Pitching for a stake in future high-tech success

Ten finalists will showcase some of the best of local technological innovation in annual awards

Ten of Northern Ireland’s most promising high-tech future stars have just nine days to get ready for a pitch that could change their lives and land them £10,000 in prize money.

The 10 teams, who have already beaten some of the best emerging high-tech talent in the North, are preparing to compete in the final round of the 25k Awards – a competition designed to discover the "next big thing" in Northern Ireland.

The award, organised by the Northern Ireland Science Park's NISP Connect, is not for the faint-hearted. A total of £25,000 is up for grabs across four highly-competitive categories, while the overall winner also receives a cheque from Bank of Ireland for £10,000.

Each year a new crop of embryonic entrepreneurs emerges from the local hi-tech, bio-tech, clean-tech, digital media and software sectors to do battle in the awards.

Past winners include the “Flish” team from Queen’s University who developed a low-cost, low-power antenna which picks up satellite signals automatically. After winning the 25k Award two years ago it secured nearly £250,000 in development funding and is in the process of bringing one of its products to market.

Last year's winner, Mof Technologies, another Queen's spin-out, also attracted "significant venture capital funding" following its success and is now looking to expand its manufacturing operation.

The Belfast-based start-up manufactures what it describes as a “revolutionary new class of highly-porous materials” – metal organic frameworks that can store, separate and capture specific gases.

Steve Orr, director of NISP Connect, said this year's entries include innovations such as a hydrogel that pours drugs into wounds, intelligent data gloves for arthritis sufferers, pollution-eating inks and real-time route planners for in-transit travellers.

He believes these innovations show that the North has the talent and capacity to “become one of the leading knowledge economies in Europe by 2030”.

There is no doubt that many of the past winners have a bright future ahead of them – some are already on the path to success. But that path is also littered with potential potholes – from financing challenges to management issues and the everyday problems that come with growing a business.

It is one thing to get shortlisted for an award but there are countless examples of people with big ideas and big ambitions who have never realised them.

So who are the 2013 contenders?

Competing in the bio-tech category are Jenarron Therapeutics, which has developed a novel hydrogel drug-delivery product. Rival contender Digitease has developed an intelligent wearable data glove system, which quantifies finger joint stiffness and range of movement, while ProAx-SiS is developing a range of novel diagnostic tests to enable routine monitoring of patients with chronic conditions within a clinic or at home.

Going head to head in the clean-tech category are ADFerTech, which is developing a system to form organic granular fertiliser, and Inkintelligent, which has created a number of inks that change colour rapidly when deposited on to a self-cleaning surface.

In the digital media and software categories, there are two contenders; Columbus, which has devised a real-time personal travel assistant, and Liopa, which has developed a new mobile biometric speaker verification product.

Finally, the new hi-tech start-ups sparring for the prize money are Xpress LF, which has invented a tyre pressure monitoring system which uses a smartphone, Eye-See 3D, which has devised a high resolution camera designed for use in fighting eye disease, and Nite Rider, which has come up with a product to help motorcyclists see further at night.

The winners will be announced at a special 25k Awards event on September 26th at Titanic Belfast.

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