€25m NDRC gets ready to launch to next phase

23 Mar 2010

The National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) set up by the Government following the collapse of MIT’s MediaLab Europe in 2005, is about to embark on the next phase of its journey with 14 out of 17 projects having attracted commercial partners.

The CEO of the NDRC Ben Hurley told Siliconrepublic.com that the recently unveiled LaunchPad initiative, a boot-camp style programme for emerging start-ups modelled on the highly successful Y Combinator initiative in Silicon Valley, will be the core model the next generation of companies to emerge from the NDRC will follow.

What is the LaunchPad programme?

The LaunchPad programme assists individuals and or teams through the provision of incubation space in Dublin’s Digital Hub, project mentoring and advisory services and financial assistance of up to €20,000 per project.

The NDRC emerged from the debris of the MIT MediaLab Europe operation that collapsed in 2005 with losses of €50m to the Exchequer.

A tighter, more streamlined approach driven by Hurley has led to a more sustained throughput of genuine indigenous digital media companies with innovative and challenging technologies in emerging fields like augmented reality, social media and location-based services.

“Things have crystallised in terms of our focus and we’re moving from applied research into commercial development and helping companies bring their products to market.

“The difficult part is how do you transfer research to the commercial domain. It’s about tapping into the push and pull tynamic and matching that with the technologies out there. It’s about bridging the gap between the ‘R’ and the ‘D’ in R&D.”

Work on innovation

Hurley describes the LaunchPad programme as being right at the tail-end of the bridging process and putting small teams of up to three people in boot camp environments where the focus is on finalising something innovative, whether its an iPhone app or web app, and quickly bring it to a point of validation and get investment after that.

“It’s about identifying the right mix; something meaty that industry and investors are happy to engage in, put them all in a safe environment and ensure both parties understand each other to cross the gap. It’s proving to be quite an exciting mix.”

Examples of projects quickly coming to fruition is Viking Ghost Hunt, a company that identified a market niche that addresses tourism and uses augmented reality to create a mobile gaming experience.

Another example the NDRC is working is Local Social, a collaboration with UCD that exploits the blend of mobile with social media that has resulted in a framework of technology that allows mobile apps to exploit location-based proximity.

Another example is GigMonkey, an app that allows people attending a gig to interact on social media and get additional content from a band during and after a gig.

Investment for projects

“We’re seeing projects attract investment as they exit the NDRC. Viking Ghost Hunt has raised external investment to fund it next stage.”

In terms of the NDRC’s €25m agreement with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, some €10m was invested in the first phase which leveraged an additional €2m in contributions from external parties.

“Of the 17 projects, 14 have commercial partners on board. We have moved from a situation where engaging commercial parties was a unique event to very much the focus of having commercial parties engaged from the outset.

“LaunchPad will be a key aspect of the next phase and we will look at generating external market value as much as possible. It’s getting quite exciting and we are already identifying the next sources of external investment, including venture capital firms and angel investors who will seed promising digital media start-ups,” Hurley said.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Ben Hurley, CEO of the NDRC

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