New body aims to increase spin-out firm numbers

3 Aug 2010

A national professional organisation that aims to increase the number of spin-out firms in Irish higher education institutions (HEIs), as well as the number of technology licence agreements between these bodies and industry partners, has been established.

The Irish Technology Transfer and Innovation Group (ITTIG) comprises the directors of the technology transfer offices (TTOs) in 10 of Ireland’s HEIs, including the seven national universities.

In partnership with Enterprise Ireland, the TTOs manage the process of commercialising intellectual property through the creation of spin-out firms or licensing technologies to existing companies.

What the Irish Technology Transfer and Innovation Group will do

The newly formed body aims to help co-ordinate the process on a national basis and to increase the number of sustainable, spin-out firms by improving collaboration between the TTOs, as well as the links between businesses and entrepreneurs and the HEIs.  

“It’s widely acknowledged that, while foreign direct investment continues to be hugely important for the Irish economy, we need to ramp up our own indigenous industries, especially in high-tech, high-potential, export-oriented sectors, like life sciences, medical devices, and clean technologies,” said Dr John Scanlan, commercialisation director, NUI Maynooth and chairman, ITTIG.

He noted that two recent reports, including one by the Government’s Innovation Taskforce, had highlighted the need to maintain a parallel strategy of anchoring foreign investment in Ireland by engaging in more research and new product development, while also growing new, high-potential technology companies.

“To make this happen, ITTIG has been set up to support the work of the groups established to implement the objectives of these reports. Our immediate plan is to help implement a national policy for technology transfer across all of the HEIs, to make it easier for industry and entrepreneurs to do business with academic researchers. Ultimately, our goal is to help increase wealth generation by spin outs from HEIs and help grow the highly skilled jobs base.”

Number of spin-out companies recently created in Ireland

Figures from the TTOs collated by Enterprise Ireland show that 35 spin out companies were created in 2009 across the main HEIs, up from an average of 10 per annum in the years prior the agency began formally supporting the offices.

According to the ITTIG, research carried out by international technology transfer bodies indicates that Ireland compares well to the rest of Europe and the US in terms of the cost of creating viable spin-out companies. For example, for every €100m in research spending in the HEIs, Ireland produces five spin-out companies compared to an average of 3.3 across the European Union and two in the US.

“There was a strong performance across the technology transfer offices last year, and we can see that Ireland is performing well in an international context,” said Dr Scanlan. “But we need to maintain this trend, as the regeneration of indigenous industry will be critical to the recovery of the national economy.

“Our role as TTOs is to help identify applications and products with commercial potential, to help source suitable industry and business partners for research teams, and to ensure that research under way is fully informed about possible market opportunities.”

Feargal Ó Móráin, executive director, Enterprise Ireland, welcomed the launch of the ITTIG and said its establishment demonstrates how the Irish technology transfer system has matured in recent years and is an important step in the co-ordination of research commercialisation activity in Ireland.

“Last year alone, 2,600 companies seeking new technologies or investors looking for opportunities in spin-outs were served by the Technology Transfer Offices that make up the new body,” he said. “The spin-out pipeline for 2010 looks good with eight new companies identified already this year and Enterprise Ireland looks forward to continuing our partnership with the TTOs to create more jobs and exports from research.”

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