News Release

Innovation Success for UU at 25K Awards

19th October 2007

Mykola Galushka, Vladimir Dobrynin, Dave Patterson, Jonathan Wallace and Niall Rooney receiving their prize from Hugh Crossey, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Steve Orr, Northern Ireland Science Park.

Unique technology devised by University of Ulster researchers has won the top prize at this year’s 25k Award organised by the Northern Ireland Science Park.

Invented by a team of three UU researchers in collaboration with St Petersburg State University, Russia, the technology enables searches to be performed on large volumes of electronic information.

The technology is currently being trialled by a major international newspaper and the students have formed a company to take this technology to market.

Dr David Patterson, one of the technology’s creator’s explains: “The idea is that SOPHIA Search develops a bespoke search engine for client organisations with vast reserves of unstructured data and that the system would work on an annual subscription basis.

“It is designed to meet the demands of today’s businesses where the sheer volume of unstructured digital information that is created and stored puts enormous stress on the organisation.

“SOPHIA addresses the search needs of organisations by automatically trawling through its documents to build structure by discovering key themes that naturally exist within them. Documents are then associated with the theme they are most closely aligned to with respect to their semantic content. Therefore when a user requests information, SOPHIA returns the themes that most closely match their needs. Users can then use this knowledge to understand the different contexts within the organisation that their request has.

“SOPHIA not only provides a high quality search experience but also facilitates an understanding of the meaning of documents within an organisation, leading to better decision making. This is what differentiates SOPHIA from the competition and the reason why it is attracting so much interest from the marketplace.”

The winning team consists of a partnership between Dr David Patterson, Niall Rooney and Mykola Galushka, who are based in the Technology and Engineering Innovation Centre (TEIC), Jordanstown campus, and Vladamir Dobrynim, St Petersburg State University, Russia.

The initial research for the project was carried out in the Northern Ireland Knowledge Engineering Lab (NIKEL), part of the University’s School of Computing and Mathematics.

The team then set up SOPHIA Search Ltd., as a spin-out company in August 2007.

Welcoming the award, Tim Brundle, Director of Innovation at the University of Ulster said: “We are very proud of all our entrepreneurs who participated in this competition. Congratulations go to the team at SOPHIA Search Limited who are now on their way to commercial success.

“The 25k Awards provide a unique opportunity for our students to showcase their creativity, talent, innovative ideas and business skills. The competition challenges them to explore the commercial potential of their ideas and our students have now taken first prize at six of the eight award ceremonies. It has been a wonderful achievement yet again for the University of Ulster.”

University of Ulster also scooped 2,500 award for the winning Faculty, received by Professor Richard Miller, Faculty of Computing and Engineering.

Over half of the products developed by finalists this year were online-based. The competition now in its eighth year, and aims to encourage students and researchers from the University of Ulster and Queen’s University Belfast to transform their research, ideas and enthusiasm into marketable products and new business solutions.

Norman Apsley, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Science Park, said:

“The Science Park is delighted to have incorporated the 25K Awards into its remit to encourage hi-tech ventures. The calibre of entrants this year has been extremely impressive, reflecting the quality of the research base in Northern Ireland.”

“In particular, the ten finalists have produced excellent and unique products, some of which will undoubtedly be very successful in the marketplace. The 25K Awards showcase Northern Ireland’s potential to succeed in the knowledge economy and create the indigenous, high value enterprises which the economy needs.”

The Award, which is sponsored by PricewaterHouse Coopers (PWC), Invest Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Centre for Entrepreneurship (NICENT), provides a platform for talented students and researchers to commercialise their research potential.

Dr Pauric McGowan, Director of NICENT said:

“The competition provides students and staff with invaluable resources crucial to successful innovation and entrepreneurship, including mentoring by seasoned professionals within the university and access to networks of investors and potential partners.”

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