Development & Alumni Relations Office 

IT spin-out secures top honours at INVENT Awards  

12 October 2015

Northern Ireland Science Park (NISP) CONNECT awarded its prestigious INVENT Award to PicoPUF, a spinout from Queen’s University’s Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT).

The INVENT competition, in partnership with Bank of Ireland UK, is an opportunity for anyone with an innovative concept to be recognized as Northern Ireland’s next ‘big thing’.

PicoPUF invented a tiny semiconductor IP core that provides strong, unique authentication for even the cheapest microchip, and not only won the Electronics category but the overall grand prize. PicoPUF was deemed by judges to have the most innovative product with the biggest global commercial potential.

The Award, which is a further example of Queen’s innovation and excellence was presented to the University’s trio of researchers who invented PicoPUF – Neil Hanley, Professor Maire O’Neill, and ChongyanGu. Their invention means that any grade of device can have the highest level of security. The team took home a prize package of £13,000, a fast-track to NISP’s Springboard programme, and a space on the NI TechMission to California in January 2016.

PicoPUF faced stiff competition from 11 other finalists in categories including Agri-Food, Life and Health, and Enterprise Software.

Company founder, Neil Hanley (pictured left) said: “There is a perfect storm happening in IT security right now. The huge number of devices on the market, combined with the low-cost nature of these devices, makes it impossible to use heavily-computationally-resourced security solutions. Lightweight security will be a game-changer and we are set to capitalize on that.

“This INVENT competition has been a massive step towards that goal, and we thank the Science Park for the chance to get involved. We can’t believe we won!”

The other five category winners, who each received £3,000 and a place on the 2016 NI TechMission to the USA included four with Queen’s connections:

  • Agri-Food – NextGenBiopesticides Insect parasitic nematodes selectively bred to be a safe, effective biopesticide for the control of crop pest insects. Dr Johnathan Dalzell is a Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s.
  • Creative Media and Consumer Internet – ChipIn A platform for goal setting that provides motivation via rewards that are either crowd-funded or self-funded. Dr Rachel Gawley (BEng 2003, PhD 2010)
  • Enterprise Software – Cognition Video A processing framework that enables the effective understanding of media content using intelligent automated algorithms. Dr Fabian Campbell-West and Dr Bhargav Mitrais are Senior Engineers in Queen’s School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
  • Life and Health – Re-Vana A new drug delivery system that provides long-term benefits for patients suffering from eye diseases that lead to blindness. The solution also saves the NHS considerable cost on treatment. Dr Chirag Gujral is a Research Fellow and Dr Thakur Raghu Raj Singh is a Lecturer – both in the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s.
  • Engineering – Skunkworks Surfboard Company – Robust soft (learner) surfboards that are 100 per cent recyclable and unbreakable

The category winners came through after a challenging six-month programme that began with 80 entrants earlier this year. Whittled down to 12 at the semi-finals event in May they received mentoring to support the final stage business plan and Big Pitch delivery.

And the prestigious 2015 Innovation Founder Award, supported by Bank of Ireland UK, went to Queen’s graduate Brian Conlon, the successful Newry businessmen who founded First Derivatives.

Julie Ann O’Hare (right), Bank of Ireland UK’s Head of Business Banking Strategy & Sectors NI said: “All of this year’s winners and participants clearly demonstrate the top quality, creative and vibrant entrepreneurial potential that is growing in Northern Ireland. The Bank is delighted to continue to support this important initiative and believes that a sustained focus on developing the Knowledge Economy is vital to the future health of Northern Ireland’s economy.”

Director of NISP CONNECT Steve Orr, said: “INVENT is the leading night of innovation in Northern Ireland, and securing the Internet of Things is one of the hottest topics on the global IT agenda at present.

“It’s a huge pleasure to see that our INVENT competition was topped by a group addressing a global concern. Candidates in the INVENT competition have their finger on the pulse of innovation everywhere, with true Northern Irish roots. It has been incredible to feel the energy and enthusiasm in the room tonight. We’re showing the world that the best innovation comes from right here in the Titanic Quarter.”

For further information please contact Queen’s University Communications Officers Anne-Marie Clarke (Mon-Wed) on 028 9097 5320 or Michelle Cassidy (Thurs-Fri) on 028 9097 5310.


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