National Digital Research Centre in €7m R&D call

18 Feb 2008

The Government’s €25m National Digital Research Centre (NDRC), which replaced the failed Media Lab Europe, is on the look out for good R&D projects in which to invest between €5m and €7m.

The head of the NDRC, Ben Hurley (pictured), told that under the second national call for expressions of interest, it is on the look out for projects that identify application-driven, innovative research in digital technologies.

The first national call saw €1m invested in up to five projects.

The second call will see up to €7m being invested in a similar number of projects. The deadline for expressions of interest is 29 February at midnight.

Hurley said the aim of the second call is to enable the Centre to establish expertise and a reputation for thought leadership on a given field of digital technology, such as mobile gaming.

In terms of the areas Hurley would like to see the NDRC specialise in, the fields of healthcare, environment, education and entertainment technologies were top of the list.

“We want to become experts at translational research and that means taking applied research and putting it right into industry, in the hands of SMEs, public sector organisations and multinationals.

“Any intellectual property generated is likely to be owned by the parties who develop it. Our aim is to provide the environment to allow these ideas and research to reach fruition and at the same time build up expertise and thought leadership. We aim to establish a network of scouts who will work with all the various academic institutions to find research that could have commercial application in industry.”

Hurley said the plan is to create a body that helps to nourish ideas and that if there was an international example of the model he would base the NDRC on it would be the Kelvin Institute in Scotland and the various Centres of Expertise in Canada.

Trinity graduate Hurley has extensive experience in technology start-ups, having worked in entrepreneurial capacities spanning commercial and technological roles and taking companies from start-up through to exit.

The NDRC is the Government’s replacement to the disastrous Media Lab Europe, which cost the exchequer around €50m and collapsed amidst the dotcom downturn in 2002.

It will be run as an independent company and is based on a consortium of third-level institutions that successfully tendered for the job.

The board of the NDRC includes Paul McCambridge, managing director of Xilinx in Ireland, Sean Baker, co-founder and director of Iona Technologies, Paul Rellis, country manager, Microsoft Ireland, John Herlihy, general manager of Google in Ireland and Liam Fitzgerald of Intuition Publishing.

Hurley said that this year the centre will employ between 40 and 60 people, representing a mix of full-time staff members and staff who come into the centre based on the proposals for research it decides to back.

“We have the commercial expertise to advise and direct funding and these people also understand how academic environments work. But to bring strong ideas to fruition the cloth must fit the frame. We want to be thought leaders but also to have the ability to spot commercial opportunities for applied research.

“SMEs in Ireland want to have good R&D opportunities, but this is hard to do if you’re the chief executive of an SME. We can bring forward a development project that will be of use to the Irish SME.

“We’re positioning the NDRC as a mid-way house, taking the applied research away from the academic campus and taking it nearer to the commercial and industrial application. We want to identify the next generation of products and we realise that SMEs in Ireland want to have a good research capacity. Hopefully, we’ll bridge the gap.”

By John Kennedy