The Royal Academy of Engineering has named three finalists for this year's prestigious MacRobert technology prize, which celebrates outstanding innovation, commercial success and societal benefit in engineering.

First presented in 1969, the MacRobert Award is one of the most coveted in the industry. Previous recipients include Microsoft Research’s Xbox Kinect human motion-capture system, Arup's 'Water Cube,' the dramatic centrepiece of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and last year’s winner, Jaguar Land Rover’s Evoque SUV.

This year's finalists are all SMEs – Concrete Canvas, Oxford Instruments and RealVNC. Although the shortlisted innovations are very different, they are all developed in the UK, have helped to open up new markets, and have achieved international sales success.

Concrete Canvas has created a fabric which is layered with cement powder and turns into industrial-strength concrete when water is applied. It is being used by companies to fix, line, build and strengthen things quickly and more easily than any other way of using concrete. Some imaginative designers have also used the concrete canvas to make furniture and art work.

Oxford Instruments has come up with a way to help scientists analyse the chemicals in samples as thin as a human hair, creating a colour-coded map of exactly where each chemical is, in minutes instead of hours and to a greater level of detail. The company's X-Max detector is sold to labs, universities and factories all around the world. The Natural History Museum recently used X-Max to study meteorite samples.

Finally, RealVNC's software allows a computer, smartphone, or other device screen to be remotely accessed and controlled from any other device, anywhere in the world. Algorithms are used to only send data about the parts of the screen that are changing (instead of the whole screen), which makes it quicker and sharper than competitor software. RealVNC is used on over a billion devices worldwide, and VNC protocols have become an official part of the internet.

“These three innovative and successful companies demonstrate that engineering is thriving in the UK in very different sectors, from ground-breaking start-ups to established world-leaders,” said John Robinson, Chair of the MacRobert Award judging panel.

“We have an incredible research base that leads to successful pioneering companies and we are delighted to have shortlisted for the MacRobert Award this year three great examples of the kind of companies that the Academy is championing through its Engineering for Growth campaign.”

The 2013 finalists were selected from a long list of nominations, drawn from across contemporary engineering. They were chosen by a panel of Academy Fellows who have expertise across the range of engineering disciplines as well as personal entrepreneurial experience.

Earlier this year, 70 of the UK's top technology entrepreneurs and business professionals pledged to volunteer at least one day a month to mentor start-ups and growing SMEs through the Royal Academy of Engineering's new Enterprise Hub.

The Enterprise Hub will aim to take the “best of the best” early stage companies and provide them with a long-term package of mentoring, training and support

Volunteer mentors are Fellows of the Academy, including Dr Mike Lynch, co-founder of Autonomy, Sir Robin Saxby, former Chief Executive and Chairman of ARM, and Sir David Payne, serial entrepreneur and Director of the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton.