Building Bridges Between Irish Universities and Silicon Valley

With the stated aim of teaching, “business skills to university researchers and scientists,” the Science Foundation of Ireland (SFI) has partnered with the Dublin City University (DCU) Ryan Academy. In addition, entrepreneurship training for postdoctoral researchers at research centres will be provided in Universities across Ireland.

The program is part of SFI’s TIDA (Technology Innovation Development Award) 2010 programme. At the end of the programme participants will pitch their ideas to a selected panel that will include a representative from the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG).

The ITLG will then host the team with the winning presentation for a week-long visit to Silicon Valley which will be facilitated by the SFI. The visit will be an opportunity for the winning researchers to meet members of the venture community and leading technology companies.

The ITLG recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Dublin City University to promote technology innovation, the latest in a series of alliances between the group and Ireland’s universities. The partnership, with an initial duration of three years, aims to form a strong engagement between DCU and ITLG.

DCU was originally established in 1975 as a National Institute for Higher Education with a focus on science, technology and business, and was awarded university status in 1989. There are now over 11,000 students registered at DCU, with a quarter of these at graduate level. The university is a strong promoter of both entrepreneurship and innovation, incorporating the DCU Ryan Academy for researchers and entrepreneurs in Citywest, and the Invent enterprise center for technology-based startups on the main DCU campus.

With a significant focus on research, DCU is a collaborator or leader in three of Science Foundation Ireland’s CSETs (Centers for Science, Engineering and Technology): CLARITY, a center for sensor web technologies; CTVR, a telecommunications research center; and CNGL, a center for next-generation localization.

Commenting on the alliance with ITLG, Brian MacCraith, President of DCU, told us that the seeds have been sown for substantial industry investment in the future, both during and beyond the three-year partnership. There are plans to develop a competency centre with the help of ITLG, specializing in market-led innovation.

The University wants to create a stronger affiliation with Silicon Valley, through mentoring programs for graduate students initially and for undergraduates later on. Another desired result from the partnership is the development of a framework for deeper research initiatives.

In 2010, the ITLG announced a partnership with NUI Galway, the University of Limerick, and Shannon Development to form the Shannon Energy Valley initiative – a national hub for energy research and development – aiming to position Ireland as a leading innovator and developer of clean technologies. The ITLG also signed a memorandum of understanding with Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and UCD in 2009 to support technological innovation by university spinouts and to assist these companies with business opportunities in the United States.

As well as running a yearly University Challenge Award for university spinout companies, the ITLG is also beginning efforts to support Irish students looking for experience in the US through a Silicon Valley mentoring program. In conjunction with the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, the program has access to a network of 14,000 companies in which Irish graduates can either apply for mentoring or for a full internship.

You can also view a brief video report on this subject by Ina O’Murchu.

Sensor Monitoring for Home and Farm Applications

HealthComms is a startup which aims to use intelligent sensor technology, to provide home healthcare solutions for the elderly. Their suite of products, HealthConnect, takes a multi-layered approach to healthcare, allowing the elderly person to remain in familiar surroundings, while also reducing the cost of healthcare.

The first layer of the HealthConnect suite that is set for release into the marketplace is MyHomeReach. This software uses visual aids to connect the individual with his or her social care network, which can be comprised of professional care workers and physicians, as well as informal carers like family and neighbours. The individual has their, “social care network” displayed before them on a touchscreen interface and presses the relevant person’s image and MyHomeReach will connect to the person through whichever media is required, from “a rich media being top of the stack all the way down to a text message,” explains the company’s co-founder, Tom Byrne.
The next layer of HealthConnect which is in development, MyHealth, will allow two-way tele-care to be provided by the health professional, “Your consult could come in through your general practitioner and your biometric information whether it be blood pressure, diabetes or just a subjective “I’m not feeling great today,” can go out to the G.P.”

Tom believes that this will have particular relevance in winter months, when mobility becomes restricted for many elderly people. “They still have their needs. We believe that that’s going to be very powerful. The option of enabling people to stay at home not only has the benefit of their well-being but it’s a low cost. And we hope to be able to enable that.”

The third layer, Tom explains, is automation. When the individual uses the visual interface to contact a member of their care network, they can allow that person to manage functions within the home such as heating and lighting. “Is your elderly parent at home, warm? I can tell. I can turn on the heat if it’s not, I can raise it remotely. Essentially when they touch the picture, they hand control to you for that session.”

The final element of the HealthConnect suite will be MyHomeView, which will rely on, “sensored living”. This element of the HealthConnect product will allow for remote monitoring of patients through the positioning of ambient sensors in the home.

“There are a few companies in Ireland and the U.S. that are doing ambient-assisted living, which is monitoring behaviour. So, a person gets up typically at 6 a.m. in the morning, goes out to the kitchen, plugs in the kettle, puts on the toaster, etc. That’s a habit, that’s a pattern. Any divergence from that pattern could be an indication that something is up.”

