Queen’s Island, now Titanic Quarter but nee Dargan’s Island, is a construct of man and mirrors in its own existence the innovations that Belfast has wrought over the past one and a half centuries or so.
Dredged from the River Lagan in order that the harbour be deep enough both to serve and to build the ever larger ships that were needed to trade goods from across the world, Queen’s Island was at first a playground and then a workplace for the city of Belfast.
What innovations did it witness then and what are its wonders today as it continues to provide workspace and recreation for a Belfast re-growing in size and self–belief?
Belfast had begun to build ships before the coming of Edward Harland and Gustav Wolff, but it was these two, together with Thomas Ismay who built the heritage we know today and their innovations were more business model and process than technology.
Harland had learned the engineering of high-pressure steam and riveted tensile steel from the legendary Stevenson family. Coupled to the others, he elected not to compete with his mentors, but turned the technology to provide high efficiency, and hence ever more modest costs, to the increasing hordes of all classes who wished to chase their fortunes in the Americas of the late 1800s.
Though the companies were distinct, they operated with trust on a cost plus model and this allowed them to experiment to the limits of the technology, with every class of ocean going ship bigger than the last.
Brunel is often credited with understanding the scaling laws of ships (drag only increases as the square of the length, while range and payload rise by the cube) but surely it was Harland and Wolff that took real advantage?
So the first generations thrived and grew organically. As the ships grew in size, the shipyard needed to move its centre of gravity northwards on Queen’s Island and into deeper waters.
Early ships were propped on beaches and floated when the tide was right. The next sizes needed tidal docks such as the Hamilton Dock, now re-occupied by a refurbished Nomadic.
This served the ambitions of Harland, Wolff and Ismay only until the 1880s when the first pumped dry dock was created, the Alexandria Dock.
It was long and narrow, but only 25 feet deep. Its innovation was to hold two H&W ships in line astern, an innovation for which Atlantic convoy escorts were grateful come the Battle of the Atlantic in the mid 20th century. But that is getting ahead of our story.
Thus far, I don’t think anything on the land side pushed previous limits of known engineering. Ship designs and building methods had to be devised and the huge workforce organised and trained – no mean feat and a tribute to all concerned, especially when by 1900 one realises that 1 in 8 ships on the ocean had been made in Belfast!
It was a different story when, in 1907 or so, Bruce Ismay, son of Thomas, elected to go in one jump from 20,000 tons to 45,000 for the Olympic Class, of which Titanic was the second.
In round figures, a length of 1000ft, a beam of 100ft, a draft of 50ft – and a huge cost in new and essentially unproven infrastructure. Worse than that, he didn’t have the means to do it: he had to find a banker.
Wasn’t it great over the spring, when the weather tried to cast us down, to be buoyed up by so many festivals and events celebrating our close links to the seas and to the oceans?
I have to confess that I’m a landlubber, albeit one who can admire from an armchair the virtuous concept of setting forth to circumnavigate the globe with nothing more than a wind in my sail and a star to guide me.
From Belfast to Rathlin to Derry~Londonderry, it was a delight to see so many folk of all ages being inspired by Tall Ships and equally tall tales of our maritime heritage.
Now, I didn’t go for the Radio 1 road show at Ebrington (sorry BBC), but I did welcome the beginnings of a shift of focus away from pure entertainment towards an historical viewpoint.
Island people have to be resourceful, innovative and most of all self-reliant, so to my mind it is just as important to re-educate ourselves about what it means to live on an island.
So, for me anyway, the highpoints of the event had to be the retelling of the Harland and Wolff story, Marconi and his wireless telegraph from Ballycastle to Rathlin, and Derry’s role in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Each of these stories is a major chapter in human history – but the story should not end there.
We should continue building upon our maritime legacy by focussing on those who have added to our knowledge of the world and the innovations they created that make possible our maritime endeavours and adventures.
Northern Ireland has contributed to exploration, not least during the ill-fated but legendary search for the North West Passage led by John Franklin and seconded by Francis Crozier (born 1796, Banbridge), with Thomas Drummond as botanist.
