'Tippy Talk' wins Enterprise Ireland Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2015

Thursday 11th June 2015

Student from Limerick Institute of Technology scoops top prize at Enterprise Ireland Student Entrepreneur Awards 2015

Pictured at the Awards ceremony in University of Ulster’s Jordanstown Campus is Rob Laffan, ‘Tippy Talk’ from LIT. (credit Harrison Photography – no repro fee).
Pictured at the Awards ceremony in University of Ulster’s Jordanstown Campus is Rob Laffan, ‘Tippy Talk’ from LIT. (credit Harrison Photography – no repro fee).

“Tippy Talk” wins €10,000 prize and title ‘College Entrepreneur of the Year 2015’

Three High Achieving Merit Award Winners from University of Ulster, GMIT and Trinity College Dublin

Rob Laffan, a student from Limerick Institute of Technology, has today won the Enterprise Ireland Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award and been named ‘College Entrepreneur of the Year 2015’. The winning entrant beat off stiff competition with his project ‘Tippy Talk’, a bespoke, robust touch-screen communication system that has been designed by the father of a non-verbal child with autism. ‘TippyTalk’ allows the child to communicate her desires, feelings and needs to her parents through the transfer of pictures to text messages. ‘TippyTalk’ can also be adapted to cover other areas of non-verbal disabilities. 

This year celebrates the 34th year of these prestigious awards which are co-sponsored by Invest Northern Ireland, Cruickshank Intellectual Property Attorneys, Intel and Grant Thornton and are open to all third level colleges across the island of Ireland. 

The Student Entrepreneur Awards are part of a major drive aimed at encouraging students to start their own business as a career option. This year the Awards attracted submissions from over 500 third level students from colleges across Ireland. The substantial prize fund includes €35,000 in cash prizes and €30,000 in consultancy fees which are available for winners to help them make a serious start at turning their idea into a commercial reality. In addition to winning the top prize, the winning team will also receive mentoring from Enterprise Ireland/Invest Northern Ireland to develop the commercial viability of their overall concept.

The awards were presented by Ian Murphy, Director of Growth & Scaling, Invest Northern Ireland and Sean Pagel from Production Services Ireland.

Three High Achieving Merit Awards, sponsored by Cruickshank Intellectual Property Attorneys, Grant Thornton and Intel, and Enterprise Ireland’s ‘Roots in Research’ commercialisation award were also presented.

The Cruickshank Intellectual Property Attorneys’ High Achieving Merit Award of €5,000 went to ‘Blindspot’ from University of Ulster. Cruickshank Intellectual Property Attorneys are also providing intellectual property consultancy and protection for all the finalists.

The Grant Thornton Emerging Business Award of €5,000 went to ‘The Wee Team’ from GMIT. Grant Thornton will also provide business plan development advice to the finalists.

Intel awarded their ICT award of €5,000 to ‘Blazer’ from Trinity College Dublin. 

Enterprise Ireland’s ‘Roots in Research Award’, which highlights the commercial potential of research funded by the Irish Government, was awarded to med-tech start-up company ‘SecuRetract’ from UCC.

Merit Awards were also given to the remaining seven finalists, and a new Enterprise Ireland Institute Award of €1,000 was presented to Fred Scharf at University of Ulster in recognition of outstanding encouragement to students and the standard of applications submitted.

Tom Hayes, Head of Micro Enterprises and Small Business at Enterprise Ireland a said: “The aim of the Student Entrepreneur Awards is to get students thinking now about starting their own businesses and seriously considering enterprise as a valid career option. With an extensive range of supports from the sponsors, this competition gives students valuable hands-on experience in entrepreneurship and establishing a business. We are delighted with the caliber of applications for these awards which clearly demonstrates that the entrepreneurial spirit is very much alive across Ireland’s universities and colleges”.

Congratulating the award winners on their success, Ian Murphy, Director of Growth & Scaling, Invest Northern Ireland, said: “Invest NI is delighted to be involved with the Student Entrepreneur Awards and in playing our part in encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship. Competitions like this can act as an important springboard for tomorrow’s business leaders and provide a platform for our young people to demonstrate their highly innovative concepts and commercial skills. It is equally important that they see starting their own businesses as a viable career choice and one to be immensely proud of”.  