Tom identifies that until now, “The difficult piece for the ambient-assisted living is, what do you alert on when a pattern is broken or there is an atypical activity?”

The combined layers of the HealthConnect product will deliver telemetric information which will tell the individual’s social care network whether the break in the pattern is an anomaly or something to act upon and contact the health professional if necessary.

“What we’re saying is, these are the people that you notify. These are the people that can assist. This person could be across the road. For you it could be on your browser or on your iPad. Because the application is all back-ended we will present all the information to you through any media that you have to hand.”

HealthComms have also developed a product called EquineWatch which allows stud owners to monitor the health of their horses, assets which Tom explains, “could be worth operationally about €1.5 million”.

“A horse is a very social animal, not unlike ourselves. In a herd, you have activities that will be indicative of the atypical situation. For example, if a horse is isolated for a period of time it means it could be bullied by other horses, it means it could be sick, and separated from the herd or separating itself from the herd. It could be pre-foaling. It could be agitated, so hyperactivity is just as important to a stud manager as inactivity is, because hyperactivity will indicate a potential colic, for example and colic is one of the biggest killers of horses.”

The Equinewatch sensor, a 9cm device, can attach to the horses collar and gather, “biometric information like temperature, moisture and agitation”.

“Essentially it’s a PC. It’s not a dumb sensor in that it takes data and transfers it. We can take the information and change or interpret the information on the unit itself, on the sensor. and then take an action based on that.”

The EquineWatch technology has been trialled at the Derrinstown Stud and with Ireland, “punching well above its weight” in the equestrian world Tom believes that this product will be a valuable asset to Stud owners.

HealthComms is one of the startups which has benefited from the Propeller accelerator programme
run by the Ryan Academy at Dublin City University.

“Propeller I think has been very useful to us in that it has given us the rolodexes of a number of people. We have been given names of people who we would not have come across or spent a lot more time getting. So we are getting in front of people with the ideas that we’re working on so much easier, and it’s shortcutting that whole process.”

The advice from experienced mentors is something which Tom feels is helping drive HealthComms from interesting technology to viable product.

“How are we going to sell these products? How are we going to get in front of people? And they’ve lots of experience of this; the good and bad of how to get your product in front of the group that you’re interested in. People will spend years doing this, and we’re getting it in three months. So it’s a huge leg-up for a company. The money’s not bad as well! This is all we do, we’re both working on this getting it up and running and it’s very helpful these days.”

Richard A. Moran: Innovation and Poetry

I like to write in “bullets”. Maybe it’s all the PowerPoint presentations I’ve had to do over the years. In PowerPoint there is almost a headline followed by the bullets of data that support the headline.

One of the appeals for those who visit Ireland and are proud of their Irish heritage is the connection with the “poets”. We love to hear even the casual reference to a verse of poetry. Even in presentations for venture funding, a little reference from an Irish entrepreneur can demonstrate a well-read person who knows how to use an intellect.

When it comes to bringing innovation to market it might be wise to note an American poet who wistfully lamented what might have been.

Bringing innovation to market is not about woulda, coulda, shoulda. It’s about finding a dream and executing.

Maud Muller

MAUD Muller, on a summer’s day,
Raked the meadow sweet with hay.

Beneath her torn hat glowed the wealth
Of simple beauty and rustic health.

Singing, she wrought, and her merry glee
The mock-bird echoed from his tree.

But when she glanced to the far-off town,
White from its hill-slope looking down,

The sweet song died, and a vague unrest
And a nameless longing filled her breast,—

A wish that she hardly dared to own,
For something better than she had known.

The Judge rode slowly down the lane,
Smoothing his horse’s chestnut mane.

He drew his bridle in the shade
Of the apple-trees to greet the maid,

And ask a draught from the spring that flowed
Through the meadow across the road.

She stooped where the cool spring bubbled up,
And filled for him her small tin cup,

And blushed as she gave it, looking down
On her feet so bare, and her tattered gown.

“Thanks!” said the Judge; “a sweeter draught
From a fairer hand was never quaffed.”

He spoke of the grass and flowers and trees,
Of the singing birds and the humming bees;

Then talked of the haying, and wondered whether
The cloud in the west would bring foul weather.

And Maud forgot her brier-torn gown
And her graceful ankles bare and brown;

And listened, while a pleased surprise
Looked from her long-lashed hazel eyes.

At last, like one who for delay
Seeks a vain excuse, he rode away.

Maud Muller looked and sighed: “Ah me!
That I the Judge’s bride might be!

“He would dress me up in silks so fine,
And praise and toast me at his wine.

“My father should wear a broadcloth coat;
My brother should sail a painted boat.

