Step into innovation

Annagh Ltd has become the 600th recipient of an Invest NI Innovation Voucher, a scheme which has proved to be highly effective in helping small businesses to engage in innovation.

With expertise accessed through the Innovation Voucher, Annagh Ltd, based at C-TRIC, Altnagelvin, Londonderry, is developing remote sensor technology that could help save the lives of Type 1 diabetics.

The aim is to devise a communications protocol between a device worn by the diabetic and a mobile phone and to develop an application on the mobile phone which will alert the diabetic that there is a problem and send SMS messages to friends or neighbours to summon help.

Aubrey Sayers, Managing Director of Annagh, says: “Our potentially life-saving technology ties together data gathering and interpretation, and Bluetooth technology that transmits an alarm to a Smartphone. More than 347 million people have diabetes globally. The potential of the technology is immense because some seven per cent of deaths among Type 1 diabetics under 40 result from blood sugar drop, which this system will detect.”

The Innovation Voucher programme works by issuing a voucher, valued at £4,000, which can be used by the business to ‘buy’ expert help from universities, colleges or research bodies in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. It has been used across a range of sectors to help companies develop new products and processes, carry out research and overcome technical barriers that are impeding business growth.

In the last year alone companies have used the Innovation Voucher for projects as diverse as optimising the output of renewable technologies, creating an educational game, determining the feasibility of a new elderly care service, developing a tailored windsock that can be used as part of the training regime for greyhounds, developing a visual of a proposed floating classroom and perfecting electro-fishing technology to tackle the crayfish problem.

Olive Hill, Invest NI’s Director of Technology and Process Development, says: “Northern Ireland companies recognise that investing in innovation can add value to their business, but often they just don’t have the in house expertise to drive innovative projects forward. Through the Innovation Voucher scheme we have been able to channel almost £2.4m to enable companies to tap into the wealth of technical expertise available in our colleges and universities. With 600 companies already availing of the scheme it is evident that it is meeting the needs of small businesses through a low risk approach.”

The latest call for applications for Innovation Vouchers has particularly targeted the food and drink sector.

Olive Hill says: “The food and drink industry is being driven increasingly by companies investing in innovative products, processes and marketing techniques. That’s why a special call for applications from small food companies was made in September. We want even the smallest companies to realise that innovation through research and development is not beyond their reach.”

One food company that has recently benefited from an Innovation Voucher is Anahorish Preserves, based near Magherafelt.

The small company, formed in November 2009 by Malachy Gribbin, used an Innovation Voucher to create 16 new, handmade chutney and relish recipes. Several of the products, developed with technical advice and assistance from staff at Loughry Campus, Cookstown, of the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise, are already on the shelves of leading retailers including JC Stewart in Magherafelt.

In addition to an initial range of relishes and chutneys, the company plans to add jams and basting sauce to its portfolio of artisan foods. The company already has an opportunity to supply a substantial quantity of homemade jams to a leading local supermarket and is currently exploring export potential

Mr Gribbin says: “The Innovation Voucher enabled me to turn a lifelong interest in food products such as relishes, chutneys and jams into a small business. It was excellent in that it enabled me to take guidance from the technical team at Loughry. Approximately 50 recipes were prepared and following maturing and taste testing 16 new recipes have been selected to be introduced to the market over the next year.”

This article appeared in the October / November 2011 edition of Business Eye.