Small Island, Big Ideas: 5 Local Inventors


When we think about the great things that our country has to offer, we tend to think about our history, our beaches, or, of course, our ricotta pastizzi (pizzelli fans can get lost). However, technological innovation doesn’t really come to mind. In fact, you may struggle to think of a one local inventor by name. The surprising truth is that we actually have quite a few bright sparks who have pushed technology forward with their creations. 

To shine a light on these underrated innovators, here is our list of 5 Maltese inventors.

1. Edward De Bono

There are few locals who could claim to have the global impact that Edward De Bono did. A physician, psychologist, philosopher and author, Edward De Bono has published 60 books with translations in 43 languages. He is most famous for originating the term ‘lateral thinking’, meaning solving problems in a creating, ‘outside-the-box’ kind of way, and for his 1985 book ‘Six Thinking Hats’, which layed out a mental strategy for achieving creative ideas. 

De Bono has received numerous honours, among them a nomination for a Nobel prize in economics and has even had an asteroid named after him. 

2. Zach Ciappara

Zach is a true wunderkind in the world of entrepreneurship . In fact, he was just 16 when he had the first designs for the popular app FreeHour, which officially launched two years later in 2017. The concept behind the app is simple and smart, allowing students at universities and sixth forms  to share their timetables among each other and identify when they’re free to meet up on campus. 

Since its launch FreeHour has become easily Malta’s biggest student app, racking up over 21,500 users from across the islands. It even made a splash in Italy, and has won multiple awards, including an International Business Award by TradeMalta earlier this year. 

Freehour App

In light of the coronavirus, and the restrictions that have been placed on the student experience, Zach and his team were quick to act. 

They increased their social media content output to around 200 content pieces per week, aimed at student interests, and have built the largest loyal student community of followers across Facebook and Instagram.

3. David Darmanin

CEO of Hotjar, David Darmanin

Anyone who has their own website is keen to know exactly how visitors are interacting with it. Only problem is trying to analayze that kind of information often means trudging through numbers and data that’s hard for a layman to understand.

This was the issue that software developer David Darmanin sought to solve in 2014 when he created and founded Hotjar, a site which allows website owners to get a clear and easy picture of their site’s traffic, and where it can improve. One of its intriguing features is a ‘heat-map’ view to get a sense of where most of the action is happening. 

Hotjar’s Website Heatmaps and Behaviour Analytics

Hotjar serves customers in over 180 counties, with a team of more than 100 ‘Hotjarians’ across the globe. David was also honoured with the EY Entrepreneur of the year award. Well deserved, we say!

4. Joe Spiteri Sargent

Generating electricity without consuming fuel is becoming increasingly vital. Perhaps this is what encouraged Joe Spiteri Sargent to create the Spiteri pump, a 24/7 energy generator using what we in Malta are literally surrounded by: water. 

The pump lies just underneath the water surface, and takes advantage of the latent hydrostatic energy to  keep the pump turning up and down, creating a small ‘waterfall’ within, which is what generates the required result. It’s not only absolutely ecological, but it also  keeps energy costs way down. Spiteri Sargent was apparently inspired by a quote by Dom Mintoff, who suggested that, if Malta had waterfalls, our electricity costs would be far less. 

Joe Spiteri Pump

The invention netted Spiteri Sargent an international award in 2012, at the International Energy  Globe Awards in Brussels. 

5. Philip Farrugia

They say parents would do anything for their kids. Unfortunately, not all parents are engineers. That’s the advantage Philip Farrugia had when he wanted to help his young daughter with her expressive language delays. Farrugia noticed that she would become easily bored with the exercises in her speech therapy seession and decided to invent a toy that would be more engaging. 

This is what led to the creation of Speechie, which is both a fun toy and app, and an extremely smart communication aid. It takes the form of an adorable toy penguin, with a screen in its chest. The touch-screen allows the child to play phonetic games, as does the accompanying Speechie app. 

Speechie Device

Farrguia and his team went on to win the Malta Intellectual Property award in 2019, and are hoping for a bright future ahead.