Ireland needs its own Google or Nokia, says Taoiseach

4 Jun 2009

“We want to create our own Googles and Microsofts or, as Finland has done, our own Nokia,” the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen TD, yesterday told a gathering of global and local technology and academic elite.

At the launch of the first phase of the new Intel and National University of Ireland, Maynooth-based Innovation Value Institute (IVI) Competence Centre, which the Irish Government is supporting with a €1m investment, the Taoiseach said there was a clear need to create more global Irish companies.

“Increasing productivity is the key to Ireland’s future success,” he said. “Ireland’s best asset is its people. We have a younger and better-educated population than most other countries – better even than the United States.

“It is the creativity and ingenuity of people and their ability to invent new products and services that will drive Ireland’s future growth. Entrepreneurial activity in Ireland is well above the European average, with as many as 2,800 people setting up businesses every month. As a Government, we will do our utmost to create the best possible environment for these entrepreneurs.”

The Taoiseach said the Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal published last December set out his agenda for re-orienting the Irish economy, and the vision is to create a country where entrepreneurs from anywhere in the world will want to come and one that is a leader in green technologies.

“Ireland is one of the most open economies in the world. The future of our economy will depend on exports. We need thousands of thriving Irish companies creating high-value products and services that will provide well-paid, quality employment.

“We already have one of the best concentrations of high-tech multinationals in Ireland. Our plan is to incentivise them to invest further in the high-value R&D areas that provide secure employment and increase exports.”

In a remark that suggests the Government wants to see a return on the billions invested in strategies such as Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and developing Ireland’s science infrastructure, the Taoiseach said: “We are already investing billions in research and we need to get a return on it. We will now move this to a new level and create an exemplary research, innovation and commercialisation ecosystem. We will become an Innovation Hub in Europe.”

He also suggested that the Government may finally be tackling the need to instil an entrepreneurial culture in young people, but also the very obvious need for Government and businesses to support them in their endeavours.

“We need to develop an enterprise culture from school children upwards, and right through the universities and institutes and throughout our companies. It should be a reasonable aspiration of all children born in this country that they might, one day, start their own business.”

The Taoiseach said that in the period 2000 to 2007, Enterprise Ireland supported 430 high-performance start-up companies, 40pc of which were specifically R&D projects.

“This investment yielded sales of €638m, exports of €344m and generated 5,500 jobs. Over 70pc of companies employed new staff as a result of R&D funding.”

He added that 43pc of IDA Ireland investments won in 2008 were research related and are valued at €420m, and one-third of R&D investments involved collaboration with Irish third-level institutes, many of which have been supported by SFI.

Ireland, he said, is drawing down over €1m a week from the 7th EU Research and Technological Framework Programme 2007 – 2013. In the first 20 months of this programme, 353 different projects have drawn down over €83m in funding to support the high-tech sector in Ireland.

“While we have made significant investments and progress under the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (SSTI) to date, we now need to move into a new phase.

“We need to maximise the return for our investment by promoting the commercialisation of this research. We must ensure that the outputs of Ireland’s research base are brought to the marketplace and result in increased productivity, economic growth and high-quality employment.

“We also need to ensure that the public see tangible rewards for public investment in R&D,  particularly in the context of scarce resources and competing policy objectives.

“President Barack Obama recently called for scientists to move from the laboratory and into society to inspire a new wave of invention and innovation amongst the population. I concur with this view and believe we have set out the roadmap to achieve that objective in our Smart Economy plan,” the Taoiseach said.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years