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Magherafelt start-up company Riddell Tech Ltd has marked a major milestone for the University of Ulster by becoming the 200th company to tap into the skills and expertise of specialists at the University through the Invest Northern Ireland Innovation Voucher programme.

Funded by Invest NI and Enterprise Ireland, the Innovation Voucher Programme offers businesses support worth up to £4,000 (€5000 in the Republic of Ireland) to access innovative business solutions to collaborate with universities and colleges throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Riddell Tech used an innovation voucher to access specialist help from academics in the Centre for Sustainable Technologies to develop a flexible roof mounted solar thermal panel for farm buildings. The project comprised indoor experimental evaluation of a low temperature polymer solar water heating collector.

Lead academic on the project was Dr Mervyn Smyth, a Reader in Solar Thermal and Lecturer in Building Services Engineering in the School of the Built Environment. He explains how they worked with the company to determine accurately the performance of the Riddell unglazed polymer solar water heating system in a specially developed solar simulator testing facility at the Jordanstown campus.

“We designed and developed a solar simulator testing facility with flexibility and appropriate instrumentation and then conducted tests on the prototype collector and system supplied by Riddell Tech under controllable environmental conditions.”

The Innovation Voucher programme at Ulster is managed by the University’s Office of Innovation. Tim Brundle, Director of Innovation at Ulster said the University is proud of its achievements in delivering skills and expertise to over 200 small companies the length and breadth of Ireland.

“The Innovation Voucher programme, which was designed to stimulate new collaboration between small businesses and knowledge providers, provides an excellent mechanism to help remove barriers for businesses to work with academia.”

He added that the success of the Innovation Voucher programme had prompted many companies to continue working with the University.

“Companies recognise the value of working with academics through the Innovation Voucher Programme and are increasingly seeking their expertise through other business support schemes.”

The wide variety of innovative projects to have benefited from Ulster’s expertise to date include: An assessment of the effects of wearing incorrect footwear on the diabetic foot; An investigation of natural resources on a quarry site to aid sustainable drainage; Development of a therapeutic programme for children and young people with complex communication disorders; the design of a disabled access shower system; business strategy review with an emphasis on supply chain materials management, tendering and income generation.

Robert Riddell, Managing Director, Riddell Tech Ltd said the Innovation Voucher programme had proved very beneficial for the company.

“I was delighted to have been able to access the skills and expertise at the University of Ulster to test the efficiencies of alternative energy systems, specifically for a solar thermal collector system in a simulated controlled environment. This supplied us with essential performance information and the test results also provided us with a focus for future development.

“The team at the University’s Centre for Sustainable Technologies really went out of their way to ensure the project was a success,” he added.

From left to right: University of Ulster's Dr Mervyn Smyth, School of the Built Environment, Centre for Sustainable Technologies, Robert Riddell, Managing Director, Riddell Tech Ltd and Kerry Patterson, University of Ulster Office of Innovation. Riddell Tech Ltd from Magherafelt was the 200th company in Ireland to access specialist help from the University of Ulster through Invest NI's Innovation Voucher programme.