Stimulus trek begins with €56m investment in 180 companies

10 Mar 2010

Is this the beginning of the long-awaited stimulus plan from Government? Tanaiste and Enterprise Minister Mary Coughlan TD is to invest €56m in 180 companies and nine transformational competence centres to bring about the promised smart economy.

Conceived by her department as part of the Government’s Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation, the competence centres are being delivered jointly by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland.

Clusters of companies will work together to overcome common research challenges and drive opportunities for innovation, growth and jobs.

“Today, we are marking a departure from the traditional approach to R&D in favour of a collaborative system where companies that might ordinarily be competitors agree to share knowledge, risk and the rewards of pooling their research resources,” Coughlan said.

“The competence centres initiative offers Ireland the opportunity to excel in nine key sectors. These industry-led centres will convert the research undertaken into new products and services, leading to growth in export markets and jobs in Ireland.”

What the centres will cover

There will be 180 SMEs and multinational companies involved in nine centres, five of which are now established. Those established cover bioenergy and biorefining, IT innovation, applied nanotechnology, composite materials and microelectronics. Four more – manufacturing productivity, energy efficiency, financial services and e-learning – are at different stages of completion.

Each centre will be based in a university with support from partner Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) to deliver on the research needs of the companies.

Enterprise Ireland has already ring-fenced €32 million in funding for the initial five centres and it anticipates investing a further €24 million over the next five years across the nine centres.

“These centres are a radical step in enabling companies in Ireland to achieve the kind of transformational change that is required to re-boot our economy,” Frank Ryan, CEO, Enterprise Ireland, explained.

“We have chosen an industry-led competence centre model in partnership with IDA Ireland, as it is regarded as the most sophisticated R&D vehicle that currently exists internationally.

“The centres will dramatically increase the amount of intellectual property available to Irish companies that they might otherwise never get access to.”

Participating yields benefits

Speaking about the benefits of participation to the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) companies that are involved, Barry O’Leary, CEO, IDA Ireland, said: “Companies like Intel, Xilinx, Pfizer and Microsoft are engaged in these competence centres so they can access the collective expertise of Ireland’s top universities and work with Irish SMEs in partnership.

“This sort of collaboration is charting the direction of Ireland’s smart economy and is a hugely welcome development amongst the FDI community here that rely so heavily on the generation of new products and services from research,” O’Leary added.

There are currently six universities involved: NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth, UCD, UL, TCD (CRANN) and UCC (Tyndall) and more HEIs are expected to join. One of the key benefits to the HEIs involved is that they get access to industry and the real problems that they are facing.

This will assist the HEIs to align their research agendas with what industry is looking for.

The competence centres are expected to generate real impacts within five years, including:

·       Actively collaborating with a community of more than 180 companies;

·       Transferring at least 80 pieces of commercially viable intellectual property in the form of technology licences;

·       More than 60 engineers and scientists directly employed in the centres working on industrially relevant research;

·       A further 60-80 industry personnel working on centre research projects, maintaining the centre’s market focus and driving a culture of innovation; and

·       Greater levels of R&D activity in Irish companies and overseas companies based in Ireland.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Tanaiste and Enterprise Minister Mary Coughlan TD

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