Three years after it was first launched, we look at the results of the Regional Technology Clustering Fund and how it aims to bolster SME productivity and competitiveness in Ireland.
In 2019, a new Regional Technology Clustering Fund (RTCF) was launched by Enterprise Ireland.
With an initial budget of €2.75m, the fund was set up as an initiative of Project Ireland 2040 and aimed to build, scale and expand the reach of Irish SMEs by building sectoral clusters in regions across the country.
Since that launch, 12 educational outreach managers have been appointed in various institutes of technology and technological universities.
Each of these cluster managers are aligned to a particular sector and are there to engage with relevant SMEs, multinational companies and start-ups.
Gillian Slattery, Enterprise Ireland’s senior regional development executive for the mid-west region, said a major benefit of the clusters is for the participating education institutions to increase their engagement with industry in line with their research and educational remit.
“With more than 30 national programmes in 20 EU countries, the focus on clustering is now gathering momentum. Key activities of EU clusters include cross-sectoral collaboration, support for SMEs and internationalisation of its industry members,” she said.
“This clustering should stimulate innovation through an agreed workplan to drive the productivity and internationalisation activity of enterprise and the competitiveness of the regions. Collaboration to drive the implementation of the work plan should be national to ensure access to appropriate expertise and supporting national infrastructure.”
‘We would envisage that as the membership grows, national clusters will develop’
– JERRY MOLONEY
Every cluster has a steering group and a membership model. As of mid-2021, more than 400 industry partners had signed up as full members of their clusters, including The Kerry group, Bausch & Lomb, Bluedrop Medical and Boston Scientific.
The clusters span a wide range of areas such as engineering, manufacturing and industry 4.0, agritech and circular bio economy, cybersecurity, and medtech.
The benefits of clustering
Jerry Moloney, director of the mid-west and Kerry region at Enterprise Ireland, said clustering is a well-established practice that has been in many EU countries for more than 20 years.
“Research by TCI Network shows the benefits of clustering are that cluster groups have 143pc more global frontier companies, 77pc more higher-growth firms, 141pc of more rapidly growing start-ups in specialised clusters than in other locations, and these companies pay 13.5pc higher wages than companies not involved in clusters,” he said.
“The establishment of clusters at a regional level around key sectors of strength gives companies numerous collaboration opportunities, including to address productivity issues, supply chain efficiencies, new market opportunities, internationalisation and collaborative tendering for contracts.”
The RCTF follows the Regional Enterprise Development Fund 2017–2020, where Enterprise Ireland funded four projects through the development of industry clusters.
“Some of these projects delivered impressive results in terms of benefits to company members and from a sector or regional development perspective,” said Moloney.
In addition to funding the educational outreach managers, Enterprise Ireland has also provided co-funding for a suite of initiatives identified by cluster members to drive company improvements in these key areas.
Slattery said that Enterprise Ireland is working with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to examine “a national clustering policy”.
Moloney said he and his team are aiming to promote the benefits of clustering through the RTCF programme.
“We have started these clustering initiatives initially at a regional level to enable greater collaboration and interaction between member companies, but we would envisage that as the membership grows, national clusters will develop,” he said.
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