An anti-microbial coating that kills more than 99 per cent of harmful bacteria and superbugs; an ingenious and cost-efficient manufacturing and assembly system for air conditioning ducting; an energy-efficient wastewater treatment technology; a hypoallergenic pillow; and a blockchain-based solution to ensure aid donations get to their intended recipients. These are just some of the winning inventions which have taken the top honour at the Irish Times Innovation Awards over the past decade.
Now in its 10th year, the awards celebrate innovation in sectors including food and agribusiness, IT and communications, manufacturing, life sciences, energy and sustainability, and emerging areas such as fintech.
Finalists over the years have included Moocall, an alert system that notifies a farmer approximately one hour before a cow calves; Wholeworldband, a recording studio in the cloud that allows music makers around the world collaborate from the comfort of their homes; Parcel Motel, for its solution to the headaches created by people not being home to receive deliveries; BeFree, a range of gluten-free meals; and REDT, for its distributed battery storage solution to support increased usage of intermittent renewable energy sources.
The first overall winner in 2010 was Sigmoid Pharma for its development of two technologies, LEDDS and SmPill, which can enhance drug solubility and permeability while also permitting targeted drug delivery. The technologies enable the development of innovative products to treat conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
The company, now known as Sublimity, closed a $64 million funding round last year and is considering a public flotation in the near future. Meanwhile, founder Ivan Coulter has moved on to become chief executive of Atxa Therapeutics, a University College Dublin spinout drug company that has identified a range of molecules that could tackle a number of conditions including pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH).
“Sigmoid Pharma has gone past the innovation phase and is moving towards registration and approval for its products,” says Coulter. “I led the company through the innovation and financing stages, and I have now transitioned out to do the same again with Atxa.”
“Winning the Irish Times Innovation Award was very important to Sigmoid Pharma,” he adds. “The only thing worse than people talking about you is when they are not talking about you. The profile we achieved as a result of the award was very significant for the company and opened a lot of doors for us. It’s very important to shine a light on new innovations and start-ups and get their story out there. You can’t really pay for the profile you get from competitions like the Irish Times Innovation Awards – they allow you showcase what you have and what you can do.”
The 2018 winner, Aid:Tech, developed a secure means to deliver aid and other benefits to people around the world who might have no bank account or legal identity in the form of a social security number. The Aid:Tech platform allows for the creation of a secure identity for an aid or welfare recipient which is stored on a blockchain ledger and can’t subsequently be altered or erased. Aid in the form of vouchers or cash can be sent via the platform completely securely with an unalterable record of receipt, thus helping address corruption and improve efficiency.
"Winning the Irish Times Innovation award gave us a great boost," says chief operating officer Niall Dennehy. "We had just launched our TraceDonate product to enable people to track their donations, and the publicity we got from The Irish Times really helped. In fact, we were at a European Commission event a few months ago and they used an image of one of our ads in The Irish Times when they said Aid:Tech was the best example of a consumer blockchain application in the EU to date."
The company is currently working with the Irish Red Cross on a TB vaccination campaign in India. "We have created a digital twin of the TB kit and donors will get an email alert to let them know when the kit they have paid for reaches the individual it was destined for in India," says Dennehy. "We are also working with the UN and a number of other international organisations and we are about to start work with a US government disaster relief agency."
Parkpnp, which describes itself as the Airbnb of parking, won the innovation award in the sustainability category in 2018. Parkpnp users can rent out car-parking spaces by the hour, day, week or month, and cash in on hitherto underutilised assets. The company has now expanded into the Belgian and Dutch markets, while it is looking to conduct its first trial in the United States shortly.
Since winning the award, the company has been expanding the corporate side of the business. "Business has been great," says chief executive Garret Flower. "We closed out deals with a number of large clients such as Colliers International. We are optimising companies' car-parking space by as much as 24 per cent."
The Parkpnp phone app allows employees to see if there is space available before spending time getting frustrated making circuits of a full car park in the vain hope of finding a space. “There might be two policies in place,” explains Flower. “One has designated spaces for certain employees and the other offers spaces on a first come, first served basis. Everyone arrives to work at the same time and the result can be chaos. Using our app they can see which spaces are booked and know in advance whether they should even bother driving into the car park. Space usage is maximised and we reduce frustration as well.”
Innopharma Labs took the 2018 manufacturing and design award for its work on modified-release drugs, specifically the development of a system which enables the uniform application of coatings to the active ingredients contained within a tablet or capsule. The technology will play a key role in the development of advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing processes known as Pharma 4.0.
"There are a couple of pillars to Pharma 4.0," explains director of technical operations Sean Costello. "Accelerated product and process is one and the other is utilising big data and data analytics to allow for predictive manufacturing as opposed to reactive manufacturing. It's all about sensors collecting data and fusing that with data from other sources in the data lake to enable the use of predictive analytics to accelerate product and process development and our smart coating technology is very much part of that."
The 2016 overall winner, Arralis, addressed space of a very different kind. Its advanced 94GHz frequency band chipset can significantly improve the performance of aerospace and satellite guidance systems. Other overall winners include Trustwater for its cleaning system used by bottling plants that dramatically reduces energy and water usage, and Intune Networks which created a novel technology to handle ever-increasing volumes of internet traffic.
To learn more about the 2019 Irish Times Innovation Awards go to irishtimes.com/innovationawards
How to apply
Applications are welcome from both public and private sectors, across any one of the five categories listed below.
If your innovation spans several categories, choose the category which best describes your innovation. If the judges feel your application fits best in a different category, they will move you to this category and notify you of the change.
Covering innovations in economic, environmental and social sustainability
IT & Fintech
Covering innovations in hardware, software, security, telecommunications products and services, including the growth in technology in the financial services sector
Life sciences & Healthcare
Covering innovations in biology, biochemistry, microbiology, physiology, botany, zoology, and related medtech sectors.
Manufacturing & Design
Covering innovations in engineering, design and the production of industrial and consumer products
Covering any innovations that do not fall into any of the above categories
The closing date for entries is Friday, June 28th at 5pm. After various judging rounds, the finalists will gather for the awards ceremony at the RDS on Tuesday, November 5th, where the category winners and overall Irish Times Innovation of the Year will be announced.