Making quantum leap could earn Irish firms millions
Ireland may have lost its inventive mojo but some pioneers are bucking the trend, writes John Reynolds
DESPITE a proud history of inventing the likes of the dynamo, the hypodermic syringe, the world's first submarine and high-speed photography, Ireland has become less inventive over the past four years, according to recent figures from the Patents Office.
But from Moneyball-style 'big data' for athletes, personalised cake-making machines and holographic shop assistants, to electric construction machinery and a spin-off from plastic recycling that could aid the fight against cancer – these are five of Ireland's most exciting inventions and innovations that could make millions for the entrepreneurs behind them.
If you've seen the Hollywood movie Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt, you'll be familiar with how the Oakland baseball team's performance was rigorously measured using statistical analysis.
By combining tracking and analysis of both performance data and biomarkers – indicators in blood and saliva – 37-year-old Sligo native Dr Brian Moore and his co-founder, consultant haematologist Dr Andrew Hodgson, are doing the same thing for the world's top athletes and sports people from Orreco's headquarters at Sligo IT's Innovation Centre.
Founded in 2009 and Inspired by the work of Professor Craig Sharp at the Australian Institute of Sport, the path to their success began with Dr Moore's PhD research over the previous decade which was a sports enthusiast's dream job.
Working with Olympic athletes, world champions and world medallists took him to the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Olympics, not to mention Kenya's Rift Valley, trails in Oregon, whitewater rapids in New Zealand, Open championship golf courses and Wimbledon's centre court.
More recently Orreco's core team of six staff and 10 consultants around the world have worked with golfer Padraig Harrington, athletes who are household names including Mo Farah, Paula Radcliffe and Fionnuala Britton, the Nike Oregon Track Club and Britain's Olympic sailing squad.
Backed by Enterprise Ireland and angel investment, the firm has a strategic partnership with Siemens, is supported by Silicon Valley Bank and is raising a seven-figure tranche of funding.
There is growing interest from professional sport franchises, more pro-golfers and Premiership football teams and a contract will soon be signed with one of the world's best-known sports brands.
Currently focused on the elite market, Dr Moore's future plans are to take their performance dashboard to the growing "weekend warrior" amateur athlete market and to look at the "corporate athlete or road warrior" market, to help CEOs, entrepreneurs, executives and others who travel a lot in their work.
AS you pass a coffee shop of one of the well-known chains on your local main street, Liam Neeson appears to tap on the window and beckon you in. You pause, do a double-take in disbelief and your curiosity leads you to go in.
Or you're in a sportswear retailer, browsing Nike shoes, and then as if by magic, a life-size image of Rory McIlroy appears from a device on the floor and proceeds to tell you about the latest running shoes.
This is the future of shopping – it's already being trialled in a UK supermarket chain, where holographic figures have been accompanying shoppers and scanning their items for them as they walk around the store – as a result of hologram and virtual intelligence technology developed by Mayo native and a previously unemployed former signage business owner Alan Dowling at GMIT's Innovation Centre in Castlebar.
As well as engaging with customers, the Holographic Artificial Lifelike Intelligence (HALI) customer service presenter in these examples can collect and retain marketing data, detect your gender, emotions, estimate your age and react accordingly. They can be customised and react to repeat customers, address you by name and talk about your preferences.
Having trialled the devices that generate the holograms – which will be assembled here in Ireland – in Dublin Airport last year, Dowling currently employs 14 staff and hopes to take on more staff over the next 18 months.
Backed by Enterprise Ireland and a number of private investors, he's in the process of closing a six-figure funding round and in talks with a range of potential clients in the UK and Scandinavia.
ONE of the building blocks of the biodegradable recycled plastic developed by UCD biomolecular and biomedical science lecturer Dr Kevin O'Connor has demonstrated in laboratory experiments that, when combined with an anti-cancer compound, it may act like a bullet to help get more of the compound into cancer cells faster than existing methods.
The National Cancer Institute in the US is testing it on about 60 different types of cancer – a process expected to take about six months – and the plan would be to then seek funding or agree terms for the institute to take it to the next level, Dr O'Connor said.
He and UCD spinout Oncomark co-founder and senior UCD scientist Dr Liam Gallagher, along with two researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons, Annette Byrne and Mark Devocelle raised seed funding of €120,000 from the university to carry out the research.
Dr O'Connor's spin-out Bioplastech – which employs five people and two other directors – will soon be producing and selling other environmentally friendly chemical compounds and specialist chemicals, with the aim of having a second revenue stream coming in the near future from green films, plastics and adhesives. Success with the new cancer-fighting compound would then provide the company with a third source of earnings.
SEAN Breen, a 42-year-old plant and construction machinery engineer and designer-turned businessman from Laois noticed a gap in the market five years ago and set about designing the world's first electric one-tonne high tipper and dumper.
Backed by Enterprise Ireland, the design process – in collaboration with partners at the Design Hub in Offaly, researchers at DCU and a UK firm of engineers – involved continuous tweaking.
Featuring components made in Ireland and all around the world, it has three intelligently driven wheels with traction control and it can balance its load so as not to damage carpets, mark or crack floors or tiles.
His company Ecovolve will begin manufacturing the vehicle, which has cost €250,000 to develop, in January and initial sales will be targeted at buyers in the construction, logistics, factories and materials handling industries, as well as for agricultural use on large farms and stud farms, with 90 per cent of them expected to be for export.
The company employs five people on a contract basis and aims to employ up to 10 people next year. Breen is working on plans to design and manufacture other electric vehicles with different functions.
You may have seen or bought personalised birthday cards, but Greystones, Co Wicklow brothers Colm and Hugh Nohilly have designed a machine that can personalise cakes for birthdays and other special occasions.
Using their background in IT, printing and software programming, the pair started Intercake in 2009 and decided they could improve on what baking companies were then using: a commercial standard printer, food colouring and inedible paper that you had to remove from the cake.
After developing their own food colouring and edible paper, they also designed a purpose-built internet-connected personalised cake-making machine that is easy for supermarket staff to use.
Customers design a cake on an in-store touch-screen console. It then prints out a receipt that they take to the bakery department, where they collect a cake once it's made in their machine.
With initial support from Enterprise Ireland, but now backed by private investors, the firm's machines are now in two UK supermarket chains.