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Awards honour research excellence

Previous winners of the US-Ireland Research Innovation Awards reveal what it takes to win the coveted prizes


Now in its third year, the US-Ireland Research Innovation Awards recognises excellence in research innovation and invention that has occurred in Ireland as a result of US foreign direct investment.

Developed by the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland and the Royal Irish Academy, the awards look to ideas that originate in Ireland and make a social and economic impact through innovation in meeting market needs.

Winners get brand recognition and media coverage in The Irish Times as well as a short video, which the company can then use for self-promotion.

Laura Mahoney, chief executive of the Royal Irish Academy, says receiving an award is a badge of excellence for the winner.

“The academy is good at straightforward peer review to an international standard and what we were very certain of was the fact that we didn’t want these to be another set of business awards, with people giving awards to each other. It has the academy’s stamp that says we have assessed everything very carefully, to the highest standards.”

With a judging panel that includes members of the academy, representatives from sponsors KPMG and Ulster Bank and the American Chamber of Commerce, Mahoney says the winner needs to be able to pitch their idea well.

“They’ve got to be able to explain why this innovation is new and important and impactful. They have to have all the supporting evidence. It takes something exceptionally good but they have to explain why the Irish end of the operation is critical and why their partnership with the States is critical.”

Partner and head of technology and media at KPMG Anna Scally says when judging they look for originality in the idea or project and to the level of technical innovation that’s taking place.

She says they are also looking for an ‘Xfactor’, which separates the winner from everyone else and says that a technical rigour is brought from the RIA to the whole process.

We spoke to last year’s winners, who told us what they feel is necessary to take the coveted prizes. The awards are given in three categories; Multinational, SME and Higher Education Institute.

SME winner: Econiq

Econiq Limited is headquartered in Galway and its Boston subsidiary (Econiq Inc) handles US sales and customer research.

Stephen Ryan, chief technology officer at Econiq explains what the company does.

“Our innovation starts with the Conversation Hub, initially developed for contact centres and banks in the US. The Conversation Hub ‘senses and responds’ to business conversations through live analysis of applications used during the conversation. The Conversation Hub then uses a colour-coding technique to guide the frontline user through those complex business conversations, thereby enabling them to hold consistently high-quality conversations. The Conversation Hub’s innovation continues by producing visual transcripts of every conversation. These transcripts are then used to coach conversation behaviour, resulting in a sustainable increase in performance. The same transcripts also provide executives with real-time conversation intelligence about their customers, markets, competitors and products.

“All development has been done in Ireland but informed by feedback from early US customers, allowing us to develop global conversation products.”

Ryan says that as an Irish company, headquartered in Galway, it was a proud moment and fantastic recognition for the transatlantic nature of Econiq, its presence in the USA and its client base there.

“It was also a great validation of the work done by our talented team. The award has given us even more energy to keep going, to be even more innovative. We want to continue to make those complex business conversations even more ‘human’, using as much innovation as possible.”

He says time and dedication are needed to be a winner and that the company had invested heavily in their product under the leadership of its chief executive, Jim Callan.

“We refined early iterations of the product and added extra functionality to ensure that we could offer a solution which gave complete organisational visibility into customer conversations. Our entire team worked together to achieve this success and the spirit of team work is one of the most important things to us.

“I believe the judges are looking for innovation that has a commercial and social impact. It is best to be clear and concise in completing the application form. In fact, completing the application and shortlisting process is in itself a very useful exercise for any business.”

Multinational winner: Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Business operations manager Gary Moloney explains the firm’s innovation.

“Within our Innovation Centre we have a unique mix of skills with both business, industry and technology expertise, which when brought together through our global product authentication service (GPAS) allows us address the full innovation lifecycle of activity from service conception, market and technology RD&I, design, development and go-to-market support.

“Our GPAS has been fortunate to be recognised internationally by both the Wall Street Journal and Computerworld Honors Laureate so this award marks another important step in our GPAS journey. The significance of the award for our innovation centre within a multinational is that it provides further credibility of our expertise to successfully incubate, design, develop and deliver innovative services from our team in Ireland as we look to develop new service offerings related to analytics, IOT and blockchain.”

So what does it take to be a winner?

“Some of the key factors I believe include innovative research and development activity, underpinned by patented technology that solves a challenging real problem.

“Our GPAS addresses problems relating to product counterfeit, brand protection, product and supply chain traceability. Consumers have always been aware of these problems and how it can affect them personally, however, their expectations from a brand owner in how they address these problems and the transparency they provide in how they address them is ever increasing. This mix of both a commercial and societal benefit is somewhat unique.”

HEI award: UCD’s Professor John Murphy

The winning research innovation is UCD and IBM’s Real Time Correlation Engine. RTCE uses novel data normalisation, clustering and filtering techniques to predict problems and enable rapid response in big-data systems.

“We were surprised and pleased with the win, particularly for our industrial partner IBM. We’d been working with them for 10 to 15 years on this, so this was a validation of their work with us,” Murphy says.

He says judges are looking for “something unusual or interesting because it’s across all areas of research, not just pharma or computer science. They’re looking for something that can be explained easily – which is always hard for scientists, to try to explain it easily to business people.

“One of the advantages of winning – it has opened up other US multinationals to us, for them to help us or us to help them.”

Submission for entries to the 2017 US-Ireland Research Innovation Awards is open until December 16th. Email innovation@ria.ie to register interest.