UCD takes its innovation programme around the country

Almost 200 people have so far completed the 18-week postgraduate certificate

Are innovative people born that way or can you learn how to become more innovative? Brendan Byrne is a strong believer in learning from the experiences of others. He was working as a farm adviser in the south east when he heard about a course on innovation being run by UCD.

Previously, a course being offered by the university in south Dublin would have held little appeal for him because of the travel involved. This was different.

The 18-week postgraduate certificate in innovation, entrepreneurship and enterprise is held in several locations around the State at different times of the year. “The fact that it was in Kilkenny was a huge draw. If it was in Dublin, I just wouldn’t have done it,” he says.

A further bonus was that it was being held in the winter months, a quiet time for crop advisers. “I had been working in the area of nutrient management and I was looking at how it could be digitised. I was also looking for new inspiration and wanted to find out how you would go about researching and developing business ideas. So I was delighted when the opportunity came up.”


He also liked the idea that the course lecturers had set up businesses themselves and a few of them were farmers. "That really attracted me because they knew what they were talking about. They were able to walk the walk and talk the talk." That course ran from November to March and as soon as he finished it, he began working with Farmflo, a start-up in the agri-mobile tech area. It is a cloud-based farm data hub that makes it easier for farmers to keep their compliance records up-to-date because they can input the data on their mobile phones as events happen in the field or shed.

“Farmers are farm managers, yes, but they are also data managers,” he says. “They are inundated with data and they are looking for something to tie it all together. They want to integrate their data with the co-ops, the Department [of Agriculture], vets, the genetics people and soil fertility people.”

He believes the integration of this data will improve how people farm “because if it’s not being measured now, it will be measured in the future. Information is power and to measure is to manage.”

Mr Byrne says the course gave him time to think about the things he had a passion for. “It also helped me to think more creatively. We all get business ideas now and again but what I learned from the course was that you don’t start with the solution. You go back to define what the problem is. That’s key to developing something. It sounds simple but it’s not that simple.”

Founding director of UCD's Innovation Academy Suzi Jarvis says the university began offering the innovation courses outside Dublin two years ago.

“I think it’s really important to get outside Dublin because some students travel significant distances for our courses,” she says. “Also, a number of our lecturers are from places like Roscommon and Athenry and they really felt that the regions needed access to our programmes.”

But despite the apparent need for the courses, it took a while to generate interest in the programme. Prof Jarvis says that changed when the academy teamed up with the GAA to spread the message through its vast regional network. It also helped when Kilkenny hurler Michael Fennelly and a number of other GAA players did the programme. Now, almost 200 people have taken the innovation courses outside Dublin and scores more will embark on the programme in the coming months. Prof Jarvis says the students have become valuable support networks for each other. "That's very important to us. We really want to sustain that after the programme ends."


Mr Byrne says the value of networking was stressed throughout the course. “Working together and helping each other with contacts was a big thing on the course and that’s ongoing. The more diverse your network is, the better.”

Past students of the innovation programme have gone to do some very diverse things. Keith Moore has set up smartvote.ie which was recently trialled in the Kilkenny-Carlow by-election. It asks election candidates a range of questions on policy issues and then asks you the same questions. Based on your answers, it ranks the candidates according to how well their views match yours.

Maryrose Simpson has been busy setting up My Ladybug, a monthly subscription service that delivers sanitary products along with sweets and treats. She has already won a Laois young entrepreneur award for her business idea.

Ronan Cunningham has been bringing the sport of foot-golf to Ireland with his Footee course in Tallaght. It is played on a golf course, but instead of hitting golf balls, players kick footballs.

Mr Byrne says his former classmates are involved in everything from food businesses to tourist ventures to medical technologies. "I think we're all innovative," he says. "When children start school they are hugely creative, drawing and singing but by the time they get to secondary school they say they can't do any of this. So the creativity is in us. The course teaches you the process, or steps on that journey." *Applications are now open for a course in Waterford, which begins in early September, and courses in Kilkenny and Drogheda, which get under way later in the autumn. See innovators.ie/adult-learning.

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times