Minister Sean Sherlock presents commercialisation awards to new companies

The Minister for Research and Innovation, Sean Sherlock announced that 120 inventions developed by publicly-funded researchers will be introduced to potential investors at the Enterprise Ireland Big Ideas Technology Showcase in the Convention Centre, Dublin.

Opening the event and announcing the winners of the Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Awards, Minister Sherlock said;

“It is exciting, highly encouraging and very promising for the future to see such a range of high end technologies emerging from publicly-funded research. I am delighted to see that many of the Big Ideas being presented to the investor community today have the potential to become vibrant new companies.

“Enterprise Ireland and the Higher Education Institutes working together have built 185 spin-out companies from State-funded research to date. Besides creating jobs, it is uplifting to see that many of the”Big Ideas” can help people here in Ireland and across the globe with health and lifestyle issues.

“These discoveries and this process of commercialisation is vital to job creation.  Although spin-out companies take time to grow, a recent sample assessment of these spin-out companies showed that some 12 companies are now employing a total of more than 250 people. One of the best examples is FeedHenry Waterford, established in 2010, is already employing 27 people,” Minister Sherlock added

The Big Ideas event is the largest annual gathering of inventors and investors in the country. 120 new technologies being developed for the marketplace, will be unveiled and, of these the promoters of 18 ‘investor ready’ technologies will be vying for the attention of 200 potential investors attending the event. The”Big Ideas” Showcase is a key event funded by the Government to help develop publicly-funded research into new companies, technologies and services.

Among the ‘Big Ideas’ being pitched to potential investors are technologies that will;
– avoid brain damage in premature babies caused by seizures,
– help physiotherapy patients perform their exercises properly,
– provide ‘real’ learning material for students of the English language,
– produce manufacturing moulds for the smallest medical devices,
– pick up the 1 in 5 cases of colon cancer that are currently missed during screenings
– cram more information on to existing telecoms bandwith to avoid laying new fibre optic  cables.

Feargal Ó Móráin, Executive Director of Enterprise Ireland said:”the focus of the Big Ideas event is to get some deals done between the inventors and investors during the 150 one-to-one meetings which will take place.  Enterprise Ireland, in partnership with the Higher Education Institutes, is providing the right environment for investors to explore options to either licence these new technologies from researchers or use them as the basis to form new companies in the energy, life sciences, medical, engineering and IT sectors”. While the Irish system for transferring technology from Third Level Education Institutes into industry is relatively new, the outputs compare favourably with the latest available data from the US and EU authorities in this area – Ireland is creating 4 spin-outs per $100m invested by the State compared to 2 in Europe and 1 in the US.

The Minister presented Enterprise Ireland Industrial Technologies Commercialisation award to Michael Cunningham, CEO Sonex Metrology Ltd., a DCU spin-out company located in DCU’s Invent.  Sonex technology focuses on detecting mechanical defects in semiconductor and solar cell wafers that currently cost manufacturers millions of euro.  The team members areMichael Cunningham, Prof Patrick McNally, Dr. Stephen Daniels, Fiachra Green and Dylan Fitzgerald.

Sonex Metrology won the award for the exemplary way in which the team set about commercialising an idea emanating from the research of Prof Patrick McNally in DCU. Mike’s first exposure to the technology was in May 2010 when he evaluated the commercial potential of the technology on behalf of Enterprise Ireland. The technology impressed him and he subsequently pulled together and inspired a very effective spin-out team.  The team has spun-out of DCU and has successfully raised enough seed investment to enable the company to embark on productising their technology.

In a typical semiconductor fabrication plant, the manufacturing process to make one wafer takes 4-6 weeks but the product cannot be functionally tested until the last few days of that process. Quality control and process control are paramount since there is millions of Euro in work in progress in the Fab at any one time. A defect generated anywhere in the process, could cause millions of Euro of scrap.

The Sonex technology focuses on detecting mechanical defects in semiconductor and solar cell wafers that are likely to lead to catastrophic failures such as wafer breakage and delamination. There are other tools that can detect these defects, but, the Sonex photo-acoustic technology is unique since it is non-destructive, does not have to touch the wafer and can detect problems on the surface and deep in the silicon below opaque layers. These unique features allied to its low cost, make the technology eminently suitable and competitive for in-line process monitoring.

The company plans to productise the technology over the coming years. The initial product offering will be targeted at the semiconductor industry and will be a stand-alone instrument for detecting mechanical defects above and below the surface in silicon wafers.

Sean Sherlock T.D. Minister for Research & Innovation and Feargal O Morain, Enterprise Ireland (far right), present Michael Cunningham, CEO Sonex Metrology Ltd (left) and Patrick McNally, DCU with an Enterprise Ireland award for establishing the company as a spin-out of DCU research in 2010. Sonex technology focuses on detecting mechanical defects in semiconductor and solar cell wafers that currently cost manufacturers millions of euro.

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