21 April 2023
The multi-million-euro programmes are focused on supporting collaboration between academia and industry.
Enterprise Ireland has launched two funding programmes worth €63 million to support research and innovation. The Innovators’ Initiative is a new €30 million national initiative with the objective of developing a series of immersive, needs-led innovation training programmes. These training programmes will create cohorts of highly skilled innovators, who can identify unmet market needs within specific sectors of growth in Ireland.
KT Boost is a new four-year, €33.4 million knowledge transfer funding programme for Irish universities and technological universities (TUs). Its objective is to support an increase in research commercialisation outcomes from within this sector, both regionally and nationally, and to develop consistent practices across the knowledge transfer (KT) sector.
Innovators’ Initiative supporting high-calibre individuals and teams
Innovators’ Initiative will support high-calibre individuals and interdisciplinary teams to generate new product and process ideas, new intellectual property (IP) and, in some cases, new high-potential start-up (HPSU) companies. On completion of a programme under the initiative, participants can return to their sectors with their new skills and training or they can form new start-up teams.
Innovators’ Initiative training programmes will be hosted in publicly funded research performing organisations (RPOs).
Enterprise Ireland head of research collaboration Neil Kerrigan explains that the programme is aimed at bringing together innovators from industry with Ireland’s publicly funded research system. “Companies that engage with the third-level system are more resilient, more capable of expanding overseas, and have products and services capable of competing internationally.”
The Innovators’ Initiative addresses what Kerrigan describes as “the first mile”' in the enterprise creation process – the phase where entrepreneurs identify market gaps and come up with ideas to fill them.
Harnessing an already-proven system
It will employ the tried and trusted model used by the University of Galway-based BioInnovate fellowship programme. The 10-month programme attracts people from industry who go on an immersive journey in hospitals, observing their needs over a six-week period. They then filter down those needs and work out how to go about meeting them. It takes participants through a full cycle of innovation, from needs identification to designing and prototyping viable solutions, as well as searching for funding.
“We know that programme works for medical devices and we are looking at taking the model and trying to get similar activity up and running in other sectors,” says Kerrigan. “We are calling on research-performing organisations to come together to take a system that has worked well in one area and harness it for other sectors.”
"The Irish knowledge transfer system is in a very strong position now and that is recognised internationally. That’s very much due to the supports that have been provided over the past number of years"— Jenny Malone
The aim is to get five programmes up and running in different sectors of the economy. “The Innovators’ Initiative is funded for seven years. Participants will get paid a stipend of €35,000 for the 10 months they spend on the programme,” says Kerrigan. “They will also receive a Level 7, 8 or 9 certificate or other qualification from the RPO. Not only will they come out with an idea that they might commercialise, they will also receive acknowledgment for the work they have done. And if they have identified a need and no company is filling it, the innovators can apply for support from the Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Fund. That is the next step on the journey.”
Boosting knowledge transfers
KT Boost will be managed by Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI) on behalf of Enterprise Ireland. KTI is the national office responsible for making the process of research commercialisation simpler and more straightforward.
KT Boost succeeds the Enterprise Ireland Technology Transfer Strengthening Initiative (TTSI) which ran since 2007 and invested more than €88 million into the knowledge transfer and research commercialisation system to date.
KT Boost will fund staff costs and related operational activities within innovation offices in the higher-education system. The specialist roles being supported under the programme will continue to develop the knowledge transfer system in Irish public research institutions and will provide new resources to place a focus on knowledge and technology transfer activities, including IP management and prospective licensing as well as spin-out company creation.
“The Irish knowledge transfer system is in a very strong position now and that is recognised internationally,” says KTI programme manager Jenny Malone. “That’s very much due to the supports that have been provided over the past number of years. The four-year KTI Boost programme will continue those supports by funding the staff and other costs of the innovation offices in the universities. It will also fund the cost of spin-out development managers. This is a new resource which wasn’t there before.”
The main objectives are significant increases in the number of innovative spin-out companies emerging from the third-level sector, the volume of new IP licences issued to companies by the universities and the volume of research collaboration agreements between universities and companies.
Spinning out new companies
“Collaborative research agreements and IP licences are great ways for companies and SMEs to tap into the knowledge and expertise of universities to augment their own R&D efforts,” Malone points out.
She points to one example of a collaborative research project which saw infrastructure access solutions manufacturer EJ partner with iComp, the Irish Composites Centre at UL, to develop an access cover made from composite materials that could replace existing covers made from cast iron in certain applications. The project has resulted in a novel production process and a new lightweight, superior product that performs better, has an extended lifetime and is more cost efficient to transport.
In another example, Hexafly Biotech, an Irish company pioneering the use of insects and insect-based products for inclusion in feeds and as plant nutrients, worked with Maynooth University to investigate novel applications for its Hexafrass soil enhancer. It was discovered that the application of Hexafrass to soil significantly reduces the reproduction of barley aphids (greenflies) on cereal plants. The discovery creates the possibility of Hexafrass becoming a highly effective and environmentally sustainable treatment for use in horticulture and agriculture. The company signed licence agreements with Maynooth University to commercialise the know-how and outputs of the research project.
The role of the spin-out development managers will also be of key importance for commercialising research. “They will be dedicated to advising researchers, helping with best practice, advising on where to get funding from Enterprise Ireland, venture capital firms and so on,” says Malone. “Their sole focus will be on spin-out development. That should in turn increase the number of high-potential start-up companies supported by Enterprise Ireland.”
Source: The Irish Times