Drummond was an Ayrshire Scot, but he helped give us the Botanic gardens just before he joined the expedition. He left his colleagues, as planned, before they entered the ice and went on to characterise and to name many of Canada’s flora and some of their mountains as well.
I know others, still alive and able to tell the stories, who have been involved in historic maritime adventures and journeys of historic significance. We should catch their stories while we still can.
In Northern Ireland, we have also invented and developed seafaring technology, direct and indirect.
The Thompson brothers (William, Lord Kelvin, and James) between them added much, not only to the landward side of the business of ship building through their understanding of water flow and power, but also to safety at sea in the steel ships of Harland and Wolff.
A simple magnetic compass in gimbals will serve well enough in a wooden ship, but will not do at all inside magnetically active iron.
Among many other things, Kelvin devised the binnacle, a holder for the compass in which the magnetic distortions due to the hull could be cancelled out before leaving harbour.
And he gave a reason not to go to sea at all, by helping to lay the first transatlantic cable – as well as giving us a name for Project Kelvin, which connects our extensive fibre optic network to the Transatlantic system of fibre cables just off the north coast.
I’d include not only that in our annual maritime shows-and-tell, but the innovations we sell today: lifeboats, rescue equipment and satellite communications, to name but a few.
In doing so, we should never forget that islands have another characteristic. They are easy to leave – and often it’s the best and the brightest with get-up-and-go that do just that.
And so it behoves us never to stop banging home the message, especially in connection with our maritime heritage, that our own piece of rock sticking out of the Atlantic is a good place for us all to continue to earn our living from the world.
Normally, I am amazed by the degree of consensus that exists in matters of our economic direction even if we have a few discussions (arguments even) as to how it should be achieved. A week or two ago, however, I was astounded by the converse situation: two diametrically opposed survey results.
The first was a study carried out by InterTradeIreland, possibly in response to a general European desire to understand its various Innovation Ecosystems in order to plan its series of interventions under the umbrella of Horizon 2020. Laudable and logical.
The result, however, was that, in Ireland North and South, universities and colleges were deemed of the lowest importance to business and industrial perceptions of importance to their innovation needs.
The report has much to commend it and you can read it for yourself at
With my Science Park hat on, you can imagine how far my jaw dropped!
My spirits soared, though, when I read the next one. In a poll conducted by the Science Museum in London, Queen’s University Belfast have made what is reckoned to be one of the most economically important discoveries of the 21st Century.
Professors Ken Seddon and Jim Swindall and their team of a hundred researchers are uncovering the exciting properties of ionic liquids. If you need cheering up have a look at
These magic fluids are salts, made up of ions or charged particles. The salts we encounter normally, like good old table salt or sodium chloride, also consist of ions, but these are small and spherical so that the very strong electrostatic forces between positive and negative pull them into crystals that melt only at high temperature.
Many years ago, Prof Swindell first showed the world that large ions with complex non-interlocking shapes stay liquid at room temperature and created a global race to reveal their exciting properties.
These materials are brilliant solvents for all sorts of nasties. Last year spin-out company Expelliere won our 25k Award and immediately secured £1m investment from public and private sources.
Since then, it has continued to develop its ionic-based solution that literally dissolves hardened chewing gum in seconds without the need for pressure washing and heat, using technology that is both safe and effective.
The usefulness is confirmed by the who’s who of company partners and licensees that partner the QUILLS group. Presumably this set of companies (that includes the likes of Shell, BP, Petronas, Procter and Gamble and a score of others) didn’t respond to the InterTradeIreland survey.
Actually, that’s not fair. I make my point by hyperbole, but maybe we do need a new business-university/college relationship.
I expect many of our firms hire the graduates and alumni of our colleges and universities. Are they encouraged back to their alma maters to keep up to date and to see if the research is valuable to their new employer?
Equally, lecturers and professors might be invited more often to visit their previous charges in their new workplace to see how vital (or otherwise) those years of graft in lectures and tutorials are in practice.
