Entrepreneurs at the gates

31 Jan 2008

Spin-ins – companies not directly related to UCD research – now account for 40pc of occupancy at the NovaUCD incubation campus, it emerged this week.

Academia, established business people and budding entrepreneurs alike gathered yesterday at University College Dublin’s centre for technology transfer, NovaUCD, for the centre’s open day, where they gained advice as well as insight into the role it plays in developing high-tech business in Ireland.

Micheal Whelan, project manager for communications at NovaUCD, explained that the centre plays a key role in all stages of developing a business, from protecting a novel idea through patenting to seeking business partners for commercialisation.

Interestingly, the centre also helps assign intellectual property (IP) in the form of patents, industrial design, copyright etc to a company and if this company subsequently fails the IP can be re-licensed to another campus company because UCD owns the IP of all researchers it employs.

Although the centre is located on university grounds, 40pc of the incubation space is occupied by spin-ins, with occupation space kept ideally at 85pc full at all times.

The reason for keeping free incubation space, said Ciara Leonard, project manager for enterprise development, is that in the three years a company will ‘incubate’ in Nova, it is literally given more room to expand to its full potential.

Currently, there are 42 units housing 23 companies and the Nova centre itself has 15 full-time staff.

NovaUCD fulfils a key entrepreneurial function as often a problematic area in technology transfer is for a research scientist to find a balance between having a passion for lab work and bringing this work into a business environment. This is where workshops, seminars and courses in entrepreneurship from NovaUCD help the scientist to “let go”, explained Caroline Gill, project manager for CPD (continuing professional development).

Leading on from this, she said that the CEO of a technology start-up does not necessarily possess the same personality profile as someone who can take a company global, and this is an important area for new and emerging companies to be aware of.

To give an example of the wide range of companies currently occupying NovaUCD, a panel of entrepreneurs from Homewise.ie, Aonta Technologies, ChangingWorlds and Java Clinical Research Limited discussed their experiences tackling a start-up and how they came to be situated in the centre.

Offering advice to young hopefuls, David Seavers, CEO of software-based voice conferencing firm Aonta Technologies, said: “However long you think it will take – double it.”

He added that the salary level may change drastically, as he himself had come from working in a high position with a multinational to going it alone with a good idea and a business plan, but said: “Don’t look back.”

The ‘meet the entrepreneur’ panel present at the open day was an example of the Entrepreneurs Live! seminar series which Nova has been running for the past five years to offer advice and inspiration for all levels of tech start-ups.

The skills needed to bring an idea to fruition, said CPD project manager Gill, are ironically called ‘soft skills’ but are now recognised as core skills, eg intellectual property management, dragon’s den style preparation and creating business plans.

Two six-week courses, one introducing entrepreneur skills and another on technology commercialisation, have just begun in NovaUCD and can be added to a PhD course as a module or taken by an individual who will receive a certificate of attendance.

By Marie Boran