A new fund was launched to increase partnerships between the Irish public sector and innovation-led businesses.
On Monday (14 October), Enterprise Ireland announced a new €750,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) fund at a conference in Dublin, which was attended by representatives from 56 public sector bodies.
This is SBIR Ireland’s third competitive call to state agencies, county councils and local authorities who are seeking solutions to a diverse range of public challenges.
To date, Enterprise Ireland, through SBIR Ireland, has supported 20 projects in collaboration with local authorities, government departments and agencies. These dealt with issues such as illegal dumping, finding solutions to rural transport and engaging ‘unheard voices’ in communities.
Exploring unique solutions
SBIR is encouraging the Irish public sector to partner with innovation-led businesses to explore unique solutions through competitive SBIR challenges.
A recent survey of 42 SMEs that were awarded funding in previous challenges suggested that 50,000 people are benefiting from SBIR-funded innovations in Ireland.
The surveyed companies report the creation of 27 new jobs and the retention of a further 88 existing jobs. More than four out of five (84pc) of companies have managed to leverage additional funding as a direct result of the SBIR challenge.
Almost two thirds (64pc) of innovations are still in the pre-commercial phase, so these figures are expected to increase as the companies further develop and scale their product or service.
‘A vital first reference site’
Enterprise Ireland’s head of innovation and competitiveness, Tom Kelly, said: “Driving innovation in our client companies is a key priority for Enterprise Ireland. Through programmes like SBIR, SMEs can help tackle societal problems and develop innovative solutions through strategic collaborations with public sector bodies.
“Since 2014, contracts worth a total of over €1m have been awarded to 69 companies by public sector bodies, as part of the SBIR programme. The challenges, identified by the public sector body, are particularly suited to small and medium sized businesses, accelerating their route to commercialisation and providing them with a vital first reference site.
“I look forward to seeing the solutions harnessed from the challenges and welcome applications from across the public sector.”
Own Keegan, Dublin City Council chief executive, added: “Through the SBIR mechanism we have been able to engage the market and partner with over 30 SMEs that have collaborated with the city council to help solve challenges such as flooding, increasing cycling, addressing last-mile deliveries and growing smarter mobility solutions.
“As a direct result of the funding, we have been able to co-design solutions to create new market opportunities for the companies that have partnered with us. The impact for us has been a change of culture internally, but it has also helped to accelerate the adoption of new technologies.”
One of the companies that was successful in offering an innovative solution for the public sector was Safecility, which was awarded funding from Limerick City and County Council for its solutions to deal with fire safety and universal access in historic buildings.
Speaking of the initiative, Cian O Flaherty of Safecility said: “It is a fantastic opportunity to work with real problem owners who cannot solve public problems with products currently on the market.
“In Limerick, we are developing innovative fire safety solutions for historic buildings that will have a global impact and receive payment for the innovation work. This is a win-win for start-ups looking to make a big impact on global problems and has been an excellent experience for our team.”
Co-funded by Enterprise Ireland and the awarded public sector body, each challenge will be worth a minimum of €200,000 in funding. The call is open until 4 December 2019. Up to five challenges will be awarded and announced in early 2020.