Trinity tenants turn research into business

29 Jul 2004

What’s a KBSME? You may well ask. It may sound like the sort of foreign decoration Irish citizens need Government permission to accept, but in fact in today’s industrial development jargon it stands for knowledge-based small to medium-sized enterprises.

“This is exactly what we are trying to promote,” says Dr Eoin P O’Neill, director of innovation services at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). “Ireland needs new, high-tech small enterprises and today they in turn depend on innovation – either new knowledge that can be commercialised or new tools and technologies that can be used for competitive advantage.

“Here in TCD we have been pursuing an active programme of helping to spin off campus companies from the fruits of research across all faculties, as well as working with national and local development agencies to offer technology assistance to business outside the university. We have had our share of visible success over more than a decade – just to point to Iona Technologies as one example, which was set up here in 1991,” he says.

In fact, approximately 40 campus companies have been formed since the inception of TCD’s research and innovation services in 1986. These companies provide outlets for researchers, graduate students and entrepreneurs to pursue their research interests towards practical and profitable applications.

The innovation centre offers incubation space and assistance for these companies in the critical start-up phase. There are currently 14 campus companies, some of which have grown enough to move into the TCD enterprise centre beside Grand Canal Harbour. This was formerly the Pearse Street enterprise centre, which TCD has acquired with the help of the IDA and the Department of Education to keep pace with demand for more space to house such projects. The enterprise centre already houses three TCD spin-offs, the Dublin Business Innovation Centre and several other companies that draw on TCD’s research strengths.

O’Neill points out that there is currently twice as much research going on in TCD as a couple of years ago, much of it because of new funding available through Science Foundation Ireland. “The range has extended also, with work going on in ICT, biotechnology, nanotechnology, neurosciences and other disciplines. In recent years most institutions worldwide have realised that the most fertile way to generate new ideas is by crossing disciplines and breaking the traditional boundaries. ICT is very helpful in that, because much of today’s work and lines of research in most scientific fields depends on smart computing – wielding large databases, modelling and visualising data for easier understanding and insights and so on.”

The university decision to put the new institute of neuroscience in the same new building (currently being fitted out) as the Centre for High-Performance Computing is quite deliberate, says O’Neill. “We are following this inter-disciplinary theme. Advanced computing serves a range of research projects in many areas, both inside the university and for external clients, while the new institute of neuroscience is multidisciplinary by design.”

By Leslie Faughnan