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Celebrating excellence in innovation

The US-Ireland Research Innovation Awards highlight the achievements of Irish-based researchers

From left: Barry O’Sullivan, president of the American Chamber of Commerce, Peng Lim, ADRF programme manager of award-winner Xilinx and Laura Mahoney, chief executive of the Royal Irish Academy at the 2018 US-Ireland Research Innovation Awards earlier this year. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography

From left: Barry O’Sullivan, president of the American Chamber of Commerce, Peng Lim, ADRF programme manager of award-winner Xilinx and Laura Mahoney, chief executive of the Royal Irish Academy at the 2018 US-Ireland Research Innovation Awards earlier this year. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography

 

Now in their fifth year, the US-Ireland Research Innovation Awards are a joint initiative of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) and the American Chamber of Commerce to recognise excellence in research innovation, creation and invention by an organisation as a result of US foreign direct investment in Ireland.

The aim is to acknowledge exemplary ideas, originating in Irish organisations, and underpinned by innovative research, that have a strong social and/or economic impact.

“The role of the Royal Irish Academy is to showcase excellence in research happening in Ireland and these awards do that by bringing together cutting-edge science from across multiple institutions,” says RIA president Prof Michael Peter Kennedy. “Ireland has a growing reputation for being a true knowledge island and the US-Ireland Research Innovation Awards celebrate that by promoting instances of lateral thinking by our scientists and engineers. This is the key ingredient that makes good work great.”

The awards are presented in three categories: the Irish operations of a US-headquartered and controlled multinational company; a higher-education institution research centre or institute based on the island of Ireland with links to the US corporate sector; and an Irish SME with links to the US corporate sector.

“We want to highlight, celebrate and reward the great innovation that’s happening here in Ireland,” says American Chamber special projects director Katie Keogh. “The real value of the awards is the recognition for the great work the teams are doing. They allow multinational firms to spotlight the phenomenal work being done to their own corporate headquarters.”

Even being shortlisted is a significant achievement when the competition is taken into account. Xilinx won the award in the US multinational category in the first year, Keogh recalls. “Just being shortlisted alongside global giants like Intel and IBM was a great achievement and they got even more kudos by winning,” she says.

That can translate into real tangible benefits for shortlisted companies and winners. “It is very valuable for attracting talent,” Keogh notes. “People look at the award-winners and say: ‘this is an innovation team I might like to work with’. The HPE team that was presenting its project at a recent technology showcase had a member who had been attracted to join the company because they had won the award the previous year. Xilinx were able to strengthen their innovation team on the basis of winning the award and then came back this year and won again.”

KPMG partner and head of technology and media Anna Scally has served as a judge on the awards panel since their inception. “I can’t really believe this is the fifth year of the awards,” she says. “The quality of research happening here in Ireland is phenomenal. We are seeing exceptional research across all three categories. It’s amazing too when you look back one or two years later and see the results of that research. We have seen a number of examples where the research has been turned into new products and services which have achieved international success.”

“The US-Ireland Research Innovation Awards is a natural fit for Ulster Bank and we are very proud to support this unique event for the fifth year, alongside the American Chamber of Commerce, Royal Irish Academy and KPMG,” says Yvonne Kennedy, head of foreign direct investment with Ulster Bank Corporate Banking.

‘Break new ground’

“Each year, the entrants continue to break new ground, delivering cutting-edge products, services and partnerships,” she adds. “This level of creativity and innovation ensures Ireland’s prominence as a progressive, pioneering nation. It also reflects the path we are undertaking in Ulster Bank, as we continue to foster a culture of collaboration, ensuring our customers receive a positive experience through an innovative, omni-channel service.”

Oxymem, an Irish waste-water firm, which has invented an innovative waste-water treatment system, picked up the SME award this year. “The award signified all the hard work the team put into commercialising membrane-aerated biofilm reactor treatment technology after nearly 15 years of research in University College Dublin, ” says chief executive Wayne Byrne.

“The journey to get to this point has been an eventful one from being a team of less than 10 people in 2014, to now employing nearly 50 people – and still growing. We have managed to secure investment from the largest chemical company in the world, alongside the largest oil and gas company in the world. We are still only at the early stages of the potential of this technology and as we move forward and continue to innovate, this award recognises, validates and ultimately amplifies our innovation story.”

He advises others to have, and know, their innovation story. “This helps you and your business know what you are for,” he continues. “It enables you to imagine and create new offerings, enter new categories, engage with champions, and maybe even change the world. The American Chamber of Commerce Ireland and the Royal Irish Academy will get your innovation story to a much bigger audience.”

Anna Scally encourages more SMEs to enter next year’s awards, which have a closing date for applications of Wednesday, December 19th, 2018. “Irish SMEs doing great research seem a bit reluctant to put themselves forward,” she says. “It would be great if more Irish SMEs were aware of awards and put themselves forward. They have a huge amount to gain from participation.”

Katie Keogh concludes by pointing to some of the innovations spotlighted by the awards. “We are telling the story of the amazing innovation that’s happening here in Ireland,” she says. “Companies like Pfizer have been here since the late ’60s and the team down in Ringaskiddy has innovated the manufacturing process to take it from 20 steps down to five. They are now able to compete against generics when their products come off patent as a result.

“Then look at Xilinx, who is helping deliver 5G communications. And then there is the UL team with their direct-inject bone cement for people undergoing brain surgery. They found a way to be able to hold it in suspension for up to two years to extend shelf life and developed a medical device like a Polyfilla gun to deliver it. This means the surgeon doesn’t have to mix it in the operating theatre and can apply it quickly to the patient. This has huge benefits for patient outcomes. There is phenomenal research and innovation work being done here and we are celebrating it.”