Being named one of Innovate UK’s select group of Women in Innovation has opened so many doors for Northern Ireland entrepreneur Christine Boyle that she is looking to go into production two years ahead of schedule with a novel nanocomposite solar panel.
The annual Women in Innovation awards are a major Innovate UK initiative to encourage female entrepreneurs.
Enterprise Europe Network, fulfilling its role within the Innovate UK family of services, follows up with client companies, offering complementary support.
As one of the 15 Women in Innovation winners in 2016, Christine was enrolled on EEN’s Innovate 2 Succeed programme with because she needed help to move faster in getting her polymer-based solar panels to market.
Pilot production lines
Designed for domestic homes, they are stronger, lighter and cheaper to manufacture and install than conventional metal panels.
When Christine was referred to the EEN team in Northern Ireland they recommended she join a nanomaterials technology mission to Navarre in Spain. It paid off handsomely with a brokered invitation to take part in a €7.68 million Horizon 2020 collaborative project, NANOLEAP.
Its aim is to develop a network of pilot production lines for nanocomposite-based products for building construction and civil infrastructure.
NANOLEAP has provided Christine’s company, Belfast-based Senergy, with prototyping and testing facilities and cost-effective manufacturing support, all helping to accelerate her commercialisation plans.
She said: “We have been working mainly with the Fraunhofer Institute but all the partners are leading-edge in the nanomaterials industry and know who’s doing what globally in this sector.”
Exploring digital technology
Together with guaranteed access to highly-skilled advisers on topics such as IP strategy and manufacturing health & safety, Christine estimates that the project has benefited her business to the tune of £200,000 or more.
Being on an Innovate UK-organised Clean and Cool mission to San Francisco earlier in 2017 was “a real eye-opener” for her and a major step into the clean-tech sector. Christine recently made a follow-up trip to San Francisco.
She also joined the EMERGE Boston mission last October, organised by Innovate UK as part of its infocus programme to encourage female entrepreneurs, and the Digital Catapult.
Christine added: “While we’ve taken a leap in terms of incorporating nanomaterials, we’re also exploring digital technology, particularly integrated sensors which can improve efficiency in the home.”
Through the Innovate 2 Succeed programme, EEN has helped shape the company’s approach to innovation management. This in turn has helped to identify and prioritise global markets while completing a demonstrator system with the Centre of Sustainable Energy at Ulster University
She explained: “This year I want to start manufacturing in Northern Ireland and starting talks about a plant in North America. And I want to be selling into five of the global markets I have identified.
“We aim to be generating revenue of £12 million within four years.”
“Just as important to me is training and upskilling guys and girls in the construction industry and creating a product which is good for the environment and the economy.
“We’re looking for construction companies who are prepared to get involved in a pilot demonstrator in return for getting the first orders from us.”