Love her or loathe her, the late Lady Thatcher left us a legacy that should have taught us the necessity, constantly, to reinforce our value to society.
I hope, for example, you managed to get to the recent exhibition of our contribution to the Large Hadron Collider. What was once feared to be a White Elephant of the highest order, is now so cool, actually and metaphorically, that all (rightly) delight in their role in the project, whether researcher, engineer, supplier or hard-nosed politician.
Silos of excellence and efficiency are good in their place, but there must be more places (like, may I say, the Science Park) and more time devoted to punching holes in them so we can accelerate the Knowledge Ecosystem we all know we need.
Sheila Cassidy is a 24-year-old law graduate with Fermanagh firm Teemore Law who is currently in her third month with the Coca Cola Company in Atlanta, Georgia, under the US-NI Mentorship Programme.
The programme was created by Declan Kelly (one-time special economic envoy to NI) and the US-Ireland Funds, and is supported by the NI Science Park, to give local graduates the opportunity to attend year-long paid work placements with high profile American corporations.
For recent graduates, the application process for this year is now open and will run until May 31 – details at www.usnimentorship.org.
“The exposure to senior management and working in a global context has been really interesting,” Sheila tells me. “I realised my degree was vitally important, but then I discovered, just in time, that employers want to see job applicants who have taken part in extra-curricular activities to develop their initiative and to learn leadership skills.”
A typical day with Coca-Cola could see Sheila researching methods to increase female leadership within the company and helping to configure the upcoming year’s business plan. Her day-to-day work varies largely depending on the needs of the HR team.
Already, it has been “an enlightening experience”. Sheila reports: “Working here has given me the opportunity to get involved in a variety of opportunities, for example the Women’s Global Initiative, a strategic plan with the primary objective of accelerating the development and movement of female talent into roles of increasing responsibility and influence.
“As part of this, I have been given the opportunity to network with females who have senior positions within Coca-Cola and to hear their stories. I have also been able to build my personal network through the many events that the company sponsors, here in Atlanta and elsewhere.
Sheila says that, in her experience, Americans are the friendliest and most accommodating people she has ever met and their nature is to go above and beyond what is needed.
“I am thoroughly enjoying my experience and trying to make the most out of all the opportunities that I have been given.
“I have been lucky in the sense that previous participants of the US-NI Mentorship Program have put me in touch with the friends they made during their time in Atlanta, making the transition to Atlanta a lot easier.”
Sheila’s internship finishes at Christmas, but she doesn’t expect to remain in the States, preferring to stay close to her family and friends. “Although I might join the rest of Fermanagh and visit Australia for a few months!” she laughs.
You can read a fuller account of Sheila’s experiences at
. Better still, why not think of arranging to hire such an energetic and accomplished young graduate with such an enviable business network? Business is, after all, a contact sport!
I was pleased recently, to be asked to speak at a recent showcase of projects from the STEPS programme, held in the Long Gallery in Parliament Buildings.
What a brilliant exhibition of young people’s achievement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths or STEM, as we have come to call it. We should be very grateful to Martin Brown and his team.
STEPS (STEM Experts in Primary Schools) is a programme to help schools develop pupils’ awareness and understanding of the uses of science and technology to add enrichment to their curriculum, The World Around Us.
Basil McCrea and Naomi Long spoke on the joy and excitement of science and engineering. My job was to offer the perspective of the NI Science Park – and that is to see through the pure science to the markets it may serve and the living it may yield to our young people.
So let me tell you what I saw in the room. Children, teachers and experts had, in collaboration, successfully completed projects in the fields of renewable energy, structures and materials, space, communications, bioscience and the environment. Every one of which is a growing world market!
I recommended that my young audience watch the Tomorrow’s World edition of Horizon – as I do my readers – as it clearly presents (well done BBC) the joys and the challenges that we all face. Today, more science is done in 24 hours than in a year or more when we launched Titanic, so more countries than ever are investing big bucks in science programmes.
