INVENT winners: What happened next?

  • With entries for INVENT 2021 closing this Friday (23 April), we look at where some of the competition’s previous winners are now and ask them how INVENT helped them at the start of their journey. 

    INVENT has been a key milestone in the development of a raft of Northern Ireland’s most innovative start-up companies over the past decade.  

    We thought it would be interesting for those who are thinking of applying to see where some of the finalists from previous years are now, how they have grown their businesses, entered new markets and in some cases completely changed what they do.  

    If you find the stories below inspiring and think you have what it takes to join the INVENT alumni, you can find out more here 


    Since winning INVENT in 2014, Plotbox founders Leona and Sean McAllister have grown their business to a team of 55 people and now work with customers around the world.  

    PlotBox is a cloud-based death care management solution that helps cemeteries and crematoria to manage all of their operations in one place.

    Originally likened to ‘Google Maps for cemeteries’ its software helps people in the industry with their administration needs, from mapping graves to bookings diaries, finance, funeral director communications and safety inspections, saving customers time and money and reducing risk. It has customers in a number of markets, including the US, UK and Australia. 

    RELATED: Ballymena-based PlotBox named Northern Ireland’s most innovative tech firm

    In the uncertainty of the past year, Leona says the bereavement services industry has been under a huge strain, but those who already had the PlotBox solution benefitted from being able to do a lot more remotely. 

    “Our customers are still suffering but it shone a light on the fact that the industry can’t kick digital transformation down the road anymore. It is a very real risk,” she says. “As they tried to do their best to support families who had suffered a loss during Covid, we really saw customers leaning on us as their tech partners even more.” 

    This year, Plotbox has plans to continue to scale in the markets it is already in and potentially add new markets. It will also be focusing on the consumer side of its business – the Ever After portal - to enhance the user experience and ensure customers are getting value from their investment.   

    Of the role INVENT played in their journey, Leona says: “After we won INVENT it put us on a platform. It was like an endorsement from Northern Ireland to say ‘these guys are good’. It led on to another pitch competition that led to us being part of 500 Startups in California, which gave us sight of our market in the US. This gave us the opportunity to be in Silicon Valley surrounded by other high growth start-ups and was the beginning of our funding journey.           


    Innovative bike light company See.Sense were a category winner in 2014 

    Their reactive bike lights identify dangerous situations and quickly react to them, making sure cyclists stay safe and seen when they really need to be. The lights flash brighter and faster at riskier moments on the road, with its patented technology using sensor and communications technology, along with proprietary algorithms to monitor their environment up to 800 times per second.  

    See.Sense has sold more than 100,000 of its products to 70 countries and become a preferred supplier to Cycling Ireland and British Cycling, as well as being stocked by major retailers. It has taken in over £1.3m in investment and grown to a team of 13. 

    But the biggest change has been going from just having an innovative light that used sensors to adjust to its environment. See.Sense is now using the sensors in its lights to track data which cities are able to use to make the experience of cycling better for citizens, and also to track bikes and help tackle bike theft. 

    Co-founder Irene McAleese says the silver lining of Covid has been a biking boom and cities around the world making plans to improve their sustainability. It is already working with a range of cities, from Dublin to Denver. 

    RELATED: NI cycling tech firm See.Sense wins 2019 Digital Catapult Platinum award

    Irene says“One of the things INVENT encouraged us to do was to think big. It wasn’t just about perfecting a pitch, they worked with us over a number of months through workshops and engagement to think about our business.

    Irene adds: “I’d encourage anyone who is thinking of applying to go for it. Even if you don’t win, the process will help your business model and you’ll be inspired by meeting other entrepreneurs and mentorsOur mentor actually joined us as the chair of our board. INVENT gives you profile and exposure to people who want to help you. It’s tough enough being a start-up, so that’s invaluable. 


    Cyber security business Uleska was a category winner at INVENT 2017, impressing judges with its scalable platform, which provides automated and continuous security testing for cyber risk without the need for more personnel. 

    Uleska’s product automatically inserts cybersecurity tests into a customer’s software to reduce the risk of error and cut costs.  

    Founder Gary Robinson says that since INVENT, the business has built its team, attracted nearly £1m of investment and won sales in major markets including the US. Like every company it had its resilience tested by the pandemic, but it has benefited from the experience of its investors to emerge with a mindset focused on growth. 

    RELATED: What is the future of tech and start-ups in NI?

    Gary says INVENT gave the company a platform to go out and interact with some of the companies who are now its customers.  

    “There were a number of benefits of INVENT for us. Firstly, the pitching side, being able to give a succinct description of your product that makes sense for everyone. Secondly, we got visibility and credibility from the competition. Going to the US with INVENT also gave us visibility of our market and let us set up meetings to talk to people in a more mature industry with a different perspective from the UK and Ireland,” he says. 

    “It helped us to get out there and talk to decent sized companies we wanted as customers, to see what they wanted. We knew from the start that the automation of security would be a problem. But from 2017 to now we have seen a lot of customers and morphed the product based on what we’ve learned. I don’t think you ever stop learning in this industry.”  


    Overall winner in 2018 Gray’s Clip raised their profile even further after INVENT by appearing on TV’s Dragon’s Den – where they got several offers of investment from the celebrity panellists.  

    The company’s ViperClip product is a fully insulated cable clip which works with its specially designed battery powered stapler to secure 110v to 240v electrical cables to wooden joists and structures. 

    Davy and Julie Gray eventually ended up taking in £350,000 in funding from a group of local business angels, which enabled them to put the product out to trials to get feedback and now aim to bring the product to market at the end of this year. The company has interest from distributors around the world and is currently looking at a number of options for launch. 

    Julie Gray, co-founder, said: “If we hadn’t done INVENT we wouldn’t have got the reaction we did from Dragon’s Den. Our pitch had been practised, we were ready to answer questions. When I was grilled by Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones I had answers ready because that’s what INVENT trains you to do. We have now taken investment from a group of private investors and a lot of those people first saw me on stage at INVENT."


    A category winner in 2016, Locate a Locum is an online platform which connects locum pharmacists to employers who need cover due to staff holidays or illness. 

    The business began life as a pharmacist locum finding marketplace but has expanded to a full healthcare workforce management platform. Healthcare facilities use the tool to manage their internal staff and then can rely on an external labour pool to cover the gaps. 

    Locate a Locum is now used by 10,000 pharmacies across the UK and has around 20,000 users, including pharmacists, technicians and dispensers. Customers include the likes of MediCare, Clear Pharmacy and Superdrug. 

    RELATED: Locate A Locum only NI firm selected for Tech Nation's Upscale 6.0 programme

    Locate a Locum has grown to a team of 30 and had taken in £1m of new investment to expand into the care home sector just before Covid hit. Despite the pandemic, it has have secured contracts with a number of nursing homes and is being used by hundreds of nurses and health care assistants. 

    The business now intends to make a concerted push into the care home market and also to look at other sectors, such as opticians, while continuing to grow its core pharmacy business. 

    CEO Jonny Clarke says: “There are always obstacles to overcome to grow a business, there’s never enough time and we are always learning. But we’ve come a long way since INVENT. I had just left my job as a pharmacist in the hospital and there were only two of us in the business. We were still fleshing out the idea. 

    “INVENT taught us the art of pitching and I was one of the people who had to do the 60 second pitch in front of 400 people at the main event. Afterwards we found our name was known in certain circles, it raised our profile and that helped with recruiting staff."

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