DCU launches virtual company scheme

3 Mar 2005

Dublin City University (DCU) has launched a new virtual company scheme to help entrepreneurs and researchers commercialise new business ideas.

The initiative was launched yesterday during the inaugural Innovation Day conference hosted by Invent, DCU’s business incubation arm, at which a range of speakers spoke about the importance of innovation to the future success of Irish business.

The Virtual Company (TVC) scheme replicates an established UK model and will be managed by Inventnet, a newly established organisation that provides administrative support to innovation programmes. Its aim will be to help Irish inventors, entrepreneurs and innovators turn their ideas into commercial products.

TVC is a partnership agreement between an inventor or innovator and a team of experts. The experts work at no cost in exchange for a small percentage of virtual shares. TVC builds links between inventors and investors and when funds and /or milestones are secured, the virtual shares convert to real shares. Experts include subject expert, marketing, sales, intellectual property consultants as well as legal and financial advisors. TVC also files patents and organises roll out from launch, through sustained growth to stakeholder return. The scheme has worked successfully in the UK over the past year with 40 companies having been established.

The concept was conceived by Professor Andrew Self, pro vice-chancellor of Kingston University in London. “The whole premise behind TVC is to share knowledge and resources to create business opportunity,” he explained. “In the UK we have proved that this scheme increases the innovation to market success rate, turning incredible ideas into credible businesses. The first pilot TVC in Ireland will provide the same level of support to equally enable the conversion of Irish innovation into real sustainable business.”

Nicola Rathbone, managing director of Inventnet Ireland, said: “This is a significant step forward for Irish innovation and one we hope will lay the foundations for many beneficial products and services for consumers worldwide. We hope to replicate the success of TVC in the UK and provide greater competition at an international level.”

She added: “The success rate of start-up businesses today is about 35pc after three years. The aim of TVC is to dramatically increase this rate. Patent statistics show that for every 1,000 patents applied for [in Ireland], two succeed in getting to market and only one in 5,000 succeed in making serious money, mostly because inventors have no idea what to do with their idea once it is patented. It takes a successful inventor on average between five and 10 years to see profits from their product. Most do not even get to the marketplace in less than four years. TVC is shortening that time to less than a year to market in some cases and for most, TVC is bringing products to market that a solo inventor had no chance of succeeding with whatsoever.”

The first stage of TVC involves the inventor attending an invention clinic for an initial assessment. The first such clinics are due to happen on 1-2 April. If TVC determines that they are suitable candidates, the projects are then prepared for assessment by professional assessors who determine if there is likely to be a strong worldwide market for the product. If they feel there is, then a product champion and team are established.

Earlier, keynote speaker author and management guru Dr Edward de Bono told the conference that innovation was the key to Ireland’s future. “New products and services for customers, innovative and more effective ways of dealing with vendors, ways of strengthening the relationship between key employees and the company, improving quality and productivity – these all depend on your ability to be creative and innovative. Every organisation can take the next step of systematically building a more innovative company at all levels, but developing the collective ‘innovative mindset’ of an organisation doesn’t magically happen. It requires intent and persistent effort, as well as use of effective, proven tools.”

Other speakers included Communications Minister Noel Dempsey TD, Dr Edward Walsh, chairman of Irish Council for Science Technology and Innovation; Yanky Falcher, author of the best-selling Fire in the Belly; Gerard Puccio, director of the Centre for Studies in Creativity in the US; and Paul McCambridge of semiconductor design firm Xilinx.

By Brian Skelly