dehydrated and milled. It can be used as a malty flavoured addition for soups, cereals and smoothies or to add a nutritional kick to baked goods.

The Dooleys are targeting both the retail and the food service industries with their products. The company’s light and dark malt BiaSol grains are aimed at chefs and bakers looking for a natural flavour enhancer.

“There are a number of consumer trends driving the demand for nutritious foods including a swing towards ‘clean label’ and a growing awareness of the connection between brain and gut health and the importance of adequate fibre,” Niamh says.

BiaSol’s aim is to produce food that is nutrient dense and tasty; with the explosion of craft brewing in Ireland, it is not short of raw material.

“Each craft beer is different. A dark beer will have a chocolatey taste whereas a light beer will have citrus notes. We blend them to get the best possible flavour profile and we are now looking at what we can do with waste grains from distilleries,” says Ruairi. The company is about to embark on a €500,000 fundraising round.

David McIntyre, designer of the Cubbie Sensory Hub
David McIntyre, designer of the Cubbie Sensory Hub

Cubbie Sensory Hub

A cubby-hole is typically a small place where precious things can be hidden or a child can go to play, and it is exactly this feeling of a snug, safe space that designer David McIntyre set out to create with the Cubbie Sensory Hub, which is aimed at children who struggle with sensory overload.

The Cubbie was inspired by McIntyre’s youngest daughter, who is on the autistic spectrum. It is a self-contained booth that can be put into schools, hospitals and other facilities and programmed with images, sounds and coloured lighting to suit the sensory profile of an individual child. Some children will go there to be quiet and relax, others will go there to be energised and stimulated.

The Cubbie is wheelchair and hoist accessible and the child can be there alone or with an appropriately trained adult. A glass panel allows for supervision if the child is on their own. They can sit on a beanbag or in a swinging seat and typically remain there for five to 15 minutes. Apart from comforting the child, the Cubbie also benefits the educational process as its therapeutic impact can help offset the estimated 20 per cent of teaching time lost to dealing with distressed children who experience classroom “meltdowns”.

“Sensory rooms are not new, but what makes Cubbie different is our unique cloud-based software which provides centralised oversight of the facility, makes it easy for users to schedule maximum use of the space and collects data which the overseeing occupational therapist [OT] can access remotely and use to make the experience more effective. Unlike other types of sensory rooms, Cubbie provides highly individualised support and does not require an OT to be present, which is another strong selling point,” McIntyre says.

The Cubbie is made in Ireland and all of its software was developed here. The company will have an estimated turnover of around €2 million in 2022.

Simon Chan, who co-founded SuperWheel System with Charlie Fegan in 2016
Simon Chan, who co-founded SuperWheel System with Charlie Fegan in 2016

SuperWheel System

With a strong wind in your face, making progress on a pushbike can be hard work. Sometimes a bit of extra momentum would be nice and that’s exactly what Cavan-based SuperWheel provides by harnessing human effort to provide more pedal power.

The SuperWheel system is based on a patented weight-to-energy conversion technology which “transforms the user’s weight to turning power during rotation and provides pedal assistance,” explains Simon Chan, who co-founded the company with Charlie Fegan in 2016.

“SuperWheel is the alternative to an electric bike, providing pedal assistance to make cycling easier, faster and more efficient but without a battery or the need for recharging. With SuperWheel there is no electricity consumption, no range limit, no toxic materials or pollution to produce the battery and therefore no electronic waste in future.

“We faced many technical and design challenges in developing the system,” adds Chan, whose dream of developing a bicycle that utilises human power began when he was just 14 years old. “Our first challenge was working out, when the hub and rim sections are separate components, how the energy can be transmitted between these two components. Inspired by the Oldham coupling, which was invented by the Irish engineer John Oldham, who died back in 1840, we were able to develop a transfer plate for the energy transmission.”

SuperWheel will sell its system through licensees and distributors and already has boots on the ground in Europe, North America and the Far East with local assembly plants in Ireland, France, Canada and Hong Kong. Initially, the founders thought their primary market would be private cyclists but, having become aware of the range problems faced by courier companies that use cargo bikes to do last-mile deliveries, they have switched their focus to the commercial market, with an online sales channel for individual buyers.