Innovation Ireland Forum: everyone can be an innovator – DCU’s Brian MacCraith (video)

22 Oct 2014

Prof Brian MacCraith, president of Dublin City University

Ireland has matured in the science stakes and now has most of the parts to be a formidable global player in areas such as aging, healthcare, and the internet of things, said DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith.

“Innovation is at the core of DCU (Dublin City University)’s strategy,” MacCraith explained, pointing to the university’s 2012 strategy to become the “university of enterprise”.

“We intend to walk the walk and not just talk the talk,” he added

He explained a key part of the strategy was creating the President’s Award for Innovation.

“We wanted to send out a message to everyone in our community: everyone can be an innovator. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur, but everyone can be an innovator.”

Another important move was to create the UStart accelerator for undergraduates, the first of its kind in Ireland, that has already supported eight teams to get funded and establish and run their own companies.

“One team, for example, is now manufacturing and selling 3D printers to schools. These are undergraduates, which I think is impressive.”

The Innovation Campus

Innovation Ireland Forum – Interview with Prof Brian MacCraith, president, Dublin City University

MacCraith said another vital step by the university has been the establishment of an Innovation Campus on the former Enterprise Ireland campus in Glasnevin, Dublin, a 10-acre site that will house clusters of start-ups working alongside established household names.

“We are so far ahead of schedule and there are over 20 companies situated there and we’ll soon have 250 employees.

“These won’t be just start-ups but also a cluster of like-minded companies who will benefit from the proximity to a university, with access to research facilities, smart young people, internships, CPD research contracts and much more.”

At the coalface of change

In recent weeks, DCU held Ireland’s first Hardware Hackathon on the Innovation Campus in collaboration with PCH International.

MacCraith is also working to bring a Tech Shop prototyping facility to encourage entrepreneurs and innovators to be able to build prototypes through easy access to 3D printers and CNC machines and other vital technologies.

The strategy is about boosting engagement with innovation. “It is about experts being at the coalface, defining a problem or opportunity and creative minds coming together coming up with a solution and translating that into practice.

“It’s a busy time at the university but we have a strong focus on innovation. The main pillars of our strategy are working in that regard.”

Making Ireland the island of innovation

MacCraith said Ireland has come a long way in just a decade or more in terms of building up its scientific infrastructure.

He cited the new Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research centres, as well as the Enterprise Ireland and IDA technology centres, as good examples of the good work being done.

However, Ireland can always do more. “It’s about creating forums of engagement with industry, understanding the technology roadmaps of the major players and positioning our research agenda to recognise those.”

On the question of consolidating Ireland’s academic infrastructure, MacCraith said creating critical mass is important.

“(It’s) the notion of treating this country, and ideally this island, as one big laboratory and ensuring all the best expertise in the country is available, whether it be in universities or institutes of technology, and that they are all brought together in a coherent fashion so we have a critical mass of complementary expertise tackling the big problems.

“Ireland is big enough in terms of major players in the major industrial areas of importance that are already here, and small enough that we have a level of agility and connectedness that is the envy of many countries around the world.”

Where Ireland can be agile

MacCraith pointed out there are a number of areas where Ireland can get a head start.

The first area is aging and he believes Ireland can be a global hub for innovation in aging. “Ireland can be the place that stimulates start-ups and attracts FDI as the place to develop these technologies.”

Another area is the internet of things. “The fact that one of the enabling chips – Intel’s Quark chip and the Galileo board – were designed by Intel engineers here in Ireland is fantastic. It gives us that step ahead.

“We are working with Intel to leverage this and look out for important announcements around smart cities and stadiums in the coming months.

“The fact that we have centres dealing with sensor technology and analytics and building on the power of the Galileo boards, the internet of things is a space that Ireland could take a leap ahead on and be a leader in the space. Ireland could make a huge impact on innovation globally.”

Brian MacCraith will be a panelist at the Innovation Ireland Forum on 24 October in the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin

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