Director of Research at Cambridge University David King reminded us, when he spoke at Queen’s University Belfast a few weeks ago, that within a decade Rwanda (the President of which he now advises) has grown its annual crop of graduates from 100 to 10,000 and is the first country in Africa to offer free education for all between the ages of 6 and 14!
But back to Stormont, where I was pleased to remind the pupils and their teachers that we have indigenous companies which are already trading globally in all those fields. Check them out at www.thehereandnowni.com, NISP’s image-based showcase of some of the technological genius that’s happening at this very moment throughout the region.
New carbon-based materials are used to build Buses in Ballymena, Lotus sports cars in Lisburn and Bombardier Planes in Belfast. In Larne, a company is designing zero carbon ships for coastal transport.
We make components that go into space – cameras to find planets and to understand the universe are made in West Belfast. In East Belfast, we design the ultra-high frequency communications chips for satellites and the ion engines that keep them flying in proper orbit.
In bioscience, we are working on cures for cancer, new materials to make bone, and other replacement parts to help those who need them. Nanotechnology in the North-West makes the hard discs for 25% of the world’s computers.
All these companies are suffering the skills gap and while I can see no reason why each of the young people in the room that day shouldn’t fill that gap, I have to ask: can we wait that long?
STEM experts are people working in applications of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, who spend time, pro bono, in schools, acting as inspiring role models to young people.
STEPS is supported by the AstraZeneca Science Teaching Trust (www.azteachscience.co.uk). Click on Funding & Projects, then Projects in your region, then Northern Ireland, to find out more.
The programme is also supported by the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry and, of course, by the employers of those experts who volunteer.
I have been biting my tongue so hard its nearly in two, as I waited to share this latest Science Park story with you.
Never mind Dallas and other fictional business stories – this is a real victory for brains, guts and determination. Well done, Colm McGoldrick, Fermanagh man and founder of Mail Distiller!
“SUNNYVALE, Calif., – April 9, 2013 – Proofpoint, Inc., (NASDAQ: PFPT), a leader in cloud-based information security and governance, today announced a strategic expansion of Proofpoint’s leading security solutions. Proofpoint Essentials™ is a suite of SaaS security and compliance solutions specifically designed for distribution across MSP’s and dedicated security resellers.
To create this product line, Proofpoint acquired Mail Distiller Limited, a European-based provider of SaaS email security solutions.
Later integration of core components of Proofpoint’s protection technology into Mail Distiller’s offering will enable Proofpoint Essentials to combine the security and threat detection capabilities used by the largest and most security conscious organizations with the ease of use, multi-level channel management and modern SaaS architecture required to serve the mid to small enterprise market.”
So reads the press release, but this belies the 10 years of effort needed to take a new web security product into a global market from out little corner of the world.
Founded in 2004 and operating for the past six years from the NI Science Park, Mail Distiller specifically designed its product for channel distribution through multi-level distribution and managed service providers (MSPs).
I have described the product before since we use it ourselves. My point today is to emphasise the technical and commercial success that Colm and his backers have managed to achieve.
Mail Distiller’s first business model succeeded for a while but then began to fail. The measure of the man is what happens next. Did Colm throw in the towel and quit? Certainly not! He made some strategic re-alignments, technical and financial, with his backers and creditors (including us) openly and honestly.
He worked night and day to recover his position to such an extent that by 2012, he won the Editors’ choice at the 2012 Computing Security Awards.
He learned how to use channel partners effectively such that his product began to be used by thousands of customers across the Americas, Australia and Europe. These channel partners were afforded a simple pricing model that has been well-received.
Now with one of these, he has amalgamated to create Proofpoint Essentials. The new company provides a full set of capabilities required by organisations to protect their email infrastructure, and includes inbound email filtering to block spam and malware, outbound filtering for compliance with company policies, email continuity to enable email service availability, and email archiving.
It also features a simple, modern user interface for administrators and end users. Proofpoint will continue the channel-friendly product features and distribution model of Mail Distiller.
