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Ministers Humphreys and Halligan announce six finalists competing for €1 million SFI Future Innovator Prize

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, and Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, today announced the six finalists in the SFI Future Innovator Prize competition. The six finalists were selected following a rigorous and highly competitive process overseen by an international expert review panel.

The six teams aim to address a number of societal challenges through the development of novel, potentially disruptive, technologies. A novel aspect of the programme is the requirement for a Societal Impact Champion to be part of the leadership team. The key role of this champion is to provide a strong societal perspective for the team as they develop their solution.

An overall winning team will be announced in December and will receive a prize award of €1 million, providing the opportunity to deploy an innovative solution with potential to deliver significant impact to Irish society.

Congratulating the shortlisted teams, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, said: “On behalf of the Government, I want to congratulate the six teams who have made it to the second round of the Future Innovator Prize competition. We launched the initiative last year to encourage bright minds across the country to work together to identify major challenges facing Ireland’s society, and to propose creative solutions. It is very exciting to see so many innovative ideas coming through and I look forward to seeing their ideas develop further over the coming months.”

Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, said: “It is heartening to see the excellent standard of the six teams who have progressed to the second round of the SFI Future Innovator Prize competition. Their passion for their fields reflects their dedication to improving Ireland’s economy and society through research, collaboration and inventiveness. I am confident that they will continue to impress us as the competition goes on.”

The challenge areas and issues to be addressed by the six finalists are as follows:

• Challenge Area: Reducing the Burden of Sepsis

Dr Elaine Spain (Analytical Chemistry, DCU); Dr Kellie Adamson (Diagnostics and Therapeutics and Biomaterials Science, DCU); Prof Gerald Curley, (Sepsis Lead, RCSI Network of Hospitals, Beaumont Hospital)
Project - SepTec: Improving Outcomes for Sepsis Patients

• Challenge Area: Harnessing Gene Editing to Treat Rare Diseases such as Epidermolysis bullosa (EB)

Prof Wenxin Wang, Dr Irene-Lara Sáez and Mr Jonathan O’Keeffe-Ahern (Charles Institute of Dermatology, UCD); Dr Nan Zhang (Mechanical and Materials Engineering, UCD); Dr Sinead Hickey (Research Manager, DEBRA Ireland)
Project - A disruptive, non‐viral gene editing platform technology for treating genetic conditions

• Challenge Area: Enabling Next Generation Biological Imaging

Prof Dominic Zerulla (Physics and Plasmonics, UCD); Dr Dimitri Scholz (Biology and Director of the Conway Imaging facilities, UCD); Peter Doyle (consulting the European Commission with the Brussels Photonics Team on strategic innovation and business development)
Project - Real‐time imaging of nanoscale biological processes via plasmonically enabled nanopixel arrays

• Challenge Area: Enabling Better Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Dr Eric Moore (Analytical Chemistry, TNI/UCC); Mr. Martin O'Sullivan (Lead Surgeon, BreastCheck Southern Unit and UCC); Liosa O'Sullivan (Patient Advocate)
Project - Development of a technology for clinicians to improve the breast cancer diagnostic pathway through real time point of care detection of breast disease.

• Challenge Area: Reducing the Burden of Chronic Pain

Dr Alison Liddy (Biomedical Engineer and Chemist, NUI Galway); Dr Martin O'Halloran (Senior Lecturer in Medical Electronics, NUI Galway); Dr Chris Maharaj (Consultant Anaesthetist & Pain Specialist, University Hospital Galway)
Project - A novel hydrogel to address chronic pain in Irish patients

• Challenge Area: Minimising Hospital Waiting-lists and Optimising Healthcare Capacity

Prof Barry O'Sullivan and Helmut Simonis (School of Computer Science and Insight Centre for Data Analytics, University College Cork); Dr Jane Bourke (Economics, Technology Adoption and Health Care Innovation, University College Cork); Prof Martin Curley (Director, HSE Digital Academy)
Project - An artificial intelligence and data analytics system for minimising hospital waiting-lists and optimising healthcare capacity in Ireland

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “I congratulate the six finalists on making it to the next stage of the SFI Future Innovator Prize competition. This programme by its very design, is highly competitive and seeks to fund excellent research that aims to produce a tangible impact for society. Proceeding to this phase of the programme is a great achievement, and the motivation of the teams demonstrates the appetite and capacity of the Irish research community to help contribute to solving major national and global challenges. Congratulations to each team on their hard work and dedication.”

