Why you should enter The Irish Times Innovation Awards

Tips on getting your entry through to the final round and to the top of the pile for 2019

From life-saving drugs and med-tech devices to trout caviar and easy-cook vegetables, from flat-pack air-conditioning ducts to high-tech chips for satellites, the roll call of past winners of The Irish Times Innovation Awards is wide and varied.

It’s the breadth of innovation that makes the awards so appealing to those involved. As a judge it’s inspiring to witness first-hand Ireland’s innovative and entrepreneurial spirit.

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.

“Winning the Irish Times Innovation Award was very important to Sigmoid Pharma,” he says. “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.”

Entering awards is worthwhile for a number of reasons, and not just for the potential accolades. The process itself helps people to hone their ideas and their message. Through the judging process innovators can also garner advice and feedback that may allow them to redirect their innovation to more lucrative routes or prioritise a particular application for their innovation.

At the first phase there is the discipline of explaining the innovation in clear and simple language, much like what would be required when pitching for funding either internally in a business or from a bank or financial backer.

Making it through to the next round means honing that message for a presentation, and again being able to pitch the innovation against high-end alternatives. This is done to a high-level judging panel comprised of people who have done just that: taken an idea to market, won support and turned it all into market success.

These final-round judges, chaired by our columnist and long-time investor in innovative ideas Chris Horn, spend their days hearing pitches from those seeking backing for their ideas.

Horn has a few tips for those making their pitches in the final rounds.

“Personally I found those entrants who limited themselves to just a single presenter rather than having several people present were more effective. Having three or more speakers squashed into such a short time slot can be a challenge.

“The national – and international – recognition attached to winning is invaluable, not least in the subsequent profiling gained through features in this media outlet.”

Who should enter

Applications are welcome from both public and private sectors across any one of the five categories. 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.

New frontiers

Covering any innovations that do not fall into any of the above categories.

Tips to make your idea stand out

First and foremost, I guess the best advice is to be as clear as possible. Getting your idea across is going to be vital for the success of any innovation. You need to be able to explain it to a general audience.

Successful innovation is not just about coming up with great ideas. It is the ability to take those great ideas and ensure they add significant value to all users and can be applied to create tangible organisational and business impact.

Category selection

It may be the case that your innovation spans a couple of categories. If so our advice is to select the category with the best fit for your innovation. During the judging phases if the judges feel that you would be better suited in another category they will move your application and you will be notified of this change.


Make sure your application is easy to read by trying to avoid industry jargon Remember not all readers of the application will be as familiar with industry language as you are. Avoid the use of acronyms without first explaining what they stand for. You must attempt to keep the reader interested throughout the whole of the reading.

Remember the objective

Some applications in the awards process can lose valuable marks because they don’t fully and clearly explain their innovation. This is your “shop window” so make the most of it. Your objective is to clearly detail your innovation, and highlight what is unique about it. If it is an improvement on a current system or process, explain what makes it different.

Keep it to an appropriate length

With several hundred applications to read through, it is important that you keep your application form concise and to the point. Make sure that the whole application is less than 10 pages. As a guide, answers to each question should be no longer than a maximum of 200-500 words.


Ensure that what you say in the application is correct, including any claims about patents or projected sales/deals. Use your prior trading experience, provide external data and research results to back up what you say. If you anticipate that you will achieve 5 per cent of the global market then you need to explain how. That is what the judges reading the applications want to know.

Leave enough time to prepare it properly

Don’t rush the job. If it is prepared in a hurry it will look like it has been. Ask someone else to read it – it’s amazing what a second pair of non-industry eyes will do. Often promoters will look at the first draft of their application form after a year or so and be amazed at how amateurish it appears. Your first attempt will probably be the same. Don’t be put off; everything can be improved with a bit of work.

What the judges are looking for

Having worked my way through over 1,000 applications for these awards over the years, the overriding advice I have is to aim for clarity. While it is always useful to support your claims with external comments and recommendations, the primary goal is to explain your idea as clearly and precisely as possible. The application should also focus on what makes your idea so innovative, and why it is better than anything else on the market at present. Remember, these are the Innovation Awards.

As judges we look forward to going through the applications, and in many cases while you might not make it through to the next round you will make it on to our list of companies of interest that we follow up for features and profiles in the months to come.

Entry registration is at https://www.irishtimes.com/business/innovation/innovation-awards/2019/registration

Best of luck.

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