European tech firms win plaudits from the World Economic Forum

Brid-Aine Parnell

Wednesday 9 September 2015

We take a look at the European winners in the World Economic Forum’s latest tech pioneer report.

Just 11 of the 49 companies chosen as tech pioneers by the World Economic Forum in August were from Europe, but they represent innovation that goes from generating electricity from plants to treating cancer with electric fields to transferring money worldwide.

Hundreds of candidates were up for the title of “most promising tech pioneer”, with a professional jury of 68 academics, entrepreneurs and investors whittling that down to just under 50 firms that show innovation, potential innovation, viability and leadership.

Getting a slot on the prestigious list means a huge amount of exposure for companies as well as the opportunity to network with some of the most influential and sought-after businesses and politicians at the “Summer Davos”, which will be held in Dalian, China in September and the Annual Meeting in Davos in January.

Sedicii is a firm that has come up with a new way to anonymise identification data and they are the only Irish company to appear on the list. The firm is based in Waterford’s Institute of Technology and has developed and patented a technology based on the Zero Knowledge Proof Protocol. Its software means that the transmission and storage of private user data during authentication doesn’t have to happen, eliminating the risk of exposure and subsequent identity theft.

Sedicii aims to have its system used to verify identities in call centres, on networks and websites and for secure credit card transactions and payments. Founder Rob Leslie told the Irish Examiner that being named on the WEF list would help that happen, giving the firm access to people “we would never have had a hope of reaching before”.

“The World Economic Forum carries a lot of gravitas. If they say something is worth paying attention to, people will sit up and take notice. It means a lot, it’s incredibly significant,” he said.

Sedicii was one of four European firms listed in the Information Technology category, along with British firms Darktrace, which markets a cybersecurity solution known as the Enterprise Immune System, and Transferwise, a fintech firm specialising in currency transfers, and fellow fintech firm from Sweden, iZettle, which does mobile payments.

But most European companies were listed under the Energy, Environment and Infrastructure category, where their work in global food supply, energy production and innovative design was honoured.

Kees Arts, founder of Dutch firm Protix Biosystems, says he was inspired to set up his company because he’s always wondered why the human race is throwing away millions of tonnes of protein on one hand and then catching millions of tonnes of fish for their protein. His solution? To use insects.

“Using insects, we’re able to bring a new natural source of feed to fish and chicken,” he explains. “This way we can recover up to 70 or even 80 per cent of the proteins in organic waste. The impact of this could be huge – the total amount of proteins that can be extracted through insects is the same as the total amount of proteins used in all feeds for agriculture and livestock.”

Not only could Protix provide a whole new source of animal feed, insects are also a great natural source of protein and Arts claims that animals raised on them are better fed, need fewer antibiotics, live longer – and are happier!

This kind of outside-the-box thinking is mirrored by fellow Dutch firm Plant-e, which aims to generate electricity from living plants and Italian firm Coelux, which uses nanotechnology to artificially reproduce the natural light and appearance of the sun and sky in a skylight window.

“When we first demonstrated the product at an exhibition, we noticed that people who entered our booth were often looking around wondering what product we were demonstrating. When we pointed up to the skylight, they simply assumed it was an opening to the outside,” said Professor Paolo di Trapani, founder and CEO of Coelux. “We had to work hard to convince them that it was not, in fact, the actual sky, by reminding them that we were deep inside a windowless exhibition centre!”

Although the tech pioneer list is dominated by US firms, the European showing from companies like Germany’s Heliatek, which produces ultra-light, flexible solar panels, and the UK’s Carbon Clean Solutions, which extracts CO2 and other unwanted gases from flue gas streams, demonstrate strong innovation in the energy and environment sector.

The WEF list is also evidence that technological invention can take us far beyond disruptive solutions and web firms and help answer some of the pressing questions of the modern world, like how to keep companies secure, how to improve global food supply and how to help combat climate change.

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