Liquidator appointed to Belfast lip reading technology firm Liopa

Queen’s University spin-out had been backed by Invest NI and UK government funding

Liopa founders Richard McConnell and Liam McQuillan with Hal Wilson, partner at funder Techstart NI.
Liopa founders Richard McConnell and Liam McQuillan with Hal Wilson, partner at funder Techstart NI.

A Belfast company involved in the development of lip reading technology has gone into liquidation.

Liopa, which was based at Queen’s University’s Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) in the Titanic Quarter, entered insolvency proceedings last month.

Set up in late 2015, the tech start-up was spun out of Queen’s University the following year in a bid to commercialise academic research into visual speech recognition (VSR) technology, effectively automated lip reading.

At the time, Liopa said its VSR technology was the product of over 50 ‘man-years’ of research.

Liopa received significant funding from Invest NI’s Techstart NI fund and The Future Fund, which is backed by the UK Government.

Documents filed with Companies House on Wednesday confirm the shareholders agreed to voluntarily wind up the business on April 8 2024 following a meeting at the Belfast offices of HCA Business Recovery Ltd.

The resolution passed said “the company cannot, by reason of its liabilities, continue its business”.

A liquidator from HCA Business Recovery was appointed the same day.

A report assessing Liopa’s liabilities show it had a total deficiency of £1.493 million, including £921,475 owed to its creditors.

The biggest debt is with The Future Fund. The London-based fund, which is managed by the British Business Bank, is owed £349,889.

Liopa also owed Techstart NI SME Equity LP £262,304, with another £57,662 owed to Invest NI itself.

A further £145,035 is owed to QUBIS, the commercialisation arm of Queen’s University.

HMRC and the Redundancy Payment Service are listed as the preferential creditors, with a total debt of £46,520.

The same report estimates Liopa had around £195,000 in total assets available for preferential creditors, including £135,181 in cash held at the bank.

The tech firm was involved in the development of two products: LipRead and SRAVI (Speech Recognition Application for the Voice Impaired).

LipRead was developed to leverage automated lip-reading to increase the accuracy of video and media transcriptions, while SRAVI was developed as an app to enable people to communicate with healthcare workers, or their friends and family, while they cannot use their voice.

Invest NI had offered the company just under £290,000 in R&D support to help develop the products.

Liopa landed its first commercial contract for its artificial intelligence lip-reading app in 2021 when the Royal Preston Hospital in England rolled SRAVI out to inpatients.

The most recent set of accounts published on Companies House for Liopa Ltd show it had seven staff in 2022.