Information about the winning projects

College Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2015 winner:  ‘Tippy Talk’ – LIT – Rob Laffan

TippyTalk is a bespoke robust touch screen communication system that has been designed by the father of a non-verbal child with autism. TippyTalk allows the child to communicate her desires, feelings and needs to her parents through the transfer of pictures to text messages. TippyTalk allows for the child to send messages to her parents no matter where they are in the world. Not just limited to autism, TippyTalk can be adapted to cover other areas of non-verbal disabilities.  

Cruickshank Intellectual Property Attorneys’ High Achieving Merit Award winner:  ‘BlindSpot’ – University of Ulster – Joseph McKinney, Adam Jamison & Thomas McGlaughlin

BlindSpot offers a unique, 21st century virtual reality training tool which enables the user to immerse themselves in a virtual world. Using a VR headset, steering wheel, gears and pedals we are able to simulate the driving experience accurately with the ability to adjust steering resistance, vehicle height/ length and many other features to make the BlindSpot experience as real as possible. Using the media of Virtual reality we believe we can revolutionize driver training by allowing users to spend more time training providing a safe, risk-free training method that can be used in the workplace or at home.  This product allows learner drivers to practice manoeuvers and drive in conditions that may be seasonal and alien to them, such as driving at night or in snow. 

Grant Thornton Emerging Business Award winner: ‘The Wee Team’ - GMIT – Loraine Sotoparra & Laura Williams

Mr. Wee – a unique product that trains boys to lift the toilet seat.  Our idea is a solution to a worldwide domestic problem! It is a device which forces boys to lift the toilet seat in order to urinate and can be used as a training device for younger boys. It is fixed to the toilet seat upper rim creating a barrier across the seat. The product can be bent back onto itself if the user wishes to be seated! It is easy to clean, safe and hygienic. It has 3 fitting sizes and can be customised with any graphics and text to target a broad audience. It’s a simple, affordable, effective product ready to go to market.

Intel ICT award winner: ‘BLAZER’ – Trinity College Dublin - Francis Yates, Joseph Lanzillotta & John O’Reilly

The BLazer team has developed a novel approach to protecting the honey bee from the devastating effects of the Varroa mite. It is hard to imagine a world without bees but the mite has the potential to wipe out the honey bee. The Varroa mite is not only threatening honey production but having devastating effects on the pollination of crops across the world. The team consists of two engineering student Francis Yates and John O'Reilly and one business student Joseph Lanzillotta.

Enterprise Ireland ‘Roots in Research Award’ winners: ‘SecuRetract’ – UCC -Conor O'Shea, Jan Kegel, Ruggero Loi & Prasanna Ramaswamy

The ‘SecuRetract’ team answers an important clinical need identified by a number of leading colorectal surgeons. ‘SecuRetract’ is a minimally invasive, disposable retractor for use in laparoscopic surgery with a number of advantages over competing technologies. This novel, patented retractor has the potential to ease surgical procedures as well as improving patient outcomes by alleviating a number of common complications currently experienced by the gold standard approach in laparoscopic retraction. With a rapidly growing global market, ‘SecuRetract’ is positioned to bring meaningful employment to Ireland with promising export and business growth potential.

For more information on the Student Entrepreneur Awards visit: www.studententrepreneurawards.ie


For further information contact:

Gillian Slattery

Regional Development Executive, Enterprise Ireland.

+353 61 429927

+353 87 931 6103

Gillian Slattery


Summary of remaining finalists

‘PingsterTM’ – University of Ulster – Patrick Catterall, Fiona McLaughlin & Ronan Duddy

Pingster™ is an online space that brings together the ideas of young coders, designers, 3D modelers and gamers in one space to play and learn with technology by making stuff! It’s a web app for children aged 7-14 years old to share digital ideas and collaborate together on projects, and it’s free to join.

