Publicly funded research vital contributor to Irish businesses, says KTI

9 Sep 2021

Alison Campbell, director of Knowledge Transfer Ireland. Image: Maxwell Photography

KTI said Irish companies are increasingly using publicly funded research as it is ‘helping them innovate their business for the future’.

The academic ivory tower may be crumbling in Ireland as researchers are providing strong contributions to business innovation, according to new figures released by Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI). These statistics show that publicly funded research contributed to 39 new products or services being launched to market in 2020.

This figure represents a significant increase from the 26 products and services launched in 2019, and includes innovations in areas ranging from digitalisation and energy to diagnostics and plant varieties.

KTI is an organisation that aims to maximise the applications of Government-funded research, technology and expertise by connecting these resources with businesses. It offers information on research collaboration, consultancy and spin-out opportunities and launched a new directory in May to help companies find the right research partner.

It is funded by Enterprise Ireland with co-financing from the Irish Universities Association

Designing a research roadmap

One example of KTI’s contribution was with IT Carlow and a company that worked primarily in the fire lighting sector. Inferneco is an Irish business that identified a new way of sanitising glass neck drinking bottles. These bottles are usually clean but are difficult to sanitise. Inferneco suggested that UV light could be the solution to this problem and this is where KTI’s network came in.

‘Events of the last 18 months have shown how vital an engaged and proactive knowledge transfer community is’

Working with academics at the Technology Gateway Design+ at IT Carlow, the team created a research roadmap to design, test and validate Inferneco’s concept. This led to the development of technology that can sanitise bottles within two seconds without exposing the users to UV light.

“The research undertaken by IT Carlow went above and beyond the original plan and we are truly grateful for this” said Emmett Hedigan, the managing director at Inferneco.

“The team were great to deal with and did everything to make this project a success for us all. We will be working with IT Carlow again on this journey as we seek to get every pub on the planet to embrace PureNeck.”

By working with other teams in Waterford and Cork, the academic contribution was brought from the lab into the commercial world and has been used to create eight prototypes to pitch to businesses on a global scale.

Innovating for the future

“Events of the last 18 months have shown how vital an engaged and proactive knowledge transfer community is,” said Alison Campbell, the director of Knowledge Transfer Ireland.

“With significant increases in live collaboration projects, new products and services launched, and new jobs in spin-out companies to name a few, it is clear that Irish enterprise recognises the very real part that working with the third level on research and development can play in helping them innovate their business for the future.”

KTI’s survey also found that spin-out companies formed from Irish universities, ITs and other publicly funded research bodies grew last year, with 30 new spin-outs formed. This means that there are currently 128 active spin-outs in Ireland that have been running for three or more years, employing around 1,112 people.

Nine university spin-outs were also acquired in 2020, representing a combined value of €7.9m.

In terms of consultation, KTI said that businesses relied on Irish public research 3,681 times, showing a 39pc increase from the year prior.

“The continued engagement of the SME sector is particularly notable as we know that those who collaborate with the third level on research and development are proven to be more competitive than those who don’t,” Campbell concluded.

Sam Cox was a journalist at Silicon Republic covering sci-tech news