“I’d dress my mother so grand and gay,
And the baby should have a new toy each day.

“And I’d feed the hungry and clothe the poor,
And all should bless me who left our door.”

The Judge looked back as he climbed the hill,
And saw Maud Muller standing still.

“A form more fair, a face more sweet,
Ne’er hath it been my lot to meet.

“And her modest answer and graceful air
Show her wise and good as she is fair.

“Would she were mine, and I to-day,
Like her, a harvester of hay:

“No doubtful balance of rights and wrongs,
Nor weary lawyers with endless tongues,

“But low of cattle and song of birds,
And health and quiet and loving words.”

But he thought of his sisters proud and cold,
And his mother vain of her rank and gold.

So, closing his heart, the Judge rode on,
And Maud was left in the field alone.

But the lawyers smiled that afternoon,
When he hummed in court an old love-tune;

And the young girl mused beside the well,
Till the rain on the unraked clover fell.

He wedded a wife of richest dower,
Who lived for fashion, as he for power.

Yet oft, in his marble hearth’s bright glow,
He watched a picture come and go,—

And sweet Maud Muller’s hazel eyes
Looked out in their innocent surprise.

Oft, when the wine in his glass was red,
He longed for the wayside well instead;

And closed his eyes on his garnished rooms
To dream of meadows and clover-blooms.

And the proud man sighed, with a secret pain,
“Ah, that I were free again!

“Free as when I rode that day,
Where the barefoot maiden raked her hay.”

She wedded a man unlearned and poor,
And many children played round her door.

But care and sorrow, and childbirth pain,
Left their traces on heart and brain.

And oft, when the summer sun shone hot
On the new-mown hay in the meadow lot,

And she heard the little spring brook fall
Over the roadside, through the wall,

In the shade of the apple-tree again
She saw a rider draw his rein.

And, gazing down with timid grace,
She felt his pleased eyes read her face.

Sometimes her narrow kitchen walls
Stretched away into stately halls;

The weary wheel to a spinet turned,
The tallow candle an astral burned,

And for him who sat by the chimney lug,
Dozing and grumbling o’er pipe and mug,

A manly form at her side she saw,
And joy was duty and love was law.

Then she took up her burden of life again,
Saying only, “It might have been.”

Alas for maiden, alas for Judge,
For rich repiner and household drudge!

God pity them both! and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall.

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

Ah, well! for us all some sweet hope lies
Deeply buried from human eyes;

And, in the hereafter, angels may
Roll the stone from its grave away!

John Greenleaf Whittier, 1807–1892.

mobileminder: Keeping Children Secure on the Networks

The recent proliferation of affordable and easy-to-use smart phones has resulted in many children having unlimited access to the Internet and potential exposure to unsuitable content which is beyond the reach of any parental supervision.

Mobileminder is a product from Dublin-based start up Associate Mobile which allows parents to monitor their children’s mobile-phone activity, and to also utilise their phone’s technology to ensure their safety. The product is currently available for Android smart phones.

Founded in 2011 by Don Corbett and Brian Shannon. Associate Mobile is one of the participants in the Propeller Venture Accelerator program in Dublin City University’s Ryan Academy.

Mobileminder was launched “very quickly” says co-founder Don Corbett. “We wanted to see if it could get any traction, if the market really validated the proposition and if people would really buy it. People did buy it, and we used that as a market research exercise to get viable feedback on how we could build out version two.”

Version two of Mobileminder is, he says, “much, much better, there’s quite a lot of innovative stuff in it, very cutting edge”.

“It’s a complete parental supervision platform for mobiles and also a safety platform for mobiles, so it allows a parent to set a location for their child and when the child reaches the location the parent gets notified that they’ve arrived safely.”

Among the features offered by Mobileminder are:

  • Geo-fencing:The parent can set a geo-fence area and receive a notification when the child enters this area.
  • Flagged words: This allows the parent to input words which might indicate bullying or inappropriate content, and if these appear in the child’s SMS messages, the parent will be alerted.
  • Web browsing filter: The mobile can be set to, “create a safe environment on the mobile for the child to surf the Internet so they won’t go on to an inappropriate site by mistake.”

Don and Brian have noticed that in the blurring of the lines between mobile phone and computer there was a gap in the level of protection afforded to children. “It’s about giving the same tools to a parent on mobile phones that are available for the Internet to protect their child”, explains Don.

Don has identified the controversial areas of “sexting” and cyber-bullying as cases where Mobileminder might prove particularly effective. With proposed anti-sexting legislation pending in many U.S. states Don envisages a high demand in the American market.

Access to the lucrative U.S. market is crucial in this regard, and the Propeller program gives Associated Mobile, “a foothold into the U.S. without having to actually move to the U.S.,” through their links with Arizona State University.
The Propeller programme has been “brilliant” in many ways admits Don, even down to its connection with the Ryan Academy. The Ryan Academy, which this week partnered with Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) to provide entrepreneurship training for postdoctoral researchers at research centres in Irish Universities, holds a special significance for Don.

