Campus companies: nurturing Ireland’s future spin-outs

15 Jul 2010

Spin-outs and spin-ins can create true commercial potential through the cross-pollination of ideas at tertiary level, says Pat O’Donnell, manager of Synergy Centre at ITT Dublin.

Do you believe that technologies developed at third or fourth level have real commercial potential?

This is proven beyond question both internationally and in Ireland. The US successes are well known, with examples such as Google and Hewlett-Packard, which emerged from the same university. Ten to 12 third-level spin-outs go public in the UK each year.

In Ireland, Iona Technologies led the way, but 39 spin-outs were established in 2009. The commercial offerings of many of the ‘spin-ins’ to be found in campus incubators in institutes of technology also rely heavily on technologies developed by institute researchers.

What kind of incubation facilities should third-level institutions be offering potential start-ups?

The main requirement is for modular, flexible, high quality office units with state-of-the-art communications. Hot desk areas are also essential to accommodate very early stage entrepreneurs, to establish a pipeline of full scale client companies. The third element is wet lab and engineering lab space for company use. Finally, the importance of well-designed informal networking spaces such as cafeterias cannot be over-emphasised.

Is there a need for greater funding in this area?

Campus incubators in general are a major success story in a gloomy economic landscape. Synergy Centre and ITT Dublin could support many more successful high-technology companies, the building blocks of the smart economy, given the capacity to do so.

The bulk of these companies would be high technology spin-ins whose chances of success are greatly enhanced by the supportive environment and services available and exposure to the research expertise and facilities on campus, but the potential exists for a number of direct spin-outs from the institute’s research also.

Technology transfer skills are a key element in the support of both spin-outs and spin-ins and greater investment in this area is needed.

Is there a greater demand for start-up programmes at the moment, considering the number of people on the live register?

Definitely. Synergy Centre and a collaborating company, Innovo Training, has recently been awarded funding under the Labour Market Activation Fund to provide entrepreneurial training and start-up support to teams of unemployed professionals. This programme will complement the Synergy Enterprise Platform Programme, which generally attracts people out of employment to start a venture.

What advice would you give to someone considering launching a business?

Focus obsessively on market validation, not on tweaking your offering. You won’t succeed on your own, business is a team game. Join a start-up support programme such as the Synergy Enterprise Platform Programme – it will dramatically improve your chances of success. Synergy Centre at ITT Dublin currently has a variety of tenancy options available to high-tech start-ups. See for more information.