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Enterprise Ireland changes to make R&D funds easier to access

‘Now they can send in an outline proposal to us, we’ll take a look at it and if we think it could be eligible for support, we’ll help them complete the full application’

 

Some recent changes made by Enterprise Ireland should make it easier for firms to access support from the In-house Research, Development and Innovation (RD&I) Fund. The fund is there to assist in the development of new or substantially improved products, services or processes.

Eligible innovation projects range from solving technical challenges, to innovations in services delivery, or alterations to business models. The aim is to enable companies to increase employment through sustainable and substantially increased sales.

The changes have been made to make the overall process more accessible to potential applicants, according to Enterprise Ireland in-company R&D manager Joe Madden. “Even the term R&D can be seen as frightening by lots of companies,” he explains. “It just means product, process or service development; it doesn’t have to be a major research project. It can simply involve improving a product or service to make it better and more competitive on new markets.”

The level of support available is quite significant. Small companies get up to 45 per cent of eligible costs, medium clients get 35 per cent, and large clients with more than 250 employees get 25 per cent. There is a 15 per cent bonus if two or more companies are collaborating but there is a ceiling on grants in Ireland of 50 per cent at present. The Government has signalled that this may be increased to 70 per cent in the near future, however.

The changes centre on improvements to the application process, Madden points out. “Up until now companies had to fill in quite a complex application form. This included financial details going back up to five years as well as projections for the next two. Now they can send in an outline proposal to us, we’ll take a look at it and if we think it could be eligible for support, we’ll help them complete the full application. This makes the whole process much less intimidating.”

There is also a new process for smaller projects eligible for funding of less than €150,000. “There is now an online two-page application to be completed and we hope to have approval in 10 to 20 days of receiving it,” says Madden. “That’s the target, it can take up to two months at present. Overall, we have simplified the process and made the initial engagement a bit easier. We now allow firms to approach us in principle to see if a project might qualify. Business owners are busy people and they don’t want to spend a lot of time form filling, particularly if it turns out not to be eligible.”

This new process also allows Enterprise Ireland to clear up some misunderstandings which can arise in relation to the support. “We can help in explaining what qualifies and what doesn’t. For example, direct costs qualify of course but some overhead costs can be eligible as well, while capital costs usually are not. There is another complication which we try to help with. If a company seeks €100,000 in support and it later turns out that the project would have been eligible for €150,000, EU rules prevent them from coming back for more later. It is therefore very important to get the initial application right.”

He also points out that projects cannot be something the company was doing anyway. “They must be non-routine and represent a step-up in terms of the level of innovation capability.”

That is not to say they can’t be very straightforward as some of the examples given by Madden demonstrate. “Let’s say a company manufactures lightbulbs and wants to change the colour of the filament to meet tastes in a certain market that they want to enter. They just need to figure out how to change the colour without affecting other performance characteristics. It’s not really a new process or product, it’s more of a technical challenge which will allow the company to expand its market. We can support that.”

Other examples include a project which improved the performance and reduced the cost of naturally composted fertiliser; the development of a low-cost inventory management system; development of food product variations such as gluten free, low fat, low sugar, and long life options for different markets; new treatments to improve the lifespan of outdoor wooden furniture; and the addition of new features to agricultural machinery.

Madden encourages firms to get involved in R&D and innovation. “Companies that do R&D generally do better in business,” he says. “Companies that engage with Enterprise Ireland do better again.”

Eligibility for support is restricted to Enterprise Ireland clients who are, in general, manufacturers or are involved in internationally traded services. “They can also be a potential Enterprise Ireland client,” he adds. “They may not be involved in exporting or manufacturing at present but if the project will lead them into those areas they could qualify for assistance.”

He makes a final point in relation to those companies which are seriously impacted by Brexit. “They might have products or services which are currently only suited to the home and UK markets but may with small tweaks become suitable for EU or US markets. We are here to help those companies.”