Turning tech breakthroughs into commercial opportunities
EU Horizon 2020 programme providing €80bn for research and innovation
Dr Con Sheahan, University of Limerick (pictured), deploys his Enterprise Performance Modelling expertise to co-ordinate international consortia in sustainable manufacturing. Copyright © pkstudio3.com
Running from 2014 to 2020 with a budget of almost €80 billion, Horizon 2020 is the EU’s largest ever programme for research and innovation and is part of the drive to create new growth and jobs across Europe. Irish researchers and companies secured €625 million in funding under Horizon 2020’s forerunner, the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), and the government has set a target of €1.25 billion for this programme.
Horizon 2020 is part of the drive to create new growth and jobs in Europe and it aims to help bridge the gap between research and the market by assisting innovative enterprise to turn technological breakthroughs into viable products with real commercial potential. Funding from the programme is open to everyone including individual researchers and inventors, research organisations, academic institutions, SMEs, public sector bodies and major multinational companies.
In particular, the programme promotes collaboration between research bodies and companies in Europe and worldwide and is organised across three pillars - excellent science focused on academic research; industrial research; and societal challenges. The academic strand is operated through the European Research Council (ERC) and is aimed at bottom-up basic research. The second pillar supports industry research in areas of economic impact such as ICT, transport, and climate change and the third addresses societal challenges such as aging populations and obesity.
There is also a specific SME instrument with €3 billion in funding available for SMEs to develop ground-breaking innovative ideas for products, services or processes that are ready to face global market competition. This allows individual SMEs to avail of funding under Horizon 2020 without having to go through the process of establishing partnerships with firms and organisations in other EU member states. It also allows for SMEs to sub-contract the actual research and development work to another body.
With more than €250 million already secured by Irish projects progress towards the €1.25 million target has been encouraging. “Ireland’s industry has done really well under Horizon 2020”, says Dr Imelda Lambkin, national director of Horizon 2020 with Enterprise Ireland. “But we are looking for more. There are more opportunities there than ever before and we are looking for more Irish companies and research organisations to participate in more and bigger projects. It is vital that we attract new companies and researchers to apply for funding from Horizon 2020. The National Support Network for Horizon 2020 led by Enterprise Ireland is driving participants to go for bigger and more valuable projects as this is how we will reach our target.”
She believes the current programme is more attractive to companies that its predecessors. “The European Commission is now focusing on innovation more and more”, she notes. “The programmes used to be very much based on research and development but that has now been combined with innovation and the Commission is much more interested in what comes out at the other end of the projects.”
Brian Quinn, innovation and ecosystem lab director with Intel labs Europe, agrees. “Horizon 2020 has considerably streamlined processes compared to FP7, and there is a higher competitive bar. Through good preparation and judicious selection of partners success rates can be significantly higher than the norm.”
IBM Technology Campus vice-president Bill Kearney sees the programme as supporting the company’s overall growth strategy. “At IBM, R&D investment plays a critical role in the company’s strategy for growth. Our Horizon 2020 related projects in Ireland exemplify IBM’s strategy of making the world our lab by advancing technology in IoT, cognitive computing and cloud, working closely with leading European scientists and engineers from academia, government, and commercial partner, and ensuring that we remain at the forefront of scientific discovery.”
IDA head of technology, consumer and business services, Leo Clancy, says that IDA clients see Horizon 2020 as an opportunity to grow and deepen research links within Europe. “We encourage clients considering getting involved to partner where possible with people who can help to navigate the system such as Enterprise Ireland’s network of contact points and also companies and academic institutions with prior experience.”
An example of an Irish company which has teamed up with major international firms as well as partners across Europe in a project with potential to deliver major societal and commercial benefits is Glen Dimplex and the Real Value project.
“Some Irish-led Horizon 2020 projects such as Real Value are tremendous exemplars of Open Innovation 2.0 in action”, says Martin Curley, VP and director with Intel Labs Europe. “For instance, organisations such as Glen Dimplex, Intel and UCD are partnering to install a virtual power plant solution across 1,250 homes in Ireland, Germany and Latvia. In this distributed living lab the hope is that the key principles of a future smart grid can be identified, tested and codified.”
While Enterprise Ireland leads Ireland’s National Support Network for Horizon 2020 support is also available from a range of other state bodies including Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). “Science Foundation Ireland provides a number of programmes to catalyse successful applications to the EU Horizon 2020 programme”, says SFI director general Prof Mark Ferguson. “For applicants from companies, the 12 SFI National Research Centres have dedicated resources to assist industry partners, whilst our industry partnership programmes help companies to develop successful research collaborations with academia which often develop into successful H2020 applications.”
Major projects are also high on the agenda for the organisation. “Science Foundation Ireland is particularly interested in supporting large bids to the Horizon 2020 programme involving industry and academic research collaboration”, Ferguson adds. “In 2015, Science Foundation Ireland funded researchers secured approximately €80 million in EU funding - triple the amount won in 2014.”
These major projects are strategically important for the country, according to Lambkin. “We have had industry and academic partners participating in these major projects but the brains of the operation have been based in other countries up until now. We want that to change and have the brains located here. We are delighted with the level of participation so far but we want to see more of it. We want to see everyone from small SMEs with individual projects to large corporations leading major international projects participating. This is part of building an international reputation for Ireland in research, development and innovation and is vitally important both for industry and the country.”