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Knowledge Transfer Ireland: ‘A hook-up service for research collaborations’

The body’s mission is to help industry find, connect, engage with and benefit from publicly funded Irish research

 

Knowledge Transfer Ireland, which was established four years ago, is the national office that helps private-sector organisations benefit from access to Irish expertise and technology by making it easy to connect and engage with the research base in Ireland, particularly in the third-level sector.

This makes it a “hook-up service for research collaborators”, according to director Alison Campbell. “Although we are aiming to engender more enduring relationships,” she adds.

In essence the office’s mission is to make it ever easier for industry to find, connect, engage with and benefit from publicly funded Irish research. “Ireland is a great place to innovate and do R&D,” she says. “But we need more companies to realise that there are lots of benefits available to them from collaboration with third-level researchers. We also need them to understand that it is relatively straightforward to do it and we have a bunch of tools and guides on the website (kti.ie) to help them both at the beginning of the collaboration journey and all the way through to the end. It really is not such a daunting task.”

The benefits of such collaborations are very clear, according to the body’s latest annual report, which revealed that 28 new spin-out companies were created during 2016 alone. That brought to 119 the number of spin-outs had been formed and were continuing in business since the establishment of Knowledge Transfer Ireland. Job creation in those companies has exceeded 1,000.

In addition, 116 new patent applications were filed by research performing organisations, while 461 new inventions were disclosed.

Cheese revolution

One recent success story involved a new cheese-making technology licensed by Teagasc to Ornua Co-operative in 2016. The technology, which had been developed based on work by Teagasc researchers, allows cheese to be produced from reassembled milk without whey expulsion – a revolutionary development. As a result, new cheese products have been developed and Ornua has been able to expand into new markets in the middle east that would not otherwise have been available to it.

Hurling fans at last Sunday’s thrilling All-Ireland final benefited from another research collaboration, which saw Intel Ireland, Microsoft Ireland and Croke Park come together in a project with DCU that led to the establishment of a national test bed for Internet of Things technologies at the stadium. Croke Park went on to become a testing ground for a host of cutting-edge technologies with more than 30 companies now involved as trial users.

Smart wound

Fleming Medical is developing a smart wearable dressing for intelligent wound care. The dressing incorporates various sensors to monitor the healing of the wound without having to remove the dressing. Fleming engaged in a research consultancy with Prof Zena Moore at the Royal College of Surgeons, whose expertise and involvement ensured the project was clinically informed by an internationally recognised expert in the field of wound healing.

This type of consultancy arrangement is very valuable but hasn’t been all that common in Ireland up until know, according to Campbell. “It is quite difficult for academic researchers to act as consultants in Ireland and it is important for companies to be able to access their skills and expertise,” she says. “We know that companies benefit from access to knowledge and expertise in third level through formal consultancy. This is internationally recognised. So far, managing this kind of consultancy activity to make it easier for companies and academics alike to work together has not been supported. We are missing a trick here. We are driving a new pilot initiative that will see a number of the universities appoint dedicated staff members to act as conduits and work with organisations seeking this kind of consultancy support. Already UCD and MU have people in place and we expect more to be appointed in another three higher-education institutes around the country.”

Biggest challenge

She believes that the biggest challenge facing Knowledge Transfer Ireland is getting the word out to industry about the resources that are available through the organisation. “We find that when companies have visited our website and accessed the tools we have available they are really satisfied with what they have found and they tell us it’s brilliant and that their interactions have been speeded up. We’re trying to amplify this.”

That will be one of the topics under discussion at the Knowledge Transfer Summit, which takes place next Thursday, September 14th, in the Mansion House, Dublin. The summit brings together expert speakers from Ireland and overseas to address current issues affecting research commercialisation.

“We have run a conference for the past couple of years and this is our first full day event in response to people saying they wanted that,” says Campbell. “We have attracted a really nice mix of investors, researchers from enterprise and the third-level sector, as well as those responsible for the commercialisation of academic research. We are expecting quite a dynamic discussion of a range of issues. It’s also a great opportunity for networking. We want to give people an opportunity to talk to others involved in the area. Last year had people sitting there long after the conference had finished, continuing negotiations on their collaboration agreements. We hope to see even more of that this year.”