Dublin, 4th June 2019 - 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.

“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.”
Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland

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.


Learn more about each of the challenge areas and proposed solutions here.