Creative talents on display

The finalists in the creative industries category of The Irish Times InterTradeIreland Innovation awards profiled

FBPS Holdings
A new system developed by Prof Faris Ali at the University of Ulster in Newtownabbey offers enhanced protection for personnel and buildings against fires and blasts.

The Fire-Blast Protection System (FBPS) is the first dual-function system in the world of its kind and is designed for use in industrial and military premises, civil buildings, tunnels and other vulnerable structures.

The system involves a unique method for the manufacture of novel concrete panels utilising ultra-high performance fibre-reinforced concrete which gives the FBPS steel-like qualities that provide a superior thickness to blast-resistance ratio compared to existing concrete panels. The resulting reduction of the panel thickness reduces both weight and overall cost.

“We developed the system after a very long programme of research lasting 14 years,” says Ali. “We looked at how concrete behaves under blast conditions, but most blasts result in fires so we looked at it under blast and fire conditions. The FBPS offers increased protection at a much lower cost than other products designed to the same thing – it is up to 80 or 90 per cent cheaper.”


Robust networks
The global market for the FBPS is vast with the main market being seen as military. The system can be used to erect on-field administrative facilities, ammunition storage facilities and bunkers. According to Ali, the total market for military, civil, insurance and industrial security and fire protection exceeds $2 trillion a year and is projected to grow to $4 trillion by 2022.

The nature of the FBPS product means that it cannot be distributed or sold through traditional shops or retailers. “It requires reliable and robust networks and channels in the defence, industrial, civil, insurance, and construction sectors”, Ali points out.

“Therefore the optimum option is to license the product to a leading player in the market and use established networks to sell and distribute the product.”

The invention has already attracted investment from American partner Daniel Madden. "Daniel Madden was involved in US military counterintelligence operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and he was attracted to the FBPS by its high potential in the military area and he envisages using his military links to facilitate marketing the product", says Ali. "We have now formed a spin-out company FBPS Holdings to market the product."

Innovation continues at the company and a new product is about to be patented. “This new product is smart and is capable of detecting a blast and changing its properties to increase its resistance. This new generation will be 15 times stronger than anything on the market at the moment and we hope development work on it will be completed within the next two to three months.”

Imagine a toy you can mould into any shape you like and eat when you're finished. It may sound like a child's dream but it has been made a reality by Northern Ireland company Choc-o-Bloc.

Magic Choc has already taken the UK toy market by storm and is building international sales in more than 40 countries worldwide including Greece, Russia, Singapore, Spain and South Africa with China about to come online.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this quite revolutionary product is that it came about by accident. "My wife was running chocolate workshops and I made here a machine to temper the chocolate", explains Choc-o-Bloc chief executive and Magic Choc inventor Stephen Lennie.

“We discovered that the machine had the unintended result of raising the melting point of the chocolate. We had chocolate that wouldn’t melt in your hand but still tasted like chocolate and we looked at some way to use the changed product.”

The chocolate can be moulded into anything that a consumer wants whilst still tasting good. Magic Choc is a unique product which is mouldable and flexible without having to be melted allowing consumers without any preparation to create any model they wish out of chocolate. No other chocolate product offers these properties.

Key milestone
In addition, it is gluten free, suitable for vegetarians, has no artificial colours or preservatives and has an 18-month shelf life. Finding a market for it wasn't as easy as it may sound, however.

“We originally sold it as a confectionery product like a bag of sweets,” says Lennie. “And while people liked it they didn’t really get it and re-orders didn’t really materialise. That’s when we talked to a guy in the toy industry and the product works much better as a toy you can eat than as a sweet you can use as a toy.”

A key milestone for the company during 2012 was a link-up with major UK toy distributor The In Thing. “Having such a strong player within the toy distribution market involved with the project has been fantastic.

“There has been a huge amount of brand and product development which has been provided by the company and this has helped introduce us to worldwide distribution partners.”

For 2013 the company has plans to develop the product range and introduce new variations. The next innovation planned is flavoured and coloured Magic Choc which opens up new possibilities for the product.

New licences are also being added to the Magic Choc range including the “Activitions” and “Skylanders Giants” games which are among the most sought after children’s brands at the moment.

vStream Group
5D video may sound like something out of science fiction, but it's actually a powerful digital marketing tool created by Dublin based interactive video and software development company vStream Group.

The five dimensional experience involves the combination of state-of-the-art 3D video with personalisation and a physical experience.

In 2011, the company was approached by the world’s largest shopping centre chain, Westfield, to create an innovative entertainment experience for its Christmas grottos in two flagship centres in the UK. As a result vStream created the world’s first 5D animated Christmas grotto experience.

Christmas shoppers visiting Santa's grotto had the opportunity to partake in a Christmas story with a difference. Pictures of the children are taken as they enter the specially-built cinema and these pictures are then incorporated into the specially made movie Elbow Saves Christmas . Along with this personal element they also get wind, lights and elf dust to enrich the experience still further.

Increased footfall
"We started with a 3D film, writing and producing Elbow Saves Christmas – a seven-minute Pixar quality animation, which tells the story of Fumble, the good elf turned bad, who steals all the children's presents from Santa's grotto," says vStream director Andrew Jenkinson.

“Our hero, Elbow the Elf, gives chase on his robot reindeer motorbike to rescue the children’s presents. Each child in the audience stars in the film with their pictures displayed throughout the story as an integral part of the narrative – not only has Fumble stolen presents, he has stolen their presents, with their pictures and name tags on them. This provokes quite a reaction.”

The 2011 campaign increased footfall to Westfield London by 20 per cent. In 2012 vStream was retained to roll out Elbow Saves Christma s across the Westfield network in the UK, and devised a smartphone and tablet game for the kids to take home which has created a repeat revenue generating opportunity estimated to be worth in the region of £750,000 per annum.

vStream's platform can generate interactive and personalised content for any brand and the company is currently engaged with a number of international brands including McLaren F1, Manchester City, Boston RedSox, Tayto Park and the London Science Museum to create content based on this innovation.

This year vStream is embarking on a fundraising round to raise ¤1.5 million to invest in the development, integration and commercial exploitation of its software platforms, leveraging the international potential of its software.