Third-level scheme backs fine business start-up ideas

Start-up aims to smooth graduate job-seeking process

Pressure-sensitive insoles, coffee that can increase memory and an esteem-building app for young people were just three of the six ideas for new businesses presented by UCD undergraduates at the end of the recent inaugural Startup Stars programme at the university.

While the ideas presented were very early-stage, they demonstrate a diversity of thought among the next generation of potential entrepreneurs. Looking at the disciplines involved, it appears commerce and engineering students in particular have the innovation gene.

Run jointly by NovaUCD and the UCD Innovation Academy with support from various sponsors including AIB, Xilinx and Deloitte, Startup Stars was open to all students from all faculties. The field was eventually narrowed down to the six most promising projects and the overall winner was GradHow, an online platform that improves the graduate employment process.

Set up by Ben Chadwick, Alan John Browne and Stephen Duffy, GradHow was considered to have the most commercial potential by the five-strong judging panel drawn from industry and academia. Chadwick and Browne have just completed third-year commerce, while Duffy has recently finished his first year in international commerce.


Cross-disciplinary workshops

The Startup Stars programme began earlier this year with a three-month series of cross-disciplinary workshops aimed at teaching students from across the university about creative thinking, teamwork, design thinking and lean business skills.

At the end of the workshops, the students pitched their ideas and six projects moved on to the next stage. This involved intensive mentoring to help them refine ideas. The teams were given office space at NovaUCD and a small cash stipend .

"We were very impressed by the standard of the ideas," says Prof Suzi Jarvis, founding director of UCD Innovation Academy. "UCD Startup Stars was devised to combine the Innovation Academy's skills in creative problem-solving with NovaUCD's vast experience in commercialisation. This programme offered students a perfect testing ground for initiatives they are passionate about. Following the success of this first programme we hope to bring it to new heights next year."

Smart coffee

Commerce and engineering undergraduates figured most prominently in the shortlisted projects although those behind CarGo (

Andrew Costello

and Hugh Fitzpatrick), which is a “safe and social” car-pooling app for the student community, are studying politics/international relations and archaeology/geology respectively.

The brains behind new "smart coffee" NootroLife are scientist Conor Corroon, aspiring medic Sarah Shanahan and Enes Gahbiche, who has just completed second-year civil engineering.

This team is aiming to produce a drink (made by mixing coffee with cognitive enhancing ingredients) that will boost memory, focus, motivation and overall productivity. Undergraduates from science and engineering also teamed up to create SoleSense a pressure-sensitive insole for running shoes.

Its founders, Constantine Doherty, Colm Moran and Paul McDonagh, say their product is designed to "measure the impact force and power-generation during a runner's stride". This data then allows runners to optimise their running stride to improve their performance and reduce the risk of injury.

Also on the shortlist was Clink, an online community that connects prospective third-level students with current undergraduates and graduates to help them make informed decisions about their post-secondary school pathways. Its founders are economics student Anna O'Flynn and international commerce undergraduate John Byrne.

With concerns rising about the impact of the internet and social media on young people's self-image, final-year commerce students Gary Melican, Andy Lyne and Cian Ó Faoláin designed Meep, which they describe as "a social, fun-filled and esteem-building matching app designed to make young people feel good about themselves".

The Meep app lets young people know the nice things others are thinking about them and it is aimed at 18-25 year- olds.

With the refreshing optimism of youth talking, its creators say they " just want everyone to be happy". Way forward: GradHow to launch within a year Stephen Duffy, one of the co-founders of GradHow, says the team plans to push ahead with the development and commercialisation of its award winning idea to help graduates find their niche in the workplace. All going well it could be ready for launch within 12 months.

While the idea is still at an early stage, Duffy says the team built up a valuable database during their research phase when they interviewed 100 students in the 18-25 age bracket about their experiences of looking for work when they graduated.

“Basically people felt that because they had studied a particular subject they had to find work in that specific area,” Duffy says. “What GradHow will do is show them all of their options, not just the obvious ones. The system will have a real value for students who often face a lot of uncertainty about their future and what to do next.

“The system will be free for students to use. Revenue will come from charging companies to advertise positions on the site. What’s in it for them is that it gives them direct access to a pool of new graduates.”

The founders of SoleSense are also planning to bring their idea to the next stage. Their product is an in-shoe sensor linked to a smartphone or smartwatch designed to help runners improve their performance.

“The sensor will read the pressure and identify which part of the foot is striking the ground first and with what weight. Based on the feedback, an athlete can adjust their style to get a better outcome,” explains company co-founder, Colm Moran, an experienced and keen runner himself.

Moran estimates it will take about €10,000 to finalise the research and build a prototype.

The team is hoping to secure Enterprise Ireland innovation voucher funding to do this. “We want to take our time to ensure that we have a really good prototype so we think that will take six to eight months to achieve,” Moran says.