A Special Report is content that is edited and produced by the Special Reports unit within The Irish Times Content Studio. It is supported by advertisers who may contribute to the report, but who do not have editorial control.

Innovate or stagnate

Companies need to constantly innovate if they are to grow their business and compete in a post-Brexit world. Here are 10 innovation supports available

Horizon 2020 is the EU’s biggest research and innovation initiative.

Horizon 2020 is the EU’s biggest research and innovation initiative.


Innovation Vouchers

Under the Government’s Innovation Voucher programme, which was introduced in 2007, applications can be made by companies in any sector, bar farming, looking to improve innovation. From inventing a new product or service to improving existing ones, to honing in-house systems and processes in order to make your business more competitive – it all qualifies.

Each one is worth €5,000 a pop, and approved applicants can get up to three (as long as one is matched 50:50) to spend at any of more than 40 knowledge providers on the island of Ireland – typically universities and institutes of technology – in exchange for R&D assistance. Vouchers can also be used for tailored training in innovation management or for innovation and technology audits.

You don’t have to be a client of Enterprise Ireland or a Local Enterprise Office to get it but you do have to have fewer than 250 staff and a turnover of less than €50 million.


Research and Development Tax Credit

Companies spending money on R&D may qualify for an R&D Tax Credit from Revenue. This is calculated at 25 per cent of qualifying expenditure and is used to reduce your corporation tax liability. If you spend €100,000 on R&D, you get €25,000 back, and that’s on top of the 12.5 per cent corporation tax rate. If you don’t have a tax liability, that 25 per cent can be refunded over three years, making it of particular interest to small companies and start-ups.

To qualify, the R&D must involve “systemic, investigative or experimental activities”, in the field of science or technology, and either basic or applied research, or experimental development. You typically have to claim it within 12 months of the end of the accounting period in which you undertake it.


Exploring Innovation Grant

Enterprise Ireland’s Exploring Innovation Grant (the initiative formerly known as a Technical Feasibility Study Grant) provides support for better planning of R&D, innovation or international collaboration projects. The aim is to encourage companies to do some strategic thinking around disruptive technologies, taking the time to look outside their own organisations for inspiration or guidance.

It may support, for example, an investigation into some of the solutions coming out of the third-level sector, to see if there’s something suitable for your market emerging that is ripe for commercialisation. It can also be used for prototype-development or analysis of the commercial feasibility of a project. It will support up to 50 per cent of a project’s costs to a maximum of €35,000.


Knowledge Development Box

Too few companies are aware yet of the Knowledge Development Box, a part of the tax code introduced in Budget 2016 aimed at companies that have undertaken R&D here which results in a filed patent or copyrighted software. For smaller companies, what is required is that any inventions are certified by the Controller of Patents to be patentable but not yet patented. Once they do this, they can enjoy an effective bargain-basement tax rate of 6.5 per cent – half the standard corporation tax rate – on all profits derived from them.


Industry Fellowship Programme

Science Foundation Ireland’s Industry Fellowship Programme provides paid-for fellowships to postdoctoral academic researchers wishing to spend time in industry, covering their salary costs to a value of up to €100,000.

For businesses, it provides an invaluable opportunity to have someone undertake serious research without having to worry about the additional overhead, and you can have them for anything from one month to one year (two if the Fellow works part-time). The traffic flow goes both ways – it’s also open to employees of industry wishing to undertake a placement in an eligible research body.


Agile Innovation Fund

This is one of Enterprise Ireland’s newest innovation offerings and will be of particular interest to companies here who are particularly dependent on UK sales and are, as a result, looking to diversify into new markets.

Designed for speed, it can help companies in sectors with rapid design cycles to keep their advantage by offering an online application and fast-track approval process. On the money front, there’s up to 50 per cent project-funding up for grabs, to a maximum of €150,000. It’s open to both EI and non-EI clients and applications can be submitted at any time.


Knowledge Transfer Ireland

Those interested in ferreting out pre-commercialised innovation should get in touch with Knowledge Transfer Ireland, an initiative funded by Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Universities Association (IUA). Its raison d’être is to connect businesses with cutting-edge research, expertise and innovation opportunities.

Its mere existence makes it easier than ever for businesses to find technology, IP and expertise from inside Ireland’s higher-education institutes and State research organisations, making sure they can find the right people to talk to. As such, it provides a single point of contact for, and an invaluable navigation aid to, the network of technology transfer offices in universities, institutes of technology and research organisations around the country.


Innovation Partnership Programme

Another EI initiative, the Innovation Partnership Programme can provide up to 80 per cent of the cost of research work to develop new and improved products, processes or services, or which generates new knowledge and know-how.

An independent survey of companies that participated in the Innovation Partnership Programme found 96 per cent of respondents were willing to recommend the programme to other businesses and 71 per cent said their objectives were largely or fully achieved. Even better, it also found that each €1 of funding invested by EI in the Innovation Partnerships delivered €7.71 in net turnover impact on the company side.


Technology Gateway Network

The Technology Gateway Network channels expertise and solutions from academia right to industry’s door – at speed. It’s why, since 2008, more than 1,500 Irish companies have used the Technology Gateway Network, completing more than 2,750 innovation projects.

Today, there are 18 of these Gateways, each one delivering research expertise and innovation in such cutting-edge sectors as connected media, applied design, medtech, precision engineering, wireless solutions and polymer technologies. The CREST Gateway at DIT, for example, delivers coatings innovations for everything from healthcare to construction, while the Nimbus Gateway at CIT in Cork develops internet-of-things solutions.


Horizon 2020

This is the EU’s biggest research and innovation initiative and, between its launch in 2014 and its closure to applications at the end of 2020, it will have disbursed almost €80 billion. That includes some 97 Irish projects, which have benefited to the tune of just under €69 million.

Companies such as PMD Solutions, a developer of respiratory monitors, secured a grant of €4.25 million to commercialise its product, while digital marketing company Axonista used its €1.7 million Horizon 2020 grant to productise what had previously been a services model.

Indeed, Ireland has an above-average strike rate with Horizon. Typically, just 5.4 per cent of applications succeed, compared with a 13 per cent success rate in Ireland. If you’re not familiar with it already, it’s worth becoming so, not least because, as a grant, it’s free money: it’s not repayable and it doesn’t dilute equity. What’s more, there’s more to come. Its successor, Horizon Europe, will be worth a whopping €100 billion.