Ireland climbing the innovation performance table
Investment is targeted in areas of greater returns such as ICT networks and agri-food
A €15.5 million European energy storage project, funded by Horizon 2020 , the RealValue consortium, led by Glen Dimplex and consisting of 13 Pan-European companies, has been designed to accelerate innovation and develop business models for use of small-scale energy storage in homes. Photograph: Colm Mahady/Fennells
Ireland’s economic recovery is now well under way and its excellent reputation for research and innovation is certainly a cause for optimism.
The State has transformed itself over the past 40 years into one of Europe’s top innovation nations and has attracted billions of euro in foreign direct investment from companies in hi-tech sectors such as information and communication technologies (ICT), pharmaceuticals, digital media and social media.
Organisations such as the IDA and Enterprise Ireland have played a crucial role in this success story.
With a huge pool of talented and enthusiastic people, Ireland is now a hub for research and innovation that serves as a model for many other parts of Europe.
The Irish research and innovation system is built on a strong public research base, and research excellence is most apparent in a number of strategic areas. Targeted investment in areas of greater economic returns such as ICT networks and digital platforms, independent living and medical devices for health, or agri-food and marine renewable energies, are underpinning innovation at company level.
Ireland is the home to the European headquarters of digital giants like Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as well as the world headquarters of more and more companies in the bio-pharma-health sector, such as Pfizer-Allergan, Abbott and Medtronic.
It is no wonder then that Ireland’s innovation performance reached new heights in 2015, moving up to eighth place in the EU’s Innovation Union Scoreboard, reaching its target two years ahead of schedule.
Ireland’s ambitious strategy, Innovation 2020, and its goal to almost double total spending on R&D by 2020, represents a push forward and a big commitment for Ireland to continue on that upward path. The evidence is clear – Ireland has the means and the will to exploit research and innovation as a source of future growth.
EU countries, including Ireland, have suffered in recent years from the lack of private investment. This is where there is a big gap if we compare ourselves to the US or leading economies in Asia.
Recently the EU has taken a big step forward in addressing this gap, with the establishment of the new European Fund for Strategic Investment. The European Commission and the European Investment Bank are teaming up to support strategic investments worth at least €315 billion.
The fund supports strategic, smart investments and is underpinned by a guarantee from the EU budget. In Ireland, it has already supported the planned 14 new primary health care centres, improvements to drinking water and wind farms off the west coast.
By focusing on removing obstacles to investment, making smarter use of new and existing financial resources, the fund offers new opportunities to fund innovative projects in addition to what’s available under Horizon 2020, the €80 billion EU research and innovation programme.
Already Ireland has an excellent track record in attracting EU funding for science, research and innovation. It ranks with the top performers in attracting funding from the European Research Council, with 70 projects funded. Irish SMEs had the highest success rate at 20 per cent in the first wave of Horizon 2020 grants under the SME Instrument, which is worth €3 billion.
We very much expect that Ireland will continue to be one of the top performers in attracting EU R&D funding.
Horizon 2020 is now much more focused in getting ideas from the lab to market and on generating genuine economic and social impact.
In concrete terms, this means more funding for prototyping, demonstrators, piloting with users, and on providing equity and loans to help give start-ups and high- growth innovative firms the kick-start they need. Ireland with its entrepreneurial spirit is well-placed to benefit from this new emphasis.
As well as benefiting from EU funds, being part of the European Research Area means Ireland can contribute significantly to global research and development.
Irish universities, institutes of technology and companies have enthusiastically taken part in important international research teams and this will continue apace using all the funding instruments available.
Political consensus now exists across Europe on the vital role that innovation will play in building Europe’s future and Ireland is an important player on the European scene. By using our combined resources effectively at Union, member state, regional or local levels, I believe we can look to the future with confidence.
Barbara Nolan is head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland