Four companies have shared prize money of over £170,000 in the Northern Ireland SMART competition, organised by Invest Northern Ireland. The competition aims to help innovative individuals and small companies develop projects into viable businesses.

Presenting the awards in a ceremony at the Ross Park Hotel, in Kells, Tracy Meharg, Managing Director of Innovation and Capability Development Services in Invest NI said that the winners made a much-valued contribution to Northern Ireland’s increasing industrial competitiveness.

“Evidence suggests that a competitive economy for the 21st century will be founded on top class research and development teamed with entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation. SMART is an ideal vehicle to promote all of these vital components,” she said.

The winning projects ran the gamut of activities from software to plastic products.

Memsis Ltd, Belfast, is developing a system which will enhance resource planning using dedicated data and process devices including integrated customer relationship management (CRM) modules.

Adaptive Communication Systems Ltd, Belfast, is aiming to build a prototype of software tools and intellectual property cores that help test, verify and debug complex electronic design.

Giltspur Scientific Ltd, Ballyclare, is developing flexible plastic horseshoes that will expand when the horse’s hoof hits the ground, so reducing the impact. Because the shoes will be made from a continuous strip of plastic, costs will be substantially lower than traditional horseshoes.

Westlink Autogas, Belfast, is developing a component which will enable it to convert diesel cars to dual-fuel cars. The company already converts petrol driven cars to dual fuel models.

The winning companies will be given the opportunity to compete for further funding for product development under Stage 2 of the programme.

In her keynote speech Tracy Meharg underlined the importance that Invest NI places on research and development: “The SMART Programme is just one of the ways that Invest NI is assisting companies to carry out leading-edge research, and develop innovative technologies. We believe that innovation should be at the heart of all business activity. This is reflected in our support for the Research and Technology Development Centres of Excellence, in our focus on strengthening the links between academia and commerce, and in our encouragement of good design and the development of best practice. “

During the ceremony Tracy Meharg also announced the launch of a new element of the SMART suite of products – Micro SMART. This is specifically designed to help individuals and micro firms with the development of low cost prototypes of products and processes involving technical advances. The programme provides grant assistance of up to £10,000 to develop prototypes.