“This new acquisition will enable us to offer the same core technology used by the world’s largest and most successful security conscious companies to a new set of customers served through broad security resellers and MSP partners who are currently experiencing a lot of pain,” said Gary Steele, CEO, Proofpoint, Inc.
“We see tremendous value in being able to deliver a superior and scalable solution through the channel to this important customer set.”
“We’re excited to become part of a company with such leading edge technology and global market presence,” said Colm McGoldrick, now vice president of Proofpoint Essentials.”We see this as the perfect opportunity to accelerate the market success we’ve already had through a channel distribution strategy.”
Well Colm, we’re all excited too and are delighted to acknowledge your entry into the ranks of our most successful high tech entrepreneurs. So have the rest that is due to you and get back to do it again!
More information is available at www.proofpoint.com.
While I was on holiday recently, the UK underlined its intention to remain a global manufacturer with two big announcements. Just in case you missed them (as I did) let me take a minute to remind you.
Funded privately by charitable donation and administered by the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is a new global engineering prize that rewards and celebrates those responsible for a ground-breaking innovation in engineering.
The Queen Elizabeth Prize will do for Engineering what Nobel Prizes have done for the Sciences, Literature and Peace. During the search for a winner, and quite unashamedly, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering will seek out to discover and celebrate stories of engineering success, to raise the international public profile of engineering and to inspire new generations of engineers to take up the challenges of the future.
You will not be surprised to know that engineering in Northern Ireland was included in their purview.
We didn’t win, but I am nevertheless delighted with the judges’ choice.
On March 18, the first QE Prize for Engineering was awarded to five people who made major contributions to the development of the Internet and the WWW.
The Internet and the WWW is an engineering achievement that has changed the direction of the world. The Internet and WWW have led to a communications revolution of unprecedented power and impact.
Today, a third of the world’s population of 7 billion use the internet and estimates are that it carries 330 Petabytes (peta = a thousand, million, million!) of data per year. This is enough to transfer every character ever written in every book ever published twenty times over.
Locally, we should be aware that without it, we would be unlikely to have won so much ICT-based direct and indirect inward investment since the new millennium. Without it we would not have checked the outward flow of some of our best young people. With it each of us can access goods, services and knowledge on an unprecedented scale!
Louis Pouzin, Robert Kahn and Vint Cerf made seminal contributions to the protocols (or standards) that together make up the fundamental architecture of the Internet.
Tim Berners-Lee created the worldwide web (WWW) which vastly extended the use of the Internet beyond email and file transfer. Marc Andreessen wrote the Mosaic browser that was widely distributed and which made the WWW accessible to everyone. His work triggered a huge number of applications unimagined by the early network pioneers.
As with all such prizes, it is acknowledged that the systems were the result of collaboration involving thousands of engineers all over the world. None, though, will resent the attention these figureheads will receive when the prize is presented by HM the Queen in June this year.
By this clever selection the team at the Royal Academy has also done justice to our Patron, and forever associated his wife, the Monarch, with what was undoubtedly the most significant global innovation of the second Elizabethan Age.
It didn’t stop there, though. That same week was announced a £2B Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) 50:50 funded by government and industry.
Thanks to the efforts of Minister Foster and Michael Ryan of Bombardier and their teams, Northern Ireland will figure large in the ATA and rightly so as you will see if you read it at:
Like me, you may be surprised to learn just how much supply chain business there is here already, over and above Bombardier and Thales.
It is estimated that there will be global demand for 27,000 new passenger aircraft, worth around $3.7 trillion by 2030. The UK has the second largest aerospace sector in the world and we in NI are well placed to compete for some of this new business.
Of course, the funds and the business itself is competitive, so to reap the rewards we must do all we can to have the people, the technology and all the business skills aligned throughout the supply chain.
Get it right and one of our young engineers might just get a future QE Prize for Engineering too!
I’m not known for my fashion sense. I do not necessarily want to or need to know about the latest colours and trends. However, after writing this article I am slowly starting to come round to the idea that fashion and style are not as far removed from the world of science and technology as one may think.
