Science strategy with 2020 time frame overtly enterprise friendly

Programme has its own action plan with 93 actions that must be achieved by government before 2020

Companies willing to engage with the Innovation 2020 science strategy released last week by the Government should benefit greatly from what the plan offers.

It is very much in keeping with the existing strategy pursued over the past few years and spearheaded by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, with its strong enterprise bias.

Basic research predominated at the end of the Celtic tiger era, with spending chasing a blue skies agenda, perhaps in keeping with the blue skies approach to property development.

The severe fiscal realities that met the incoming government in 2011 forced a change, however, with jobs becoming the key priority and all funds leaving the Department of Expenditure and Reform expected to yield some return on investment.


In reality this meant very little to most businesses in Ireland given how few of them depended on conducting research in order to trade.

Only the multinationals and companies involved in ICT (information and communications technology) development, medical research or other overtly research areas took an interest in what might be going on in the big Science Foundation Ireland research centres or in the universities and institutes.

Either the Government’s persistence with its action plan for jobs has paid dividends or we are benefitting from a rising tide – whatever the cause, the new strategy has become part of this plan and is expected to help create full employment by 2018.

Many of the provisions in the plan are aimed directly at enterprise both indigenous and multinational and are all about getting more companies to do more research and to enter into shared arrangements with academic researchers.

This sounds like what we have had for the past few years with research required to have impact and science having to be relevant before funding would be granted.

The plan proposes to notch this up by an order of magnitude, however, with much greater efforts to integrate companies into the research and innovation process.

For example, the plan hopes to produce 30 per cent more masters and PhD graduates, with a 40 per cent increase in the share of PhDs expected to sign up to research jobs within enterprise upon graduation.

The plan will attempt to double private investment in R&D performed in the public research system.

There will be greater efforts made to hook companies up with EU connections on research funded by the Horizon 2020 research budget.

Legislation put in place to assist companies related to research and development grants, R&D tax credits, innovation partnerships and other public resources will be used “to maximum effect”, the plan says, in order to be “readily accessible to enterprise and fully aligned with enterprise needs”.

Common sense

Some of the planned support for enterprise is really more common sense. It calls for companies to undertake more in-house research in order to introduce innovations that can make a company more efficient or more profitable, and therfore more competitive.

This may or may not be based on bringing in a masters or PhD student and the innovation may have more to do with manufacturing rather than a tech fix, but the plan wants innovation to become a standard part of business practice here.

The plan also expects to help companies do their shopping.

It describes how it will undertake a “horizon-scanning exercise” to identify areas of commercial opportunity for Irish-based companies. This should provide an early “heads up” for companies looking for opportunities.

It also looks like a recruitment service will shake out of the plan.

It describes how its investment in education is there to help fill the pipeline of talent needed in companies if they are to innovate.

The talent theme and the importance of the availability of highly trained staff is emphasised in the strategy.

In the years before Innovation 2020 there were repeated efforts to ensure that research discoveries did not languish on the shelf afterwards, that companies and entrepreneurs would come forward and commercialise the IP.

Knowledge Development Box

This saw the development of KTI Knowledge Transfer Ireland, a clearing house for IP coming out of the higher education institutions.

And each of these now have their own local transfer offices to facilitate IP moving out of the lab and through the commercialisation process.

So really there are no excuses if you have IP or want to get IP in an enterprise context.

The Knowledge Development Box delivered earlier this year also features in the strategy given its importance in providing strong tax concessions for companies earning profits as a direct result of their research activities carried out in Ireland.

Companies are also being invited in the plan to engage with others in tackling some of the grand societal challenges coming down the pike.

Climate change is an obvious one but others could include cancer, dementia, food security, future energy supplies and economic inequality.

The plan envisages a competitive funding mechanism that will stimulate the formation of interdisciplinary consortiums including companies to tackle some of these looming issues. These in turn may support linkages with like-minded consortiums working in other countries on the same issues.

Innovation 2020 is overtly enterprise friendly given the underlying effort to achieve full employment. Not surprisingly then it has its own action plan with 93 actions that must be achieved by government before 2020.

This plan will be one of the metrics used by an incoming Innovation 2020 implementation group that will form to ensure targets set for the plan are achieved.

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.