‘IVEA Labs’ – Queens University Belfast – Victoria Potts, Adam Whiteside, Alex Caskey, Andrew Boyd

This team are developing an innovative solution aimed at the tourism industry, addressing the problem of lack of information for both attraction visitors and attraction owners. Our solution, Visit, has two parts - a free location-aware app for attraction visitors, presenting them with information about their surroundings, and an advanced dashboard for attraction owners, allowing them to learn even more about how their visitors interact with their attraction based on their use of the app.

‘MAGPIE’ – Trinity College Dublin - Ronan MacNamara, Jack O Shea, Gavin Nevin and Simon Fitzgerald

The Magpie is a semi-autonomous aerial drone which uses an array of technology to detect sub-surface explosive ordinance and landmines. Current Mine reveal methods are outdated, inefficient, expensive and dangerous. Hence we invented the MAGPIE. An aerial survey drone with GPSAR, metal detectors and a brand new mode of drone flight unlike any currently on the market that we call DAP (Dynamic Angle Propulsion). Current detection methods involve either sending waves a ‘sappers’ into mine fields with metal detectors in hand or large expensive tanks with flails attached which destroy the mines. These methods are outdated, expensive and most importantly highly dangerous. MAGPIE revolutionizes the playing field and it could save countless lives worldwide. Annually the UN spends over $100million on landmine removal and countries such as Colombia and Cambodia spend significant percentages of their GDP on land mine removal. Unfortunately it costs roughly 100 times as much to remove a landmine as to plant one so this is where, we believe, the MAGPIE can excel.

‘StudentSlingshot’ – UCD – Patrick Guiney, Conor Burke & Katie Mannion

Student Slingshot is an educational initiative that aims to educate, mentor and inspire the next generation of young people to pursue their dream path in life. We achieve this mission through a series of events around Ireland and on our online platform.

‘EpiSafe’ – NUIG – Audrey Holland, Nichole Griffin & Katie Durcan

Epilepsy is a debilitating condition that affects approximately 4% of the world’s population.  A major concern for both individuals diagnosed with epilepsy and their immediate family is the associated vulnerability and potential danger posed as a result of the sporadic nature of epileptic seizures. This can have a serious impact on the quality of life of all concerned and more importantly can have a detrimental effect on the ability of the individual with epilepsy to live an independent life-style.

This unique solution involves the development and production of a unified epilepsy monitoring and alarm system called ‘EpiSafe’. ‘EpiSafe’ is a new medical safety device specifically designed to act as a monitor/alarm for epilepsy patients and their carers in order to prepare for a seizure event and to act as a recording/sensor device for collecting data for clinicians who manage the disorder in primary and secondary care.

‘EqualiserTM’ – CIT – Brian Hand

EqualiserTM is an extreme weather conditions novel tie-down system for ship to shore cranes, incorporating an equalising beam and torque adjustable features, which has been designed, prototyped, optimised and tested. The tie-down system is a critical device to prevent a container crane from being overturned or pushed along the quay during extreme weather events. The development of EqualiserTM has substantially advanced the safety and design functionality of this important crane component, which is highly influenced by strong damaging wind forces. The maritime shipping industry dominates the transport of containerised cargo internationally with over 90% cargo transported by sea and Ship-to-Shore cranes account for the transport of over 300 million containers annually. It is expected that all ports will triple of double output by 2020. This innovative design ensures equal distribution of these forces on installed tie-down mechanisms and eliminates irregularities in height difference during operation which is critical.

‘Digital Test Tube’ – DCU – Daniel Thewlis & Stephen Foley

This project is centered on revolutionizing the way PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) is performed in the laboratory. PCR is the name given to the technique which is used in order to make millions of copies of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) the carrier of genetic information in almost all living organisms, from a single copy. The idea we have will involve the building of a computer program, which asks for the specific section or sequence of DNA the user wants to copy or 'amplify' in the PCR reaction, as well as it's concentration. This will inform the user which parameters would be best suited for their PCR reaction. This is especially important because these are very sensitive parameters which, if incorrectly calculated, can result in failed experiments.  This project will allow scientists all over the world performing similar experiments to communicate. We are certain that this program will introduce new levels of confidence validity and speed to PCR.