Steve Jobs of Apple was one of the world’s most recognisable CEOs and his fashion sense undoubtedly had something to do with it. On this side of the pond, the humble black turtle neck or polo neck might seem like a boring staple, but Jobs’ clothing choices made were very much fashion led.
For example, he had a good relationship with leading designer Issey Miyake, whom he asked to make about 100 of the same black, uniformed product. Doesn’t that concept sound familiar!
Intrigued by this idea, I asked Grainne McGarvey, who runs Pulse PR and writes monthly fashion and technology columns, about the importance of being image conscious in the business world.
In the world of public relations, image plays a major role and Grainne is her own walking, talking brand. Being client facing means she has to look her best. I asked her how image impacts on the often faceless world of technology.
Having several clients in the Science Park has given Grainne an appreciation of how employees working in this arena keep it casual with the universally recognised techie uniform of jeans and t-shirt/hoodie being the norm.
Although this mightn’t seem like an obvious fashion statement, according to Grainne wearing this combination often has more to do with image than it does with comfort. In her opinion, nerds rule the world.
Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Sergey Brin of Google set up two of the world’s most successful companies and the common thread between them is that they don’t feel the need to wear a suit to be taken seriously.
Their style reflects the more laid back and reward-based-on-results culture of the technology world. Innovation equals creativity which equals freedom in what you develop in work – and even what you wear to work.
The three piece suit which is regarded as the staple in the regulated world of finance, law and politics is most definitely not the must-have wardrobe in the world of innovation – there are no suits in Silicon but plenty of silicon in suits!
With this in mind, we discussed whether or not technology is being utilised in the fashion world. Grainne says savvy designers are focusing more on the end user’s needs and wants and using specific technological advances to achieve it.
This can be seen in examples such as MBT trainers, that are designed to improve posture and are a must-have accessory for the yummy mummy out pushing a Bugaboo buggy.
Locally, she is impressed by clothing brand Attune, which has created a range for busy women that combines style and innovation. Attune’s products have in-built technology designed to keep women fresh throughout the day.
Aimed at the 35+ market, the range includes tops, vests and outerwear with dresses being added later this year. The fabric is incredibly soft and the TENCEL fibre made from sustainable wood pulp absorbs 50% more moisture than cotton, meaning it does what it says on the tin or in this case the label.
So you never know – products likes this may be making an appearance on the catwalk during next season’s Belfast Fashion Week and if they do I’ll be requesting my FROW seat!
I heard a news item on the radio recently (
if you want to read/hear it for yourself) concerning the ambition of young people.
The American Freshman Survey, by US psychologist Jean Twenge and colleagues, suggests that more and more American university students think they are something special. About nine million young people have responded, since it began in 1966.
Students are asked to rate how they measure up to their peers in a number of basic skills areas – and over the past four decades, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of students who describe themselves as being “above average” for academic ability, drive to achieve, mathematical ability and self-confidence.
The BBC commentator thought that we would compare unfavourably in the UK. Our kids are still expected to be “seen but not heard”; too much declared ambition is seen as bumptious and boastful.
I remember back in 1968 (I think) winning the NI heat of the UK young scientist competition by writing up a project I had been doing with my Chemistry teacher and attending an interview during which all the questions related explicitly to science and my (small) part in it. For the final interviews, I set off to the Royal Institution in London, the place where Humphrey Davies and Michael Faraday had made so many of their discoveries and had developed the lecture/demonstration style still with us today in the Christmas lectures, that we respectfully copy at the Science Park.
I bombed utterly! I and four others did not get to join the five who went off to Woomera in Australia to see the launch of Blue Streak, a British rocket, and the technology of the UK Space programme.
The questions had missed me entirely; what seems to have been expected was an exercise in scientific ambition and self-image. Most of the five winners were from the South East of England, not unexpectedly to my headmaster. He was waiting for an update on my return and sympathetically told me of the differing styles of communication between us Ulstermen and the English. He had expected a problem and took pains to assure me that I wasn’t to take the rejection to heart.