The SFI Future Innovator Prize, funded by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation through Science Foundation Ireland, is part of an overall government plan to cultivate challenge-based funding in Ireland. Challenge-based funding is a solution focused approach to funding research that uses prizes and other incentives to direct innovation activities at specific problems. The SFI Future Innovator Prize challenges the country’s best and brightest unconventional thinkers and innovators to create novel, potentially disruptive technologies in collaboration with societal stakeholders and end-users.

The programme aligns with the Government’s Future Jobs Ireland initiative, beginning to prepare for jobs of the future now through ensuring that our economy is well positioned to tackle obstacles and continue transforming for the better.

The competing teams are led by academic researchers and a “Societal Impact Champion” drawn from a range of disciplines and stakeholder groups such as industry and civil society in an effort to support convergent and collaborative problem-solving. Competing teams come from University College Dublin (UCD), Dublin City University (DCU), NUI Galway (NUI Galway), University College Cork (UCC), and Tyndall National Institute (TNI), with involvement of a number of national agencies, hospitals and world leading SFI Research Centres


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Editor’s Notes

About Science Foundation Ireland
Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) is the national foundation for investment in scientific and engineering research. Science Foundation Ireland funds oriented basic and applied research in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) which promotes and assists the development and competitiveness of industry, enterprise and employment in Ireland. The Foundation also promotes and supports STEM education and engagement, and creates awareness and understanding of the value of STEM to society and to the growth of the economy.

About Future Jobs Ireland
Future Jobs Ireland 2019, is the first in a series of annual reports as part of a multi-annual framework. Future Jobs Ireland outlines longer-term ambitions for the future of the economy out until 2025 taking account of the challenges ahead. Each year, Future Jobs Ireland will set out the steps to deliver on the ambitions with the ultimate goal of increasing the resilience of our economy and future-proofing it.

Each of the Five Pillars of Future Jobs Ireland has high level targets for 2025. Future Jobs Ireland includes 26 ambitions which contain 127 deliverables (actions) for completion in 2019. Each deliverable has a quantifiable output, a lead Department and timeframe.

In terms of implementation, Future Jobs Ireland will be a standing agenda item overseen by Cabinet Committee A. Progress on deliverables will be reported quarterly to the Senior Official Group. Biannually, more detailed progress reports will be made to Government and subsequently published.

Key deliverables for 2019 under each pillar include:

Pillar 1: Embracing Innovation and Technological Change

• Deliver important policy initiatives including an Industry 4.0 Strategy, a National Digital Strategy, and a National Artificial Intelligence Strategy
• Form Top Teams to progress areas of opportunity for Ireland beginning with Artificial Intelligence, GovTech and Offshore Renewables
• Develop Ireland as a centre for developing and testing new technologies by, for example:
o extending the EI/IDA Irish Manufacturing Research Additive Manufacturing technology centre to include cobotics and AR/VR,
o progressing the Advanced Manufacturing Centre,
o expanding the Tyndall National Institute,
o commencing the development of a National Centre of Excellence on High Performance and Nearly Zero Energy Buildings
o commencing the development of a National Design Centre
• With NESC, develop a strategy for Transition Teams to help the transition of vulnerable enterprises and workers

Pillar 2: Improving SME Productivity

• Deliver a new female entrepreneurship strategy
• Develop a new investment funding facility to assist indigenous Irish companies in scaling their businesses
• Encourage the growth of clusters where enterprises can grow and help each other and deepen linkages between foreign and Irish owned businesses
• Increase the impact of Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) and increase SME take-up of Enterprise Ireland (EI) and LEO productivity supports
• Drive productivity growth in the construction and retail sectors

Pillar 3: Enhancing Skills and Developing and Attracting Talent

• Offer career advice to workers through the Public Employment Service
• Engrain lifelong learning and offer career enhancing opportunities to workers
• Ensure our economic migration system is responsive to our labour market needs
• Promote flexible training options
• Provide training in emerging technologies

Pillar 4: Increasing Participation in the Labour Force

• Conduct a national consultation on extending flexible working options
• Develop guidelines for employers on flexible working options
• Develop a return to work service (e.g. for women returning to the workplace) as part of the Public Employment Service
• Improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities
• Provide incentives for people who wish to work longer

Pillar 5: Transitioning to a Low Carbon Economy

• Position Ireland as a centre in research, development and innovation, for smart grids, buildings and renewable technologies
• Review the regional dimension of the economic and employment implications of the transition to a low carbon economy
• Promote electric vehicles and achieve over 10,000 electric vehicles on the road by the end of the year
• Deliver a national deep retrofit programme for existing housing stock.