“Tony Ryan is a legendary Irish entrepreneur. It is great to actually affiliated with something that associated with him.”

As regards life outside Propeller, Don’s aims are simple, “Survival. We want to put things in place that will allow us to give ourselves more runway so we can survive until we can close a funding round.”

He is hopeful that revenues from Mobileminder will be sufficient to allow Associated Mobile to survive, and retain some independence.

“We don’t want to be completely dependent on closing a funding round. The start up world is, well our company is anyway, fighting to create revenue, even if it’s short term revenue through services, just to stay alive so we can build that proposition. We don’t look on ourselves as someone who burns through investor cash while validating our proposition; we’d rather validate the proposition while we’re fighting and struggling, get the investor cash and then scale. That’s kind of the mentality that we’re taking forward here.”

VendorShop: Making Use of Facebook’s Social Graph

Chris Small is originally from New Zealand and is now living in Ireland. When he first arrived he set up a small advertising agency and consultancy which he later sold to a much larger firm. His current project is VendorShop which enables businesses to sell products on Facebook.

VendorShop powers stores and is not a store itself. The users of the service sell everything from fresh chillies in the United States to both restaurants and individuals right through to World Vision Ireland who put their alternative Christmas catalogue online and you can go and buy an immunization for €15.00 for a child.

As Chris explains that as opposed to conventional methods of ecommerce, “One of the fundamental things about why Facebook is the new place to be when going online is because the future is about activating social commerce.

“A very simple way of looking at it is that if I am shopping on a VendorShop store what I want as the vendor is for you to buy something. What would be even better would be my buying something prompting my friends to buy something as well. That is what Facebook is all about. It is about friendships and encouraging the friendships to encourage buying.

“When you are talking about social commerce as opposed to ecommerce where I might use google ads and other tools to drive traffic to my site all I have to do is to get a person to get buying and interacting. Because as a shopper when I interact with your site something goes up on my wall and all my friends see it. So all of a sudden I got this much bigger sales force out there pulling people in as compared to having to advertise to do it.”

A key aspect to how VendorShop works is in its ability to take advantage of Facebook’s social graph.

“We’re about individuals saying, ‘I got this fantastic deal and I am going to share it and I share it on my wall with my friends.’

“If I am buying something in the real world you can say, ‘I got a deadly pair of shoes the other day and I bought them in XYZ shop.’ to your friends when you are having a coffee. Exactly the same thing can happen in the online space on Facebook because that is how Facebook works. Facebook is all about connecting your friends together so friends can ultimately see what what you are doing and get implied recommendations as a result.”

Chris is a participant of the Propeller Venture Accelerator Fund program at The Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurship in Dublin, Ireland.

Over a period of three months startup and early stage companies are given space and some funding to take their businesses to the next level.

A resource of prime importane for the teams on the program is the access to a group of more than forty mentors covering all the diverse areas of business such as legal, sales and marketing, strategy, funding processes, and so on.

“We know lots of stuff but there is lots for us to learn. That is what we are finding in terms of the program. We are meeting people who do a number of things. They allow us to bounce off thoughts and ideas. They may be about business structure. We met our legal mentor last weekend to talk about the best way to structure our business in order to get the next round of funding that we need.

“We talked to other mentors about the people they can, ultimately, introduce us to. We are growing really quickly but we want to grow two or three times more quickly then we are growing now. We want to have hundreds of thousands of stores on Facebook in a pretty short space of time.

“Also, for a small early stage company it is hard to cover all the bases. Being able to get all the expert information really quickly is brilliant. Literally, to be able to just pick up a phone to some of the people we have who are mentors and ask their opinions on stuff or get them in and throw around a few thoughts on the table is a great thing.”

Survey on Online Social Networks

A team of researchers at the Information Systems Department at the Technische Universität München, in Germany are conducting a survey on Twitter usage, and how this is affecting the daily lives and personal relationships of those who use the social network.

The survey examines the emotional effects wrought by Twitter usage on the individual, as well as the individual’s real and perceived role within the social network. It also looks at Twitter’s perceived problem-solving utility in ‘real-life’ situations.

Felix Köbler is one of the researchers conducting the survey, “Online social networks, in particular Twitter, play an increasingly important role in our lives. The use of Twitter has even been linked to political and social revolutions. We want to learn about the different ways that people use Twitter and how it affects their online and offline social relationships.”

Those wishing to participate in this study can do so by following this link. The survey takes about fifteen minutes to complete, and Felix expects the results to be available in the fourth quarter of 2011.

You can read more about the work of Felix and his colleagues in this article: “NFC: Using your Mobile to Make Natural Connections