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Students and Industry collaborate to showcase Innovation across Killybegs

Image Caption: Newly qualified Innovation Cadets with their Certificate in Innovation, awarded by ALPHA Innovation Donegal in collaboration with Killybegs Marine Cluster: L to R: Vince Coughlan, Justas Speckauskas, Caolan Reynolds, Conor Gallagher. Also, Karl Bonner presenting Shayna Boyle her Certificate in Introduction to Innovation awarded by ALPHA Innovation in collaboration with Killybegs Marine Cluster.

Twenty (20) Transition Year students from Saint Catherine’s Vocational School in Killybegs were awarded their “Introduction to Innovation and Design Thinking” Certificates at a grand finale public event, in the Bayview Hotel Killybegs, last Thursday evening (24 Nov). 

Over the course of 2 months the students took part in a pilot programme devised by ALPHA Innovation, and delivered in collaboration with the Killybegs Marine Cluster, County Donegal. 

The 8-week pilot saw students (5 teams) attending weekly workshop sessions facilitated by ALPHA Innovation’s Head of Innovation, Kevin Sexton.

Donegal businesses that participated in the programme included Atlantic Dawn, Mooney Boats, Seaquest Systems and Sinbad Marine Services.

As well as learning the fundamentals of innovation and design thinking, students took part in weekly presentations, workshops and sample interviews: 

  • to learn how global brands such as Spotify, Netflix and Apple innovate and adapt
  • to identify what can be applied to Donegal-based enterprises
  • to understand why innovators begin at the ‘empathy’ stage in order to understand problems and gaps from an end user’s perspective 
  • to arrange their own interviews with businesses leaders 
  • how to conduct field research interviews using the Customer Development technique 
  • collating insights using the Mural whiteboard tool
  • how to assemble a visually engaging and impactful slide deck
  • to pitch to an audience of industry, academia, and peers in 8 minutes 
  • highlighting challenges and innovation opportunities being pursued by businesses within the local marine ecosystem (Killybegs Marine Cluster members)



Martin McGuinness of MMG Engineering - speaking during the fireside chat panel
Derek McBrearty of KER Group - speaking during the fireside chat panel

Before parchments were awarded to participants the audience was treated to a fireside chat with local and international leaders.

Martin McGuinness of MMG Engineering, Derek Mc Brearty KER Group, Karl Bonner Killybegs Marine Cluster and Alexandra Leeper PhD Iceland Ocean Cluster spoke of collaborating with international players across Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and beyond: Martin secured worldwide IP for a product that has won international innovation awards; Derek's company disrupted the concept of at-sea emergency service with a SaaS (software-as-a-service) product that moved their offering up the value chain and is globally scalable; meanwhile, Karl spoke of the #KillybegsSustainabilityCharter which is both timely and topical; and from an international perspective Alexandra told how her hackathons welcome international collaborators we would not instantly associate with the #blueeconomy, for example, co-creating new materials with the fashion industry while reducing waste.

Speaking about the event:

Anne Marie Luby, Principal of Saint Catherine’s Vocational Schools said:

“I am delighted to see how far students had come over the last few weeks. Students have gained so much confidence, experience and learned more about the opportunities in their area as part of the programme. The linkage between the school and local enterprise has been fantastic. I cannot recommend this programme enough.”

Martin McGuinness was impressed by the first pilot and looked forward to further iterations of the programme:

“A student has three main influences (teachers, parents and industry) when choosing a career and it was fantastic to see all 3 were in attendance tonight. I look forward to more of these events in future where we can showcase to both the students and parents the opportunities that are available within the Killybegs Marine Cluster”




Charlie Callaghan - presenting the innovations at Sinbad Marine Services
Vince Coughlan - telling the audience innovation is a continuous loop of learning

Karl Bonner, Cluster Manager with Killybegs Marine Cluster (KMC):

“I am delighted with the collaboration between the businesses and the local students…. Our businesses have commented on the professionalism and work ethic of the students who liaised directly with the business leaders to set up their own interviews. They really got to grips with the subject area and uniqueness of each business and they (the students) will have developed new skills and huge confidence from doing the programme. The Killybegs Marine Cluster are delighted with the success of this pilot programme and looks forward to future modules being rolled out going forward.”

Kevin Sexton, Head of Innovation, ALPHA Innovation hailed the success of the pilot: 

“These students have completed a course and have a level of exposure to innovation techniques that will not only impact their own lives, but those of their communities. They have an advantage over many third level students who graduate without exposure to any practical application of innovation techniques such as these, even though they are in demand by employers internationally. 

My goal is to position innovation as a hot topic around the dinner table in homes across Donegal …and this programme will help facilitate that. We want to demystify innovation so that it is instilled in the hearts and minds of grass-roots teams in the many businesses located here. Tools & techniques the students used are quick to learn and provide a competitive advantage to businesses of all sizes. Contrary to what many believe innovation is neither costly, complicated or limited to developing new product, service or experiences. It can be used to improve operational efficiencies in organisations big and small, local and global."

Kevin is keen to roll out this programme across the county: “now that we have completed this first pilot we will - in lean startup fashion - listen to our participants and iterate the product going forward. Our Innovation Cadets from St Catherine’s will play a key role in shaping future versions of this offering. We are confident our ‘Introduction to Innovation and Design Thinking’ programme of modules will make a positive impact on the mindset and preparedness of teams in all sectors and at all levels of innovation maturity. We are determined to put Donegal on the map as one of the top locations to startup, pilot, invest, scale and spinout ventures. Initiatives such as this are key to developing our home-grown talent so we can deliver on our goals.”

At ALPHA Innovation we want to hear from ambitious early adopters that will set aside 90 mins each month to work with us in championing innovation as a way we automatically do things in Donegal.”


Image Caption: Kevin Sexton, Head of Innovation at ALPHA Innovation Donegal (far right) speaks with industry leaders during the fireside chat. L to R: Karl Bonner Killybegs Marine Cluster, Martin McGuinness of MMG Engineering; Derek McBrearty of KER Group; Event: Awards Ceremony to Celebrate student presentations and awarding of certificates in Killybegs County Donegal, 24 Nov 2022


If your school or business is interested in knowing more about programmes and supports available email or click here.

About ALPHA Innovation

ALPHA Innovation will be the hub of a new innovation quarter in Donegal (Letterkenny) which is due to begin construction in early 2023. The initiative represents a significant investment by Donegal County Council and Enterprise Ireland. Upon completion, it will provide 60,000 sq. ft of space acting as a hotbed of innovation and R&D. 

Kevin Sexton is Head of Innovation at ALPHA Innovation. He previously led corporate spinout teams across Europe from problem-solution fit through to investment. Conor Doherty has recently joined as Innovation Officer having previously had exposure to the startup world in Galway. In advance of opening, both have been busy collaborating with enterprise enablers, academia and industry from multiple sectors. The team is encouraging Startups, SMEs and global businesses in the region to engage with ALPHA Innovation to learn how to leverage easy to master tools & techniques that will provide a competitive advantage to their ventures. 


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