With hind sight, I think he wasn’t quite correct.
I met up with about half of my fellow contestants later in my career, especially when I went to Cambridge. Interestingly, based on that sample, none of the winning finalists took up a career in science or technology, whereas all of us losers have had careers in a STEM field.
The lesson for me was that I should learn properly to express my hopes and opinions.
Today I often remind our young people that, if you’re leading a team, it is no use to be able to read a map, if you can’t persuade the others that indeed you can read it. Equally those wishing to select for a result need to bear in mind that communication is a two-way street!
At the Science Park, our principal task is to help (young) people take the leap of faith and confidence to build a business from their science and technology ideas. Diffidence and bashfulness are real barriers to success and it is perhaps no mystery, given the Twenge study, that the US is the most entrepreneurial of knowledge based societies.
There are downsides, however. “Since the 1960s and 1970s, when those expectations started to grow, there’s been an increase in anxiety and depression,” says Twenge, “There’s going to be a lot more people who don’t reach their goals.”
So achieving the healthy balance is our goal; neither excessive modesty nor over-brashness but firm determination with the confidence and the tools to succeed is the wish of every parent and teacher and the requirements of our economy.
I first came across the name of John Denman Dean, native of Cushendall, in Michael Maguire’s excellent book: It’s our thing – 300 years of Irish brands.
You can find it here if you’ve got a spare £35 –
The brand in question is the Denman hair brush, used by international stylists all over the world and available in every high street, with its distinctive polished black back and red rubber cushion for the nylon bristles.
Since then I have been pleased to meet the current owner John Rainey and to visit the Denroy Company in Bangor.
It was John who told me the story of Jack Dean as published in his own book, 75 years of Styling. I don’t want to steal any of his thunder (and I really recommend you seek it out) but I do want to pick out bits of it. It’s so rich that any student of innovation can find elements to resonate with many aspects of this diverse subject.
First, Dean was a young chemist in the 1930s. As a subject, chemistry was just coming into its own. Normally one thinks of Germany in this regard, with the Haber process for fixing nitrogen for use as a fertiliser and as an explosive, but we should not forget our own innovators.
Innovators like Sir James Murray (more famous for Milk of Magnesia), who also was first to show the efficacy of chemical fertilisers in the 19th Century. After Murray, there must have been sufficient expertise to guide the young Dean into this new and exciting subject.
This is my first point: it is not enough to know what the industry of today needs, the young, especially, need to be made aware of the future.
Polymerisation, the combining of many hundreds of small molecules into a single new long-chain molecule, was the rage in research and the young Dean was not only a master of his subject but on the look-out for what the new science could achieve.
Uniquely, it seems he recognised the potential of the new material to replace the natural long chain materials used in personal care, but his activities were cut short by the onset of the Second World War.
Polymer experts such as he were sent to the US to provide secret war work and Dean ended up in DuPont as an expert in the new magic material, nylon, with its ability to be formed and spun in all sorts of ways.
Only with its use as parachute material, instead of natural silk, could the Allies have mounted their extensive paratroop support of D-day and other crucial operations.
Dean saw beyond that and, after the war, returned home with a ton of the new nylon in his luggage with which to begin his new business.
My second point is the value of tight-loose thinking. In NI today we tend to be loose-tight thinkers: we don’t really care where we go so long as the process is right.
Tight-loose innovators don’t waste energy fighting winds of change that are too strong, rather they change the sail settings to suit but never lose track of where they want to be and return to course as soon as conditions permit. So came the Denman brand, Vidal Sassoon, and much more besides.
By a series of happy and sad circumstances, Dean and his company came to NI and under the ownership of the Rainey family, where it has flourished.
Robots hiss and click 24/7 producing not only the latest Denman hair-care products but also, under the Denroy label, provide exotic plastics and polymers to the aerospace industry.
Most importantly of all, they help young aspiring innovators in a number of ways, not least by helping them to find their way towards the global market-place.