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STEM designer: Touching down and riding high in US

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Shadowman tackling

Shadowman tackling

JP Hartigan

JP Hartigan

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Shadowman tackling

JP Hartigan may have had some regrets a few short years ago when some of his college mates headed off to the US on a J1 visa and he stayed at home to save the necessary money to patent his final-year project.

He wasn't sad for long! Now he is rubbing shoulders with the movers and shakers in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley. His project has turned into a big commercial success with American football teams.

The former pupil of St Munchin's College Limerick sought inspiration in his chosen sport when it came to his final-year project, while studying Product Design and Technology at the University of Limerick (UL) .

The problem? Full-contact sports like rugby and American football are fun, but concussions? Less so. Can you avoid them? Cases where players are suffering from concussions during training are getting more and more prevalent as athletes - both amateur and professional - get fitter, faster and stronger.

Sports associations are reacting, especially in America. There the National Football League (NFL) have reduced the number of contact sessions in pre-season training. Getting players to games fully fit is what these big franchises are aiming to do and heavy hitting in training is preventing this from happening consistently.

While the debate rages on about welfare and safety, JP Hartigan (inset)developed a product that goes a long way to safeguarding players from some of the dangers of contact sports. JP's product is an inflatable tackling dummy called Shadowman (see above). Teams can use it in tackling drills and it helps to protect players, while also monitoring performance.

JP took his idea as a new graduate in 2010 to the Limerick Enterprise Acceleration Platform, run by Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT). There he took part in a one-year incubation programme (now called New Frontiers) at the Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre. He also received funds from Enterprise Ireland and from the €1m LIT Enterprise Ladder Fund.

Being part of the Hartnett Centre programme also smoothed the way for access to the US market. LIT facilitated his first business trip to the US, when he was one of a number of their start-ups that accompanied LIT to Silicon Valley.

It was there that he met the head football coach of San Jose State and sold three Shadowman dummies on the spot - and the orders have continued to roll in.

Shadowman is on trial with a US Sports Governing Body and is used by elite college American football programs including Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, and Nebraska. He is taking part in the Highway1 accelerator programme run by PCH's Liam Casey in San Francisco. One to watch.

Irish Independent