Prof Mark Ferguson: Serial entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of Irish research

14 Nov 2016

Mark Ferguson, director general of SFI. Image: Connor McKenna

Speaking at Tyndall National Institute Technology Days in Croke Park to discuss the future of the internet, director general of the SFI, Prof Mark Ferguson, described the crucial role serial entrepreneurs play in Irish research.

As part of Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) remit, the organisation is always trying to promote greater cooperation between the two worlds of academia and industry, to turn scientific concepts into flourishing businesses.

Future Human

However, Ferguson has said that until recently, the model taken by researchers of “throwing something over the fence” and hoping it works is reaching its natural conclusion.

Now, he said in conversation with at the Tyndall event, a new way of growing ideas will be undertaken, that will have the pair working together from the start to offer a much greater chance of success.

One such endeavour is being undertaken with the I-Corps programme, run in collaboration with the National Science Foundation in the US, to support SFI-funded researchers to develop entrepreneurial skills that will lead to economic and societal impact.

“There are industry-inspired problems that often give rise to really fundamental research breakthroughs, and equally, there is expertise that could be brought to bear collectively to solve a problem,” he said.

Equally as important as getting both academia and industry talking to one another are those who have taken the first step, but want to build an entirely new venture from potentially game-changing research.

Companies that aren’t attractive to buy are worries

These serial entrepreneurs are key to Irish research progressing on to the big stage, Ferguson said, simply because they have evaluated the risks from their first experience in the market.

“You typically see that the second time around, they are more willing to take risks and put more of their own capital on board,” he said.

This plays into his belief that in the scientific community, it is not detrimental to research that companies are bought; it is more of a problem when there are many companies that no one wants to buy.

“[Serial entrepreneurs are] terrific and what the ecosystem is all about,” Ferguson said.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic