Funding the next wave of Irish research and development
Enterprise Ireland’s Agile Innovation programme gives companies up to 50 per cent in support for development projects
‘We are starting to understand much better what small companies need.’
Enterprise Ireland has been hosting a series of events throughout the country to promote its Agile Innovation funding programme. Offering fast-track approval and a streamlined online application process, the Agile Innovation Fund allows companies to access up to 50 per cent in support for product, process or service development projects with a total cost of up to €300,000.
The fund has been specifically designed for Irish companies that need to rapidly develop solutions or are planning a first research and development (R&D) project and is open to eligible Enterprise Ireland and Local Enterprise Office client companies.
“It is a great fit for companies that need to quickly develop innovations and respond to opportunities and threats in new and existing markets,” says Joe Madden, manager of In-Company R&D Supports with Enterprise Ireland. “Products, services and processes need to be tailored and improved for international markets before opportunities are lost to the competition or changing conditions.”
The fund was launched at the beginning of 2018 in response to an identified need among Irish companies. “We realised that a lot of companies were finding the Enterprise Ireland R&D support process a bit overwhelming, so we simplified and streamlined it,” Madden explains. “It’s a very simple and easy online application process. And it’s very accessible. You can fill in the form online, start it today and finish it over a few weeks if you wish. The whole process takes about two and a half hours to complete.”
The support can be used for a wide range of purposes. “It is open to companies of all sizes and can be for a product or business improvement,” Madden points out. “We are seeing a number of projects in the waste area, for example. A company might be in manufacturing but has found a way to generate revenue from recycling waste by-products. The fund can help them develop that. Eligible costs include existing and new staff costs, overheads, materials, consultancy, travel and subsistence, certification and clinical trials.”
A particularly gratifying aspect of the promotional programme has been the increased level of interest in the Agile Innovation Fund from smaller companies. “We are finding a lot of interest and demand from smaller companies who want to get involved in R&D and innovation,” says Madden. “We want R&D and product improvement to become more ubiquitous and not just be for large companies. There is no inherent or fundamental barrier for small companies to get involved in it but many of them are just not familiar with the R&D process and how to manage it.”
Enterprise Ireland is tackling this by running occasional basic training courses in different locations around the country. “The courses help companies to identify the products and processes and the other aspects of their business that could be innovated. We help them identify the improvements that might be needed and provide them with some of the tools to do that.”
These short, relatively informal one-day courses are designed to be as accessible as possible. “Small companies with just a few staff can’t afford to have employees going on long courses,” Madden notes. “We try to strike a balance between including enough content to help them get the R&D process right and making the courses accessible for companies.
“We are starting to understand much better what small companies need and we are addressing those needs through the short courses,” he continues. “There are also many companies who don’t need a lot of training and just have occasional blind spots which they need some advice and assistance to address. The courses are ideal for that.”
Interest in the Agile Innovation fund has been growing steadily since its launch. “We had 50 applications in the first year and have had 72 this year so far. We had projected a total of 70 applications for the whole year, so we are very pleased to have exceeded that target already. Of course, we’d like to see a lot more. It should be in the hundreds really, but it’s still at a very early stage. Most importantly, we are seeing more small companies applying.”
While it is still too early to say what the overall impact of the fund has been, research shows that Enterprise Ireland R&D support makes a real difference to company performance. An Enterprise Ireland survey of more than 2,000 client companies in 2016 showed that those who availed of innovation capability and funding support saw growth of 36 per cent in global sales. Those clients that also availed of collaboration support saw a 67 per cent growth in global sales.
“The feedback from companies in relation to the Agile Innovation Fund is very positive,” says Madden. “It helps companies grow and scale. Also, the success of one company in using support from the fund gets others interested. We have seen instances of food companies getting assistance with the development of a new product and other food companies in their area then applying because they see how it can be relevant to them.”