Driving R&D in Irish firms with Enterprise Ireland
Gateways in 11 Institutes of Technology have fostered industrial solutions
Enterprise Ireland’s Mark Whelan: “For a lot of the companies involved, this is their first time collaborating with a higher education institute so it is a very important step for them.”
Enterprise Ireland’s Technology Gateway Programme has enabled more than 900 Irish companies to complete 1,800 research and development projects over the past four years.
The programme has seen Enterprise Ireland invest €19.5 million in a nationwide network of 15 industry-focused groupings, called Gateways, based in 11 Institutes of Technology around the country.
Each Gateway has its own specialist focus in areas such as industrial coatings, precision engineering, mobile services, wireless technology, biotechnology, biodiagnostics, light technologies, connected media, applied design and polymer technologies.
The Gateways provide expertise and close-to-market technology solutions that enable companies to develop new products, processes and services that will help them grow by exploiting new export market opportunities.
Successful projects range from a packaging solution for healthy beef-based snacks, a software application to support safer driving, a new coating for aluminium trims for the automotive sector, and the development of a new device for EEG testing on new-born infants.
Programme manager Mark Whelan explains that the programme is aimed at leveraging the research resources of the Institutes of Technology for the benefit of industry. The idea of the programme is to make these resources available to solve real problems for industry.
The programme does not fund the research – this is paid for either directly by the companies involved or through R&D support programmes such as the Innovation Vouchers initiative. The funding from Enterprise Ireland instead supports the business development managers in each of the 15 Gateways.
“Each Institute of Technology had to prove they had the capability and the cohort of researchers to do the work,” says Whelan. “The business development managers go out to industry to identify problems which their Gateway might be able to solve. The aim is to establish innovative partnerships to solve these problems. In general, the projects are short-term in nature, lasting two or three months and costing between €10,000 and €15,000. For a lot of the companies involved, this is their first time collaborating with a higher education institute so it is a very important step for them.”
Indeed, Whelan points out this can represent a challenge for many firms. “The business development people help overcome that and we have seen repeat business with some fantastic results coming out of that.”
The programme has succeeded in enhancing the research capability of firms in the regions. “Some 70 per cent of programme participants are SMEs and 44 per cent of them are Enterprise Ireland clients,” Whelan notes. “Eighty per cent of the participants come from outside of Dublin. If you do a comparison, just 60 per cent of Enterprise Ireland clients are from outside of Dublin. Also, of the 15 Gateways, 13 are in the regions and 10 are in areas where there is no other third-level research provider.”
As these figures suggest, the programme is open to all companies and not only Enterprise Ireland clients. “It’s completely open access,” says Whelan. “If a firm has a particular technical problem it can approach a relevant Gateway to work on a project to solve it. It needn’t be a new product development – it can be a process improvement or a packaging solution to improve shelf-life, for example. Also, the business development people are constantly talking to companies and attending trade shows and other events to let companies know how their Gateways can help.”
Return on investment
The results to date have been impressive. “Our own research shows that for every euro spent on a research project another €2 or €3 is spent by the firms on further development. The economic impact is also very significant. Preliminary findings from independent research we commissioned show a fivefold return on investment from the programme during its first three years.”
Research capacity and capability have also improved during the period. “At present, over 300 industry-focused researchers within the Gateway network undertake the research and technical work for the industry projects,” Whelan adds. “That’s up from 150 when we started looking at this back in 2012. That increase is probably due to the Gateways. At least one-third of researchers in the Institutes of Technology have now worked on Gateway projects.
“We are helping to create a capability in the Institutes of Technology which enables them to work with industry to solve real problems,” he continues. “This has resulted in a 30 per cent compound annual growth in projects over the first four years of the programme.”
With a track record of 1,800 successful projects, 900 participating firms and 15 Gateways based in 11 Institutes of Technology, it’s hard to describe the programme as anything other than an unqualified success as it moves into its fifth and final year. Whelan certainly agrees. “We are hopeful that funding for the programme will be renewed for a further five years on the basis of the success achieved so far.”
To learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Technology Gateway Programme, go to technologygateway.ie.