Building on spirit of open innovation
INNOVATION PROFILE University of Limerick:THE UNIVERSITY of Limerick’s highly innovative Nexus Innovation Centre has exceeded all targets and expectations for its first year in operation. The centre is already supporting 76 high-value jobs in 32 newly-established companies. In addition, nine student co-operatives have been formed and 10 Jobbridge scheme placements have been accommodated.
Nexus offers dedicated office space to support new technology-based businesses together with two fully-equipped research laboratory suites, boardrooms, meeting rooms and ancillary support services. The centre aims to facilitate the transformation of new knowledge into commercially viable opportunities and seeks to create a hub or ecosystem around which regional innovation can be driven, organised and supported.
“Progress has been fantastic during the first year”, says Dr Mary Shire, UL vice-president of research. “We could never have expected to achieve what we have, it really has been unbelievable. We have 80 per cent occupancy now and this has surpassed all our expectations.
“The success of the centre is testament to the expertise and entrepreneurial support available at the university. It has been very encouraging to see international start-up companies such as iMosphere and iTrac Global base their operations here with the generation of high-value jobs for the Mid West region.”
She believes the centre has already reached the stage where it sells itself. “It is almost marketing itself by word of mouth now. And that’s the best way to do it. We have attracted a number of very exciting start-ups which are interested in connecting up with the research going on at the university.”
And part of the secret of its success is its very location within the university. “Traditionally, incubators and innovation centres on university campuses are located a bit away from things,” Shire explains.
“Nexus is right at the centre of things. The Lero, the software engineering research centre, is in the same building for example. It’s a very open place and researchers go there to engage with the companies. It is now a focal point for this engagement and we have researchers from the business school, form science and engineering and product design all going there to discuss ideas and work with the Nexus companies.”
Centre manager Andrea Deverell believes the success of the centre is as much down to human as physical or business factors. “I honestly believe it’s about building a community of people,” she says. “We are bringing companies and researchers together in one place and helping to build the human connections between them.”
This focus on people rather than the industry type or sector dates back to the very beginning. “In the early days, we decided not to tightly define the business types we wanted to attract,” Deverell explains. “We fundamentally believed that the more interesting stuff happens at the boundaries between the sectors and we have been proved correct over the past year.