Parents across the world have at some point bought their child a computer game. The hours of contented game playing bliss that children gain is often considered to be worth the high price tag. But what if I told you that a computer game was the catalyst for an 8-year-old boy to learn to program? That then at 16, he would create and then patent a piece of futuristic screen technology that could be straight out of a Hollywood Sci-Fi movie? This is the story of a truly remarkable young man, Jack O’Regan Kenny.
Jack, now aged 18, recently set-up a company to develop and sell his ‘Mirr’ [shortened from Mirror] screen technology. The former pupil of Coláiste Mhuire Mullingar discovered a way to create a mirror glass ‘Mirr’ screen that can be overlayed with any existing application such as Netflix or YouTube. Poised to become one of Ireland’s hottest new start-up companies, I went along to meet this young entrepreneur.
It’s very clear from first impressions that Jack loves gadgets. What was the front room of his family home, has been converted into a ‘den,’ that is equal parts – company HQ, research and development centre and uber-sterile assembly area. But, let me be very clear from the outset, Jack has one of the sharpest minds that I have come across. He can talk effortlessly about coding software as he can describing capacitors for hardware and refractions of light.
The Early Days
“I’ve loved Maths since I was at St Colmans NS and have always preferred it to English. When I was 10, I really enjoyed playing a computer game called Minecraft. In that game, you build almost everything from individual 3D blocks that are added together to form houses and even towns. It was perfect because I had to work out where to put things spatially and Maths was so useful.”
From playing Minecraft, Jack says that he became really fascinated by computers and wanted to learn how to develop his own games. So, when Gerard Keena set up a local computer programming club ‘CoderDojo Mullingar, Jack was one of the first people to join and has been going there for the past 8 years.
Jack had to learn coding (writing in a language a computer understands) “I read a lot of books and watched loads of great people explaining everything really well on YouTube. I wanted to learn all the steps required to make modifications for Minecraft. So, I once I understood how to do it for Minecraft, I moved onto other games.”
By the age of 12, Jack had evolved into a naturally gifted computer programmer who was constantly seeking to challenge himself. He gave up programming games and then turned his attention to video gaming which he experimented with for a few years. He began to enter competitions where he could apply his talent. The first was ‘CoderDojo Coolest Project’ where he entered an early piece of anti-bullying software. However, the software wasn’t perfected enough and didn’t really get anywhere. Nevertheless, his technical ability wasn’t going unnoticed.
Eva Acton, Jack’s Computer Science teacher at Coláiste Mhuire, approached him to see if he would be willing to take part in the prestigious ‘BT Young Scientist’ competition. Jack agreed and entered his anti-bullying software with two of his friends Jack Hand and Sean Murphy joining him in later stages. Their entry was highly commended by BT Young Scientist adjudicators and that positive feedback gave Jack the impetus to enter Mirr as a project into the Student Enterprise Awards 2019.
Jack successfully progressed from the regional Student Enterprise Awards competition in February 2020, to the national final where he won the ‘Best Commercial Potential’ category prize. After that win he had to put everything on hold to study for his Leaving Certificate exams.
From Software to Mirr Hardware
Jack initially started out writing computer software but found himself fascinated by making things work in the physical sense. “My dad Trevor Kenny is a Plumber and I suppose he fostered my building nature. He was always making things or working with cool tools and so making things using technical components was always inevitable.”
Prior to Mirr, Jack says that he has worked on many projects and that he was always looking to solve problems. When he turned 17, he uncovered a worrying problem. “I was watching my mam trying to follow a make-up tutorial. She’d look in the mirror, then down to her phone and then back again to the mirror. This continuous movement gave her an unnecessary amount of pain and I realised that millions of people across the world must be experiencing simple symptoms.”
Filed a patent at 16
“I started working on Mirr around September while in 5th year at school and finished by December that year. So, it took me about 3 months. I then gave my first demonstration the following February. The early development costs were met pretty much by my 16th birthday money, family chores and any competition prize money I won. I had to work out how I could get a phone into the mirror. Simply attaching it would not have been cool and was an unnecessary step. In the end i decided to put the screen behind the mirror so that it mimicked the ‘one-way’ mirrors that you see in the interrogation rooms of great police TV shows.”
Jack filed the patent application for Mirr when he was just 16 years old. “I did all the paperwork myself and didn’t use a patent attorney. I detailed everything that I was trying to achieve. I was lucky enough to get a patent clinic meeting [when I won the regional Student Enterprise Final] and the advisors looked over my patent and told me that I had hit all the right notes. Then on the walk back to school, I posted the application and a year later it was accepted!”
Recognition to Company Formation
Jack joined ‘Patch’; a 6-week long business accelerator program geared for young entrepreneurs. Patch is run from Dogpatch Labs by Tom McCarthy. Both Tom and the various mentors praised his Mirr project.
Also, while at Patch, Jack met his Mirr co-founder, Alice Shaughnessy who is based in Oranmore, Galway. Her technical ability makes her a great business partner and she is just as capable and enthusiastic about technology as Jack himself. “Mirr is a very fun project to work on. The driving factor is not money, we are not actually looking for investment because we have already built Mirr. Now, we just need to develop it. Alice and I have countless Zoom meetings every day. We make a great team and thankfully get on like a house on fire.”
Manufacturing in Ireland
Jack’s plan is for Mirr to assemble the initial devices and feels confident that his fledgling company would be cashflow positive right out of the gate. He is also a fan of keeping the company locally. “As long as we can keep Mirr affordable it will be manufactured in Ireland. The initial manufacturing will be done by us in Westmeath. But its more about the demand. I’m not a huge fan of some overseas places where the culture is to simply build for profit. I believe that you should build because you can and my stance is that I would prefer to keep everything as local as we can. We can source a large number of components for Mirr from Ireland.”
Jack is planning to have a product ready to ship in the 2nd quarter of 2021 and already has many shipping pre-orders. “We aim to get as many people using Mirr and hope to keep the price affordable rather than give it a very expensive luxury item price tag. Some very exciting accessories are in development that will make Mirr a really enjoyable piece of technology.”
There are so many different ways that Mirr can be used with an endless list of applications and is just the sort of technology that can change the world. It’s a simple enough concept – turning a conventional screen into a mirror. However, nobody did before let alone have a patent granted. Jack is a bright young man who may not yet have that many years of experience, but it’s the sheer brilliance, quality and achievement of his few years of experience that makes all the difference. Bravo Jack.
You can find out more about the exceptional Mirr device at https://mirr.tech/
This article was published across the Topic group 26/11/2020.