More than 2,700 Irish companies and research institutions received more than €1.8 billion in funding from the European Union Horizon 2020 research and investment programme. And with a record €95 billion allocated to its successor Horizon Europe programme, launched earlier this year, there is every reason to believe that Irish enterprise will do even better in the years ahead.
"Irish SMEs and enterprises have benefited greatly from participation in previous European research programmes," says Garrett Murray, national director for Horizon Europe at Enterprise Ireland. "Over 34 per cent of the €1.8 billion committed in Horizon 2020 was for Irish enterprise and nearly 65 per cent went to Irish higher-education institutions."
The new programme will run until 2027 and will have three key pillars: excellence in science, global challenges and European industrial competitiveness, and innovative Europe. The second pillar also includes a number of research missions in cancer; adaptation to climate change including societal transformation; climate-neutral and smart cities; soil health and food; and healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters.
Excellence in science
“Under the excellence in science pillar, SMEs can engage with some of the best international talent available to support their research and innovation activities and their strategies to scale,” Murray explains. “Under pillar two there are multiple opportunities under each of the missions to collaborate with national and international partners to advance the innovation and research agenda and address some of the greatest challenges facing humanity today.”
Funding under pillar two will generally be awarded to very large international consortiums. “We will see clusters of up to 50 participants coming together,” says Murray. “It is very competitive but the funding available is very large and taking part in a cluster will give Irish companies the opportunity to work with the very best of the best.”
Under pillar three, which encompasses the European Innovation Council (EIC), there is an opportunity for companies to apply for grant aid of up to €2.5 million and for equity investment of up to €15 million under the EIC accelerator programme.
“The focus of the accelerator programme is to commercialise innovation and to support entrepreneurs to bring their products to EU and international markets,” says Murray.
"Many graduates of the Enterprise Ireland commercialisation fund and high-potential start-up programmes have benefited from the programmes that preceded the EIC accelerator and Enterprise Ireland is looking to build on this success in Horizon Europe. In fact, based on the results for the EIC that have been published so far, Irish SMEs continue to perform very strongly in this area."
Ireland ranked joint fourth in the first EIC accelerator call, with five Enterprise Ireland-backed companies recommended for more than €20.5 million in funding. More than 2,700 applications were submitted for evaluation across the EU and just 65 of them were recommended for €360 million in funding.
The five successful Enterprise Ireland client companies were AVeta Medical, Akara Robotics, CrannMED, Contego Sports and ProVerum.
“This is a great success for Ireland and is testament to the capability and talent within the Irish innovation and commercialisation system, and the vibrancy and international competitiveness of the Irish start-up community,” says Murray. “In line with Enterprise Ireland’s strategy, this funding will help our clients to build on their existing capabilities, scale and create jobs.”
Another important aspect of the Horizon Europe programme is its support for women entrepreneurs. Seven of the 21 most talented and inspiring women entrepreneurs working in Europe are Irish on the shortlist for the EU Prize for Women Innovators 2021 which is funded under Horizon Europe.
“This announcement is a phenomenal success for the finalists and for Ireland,” says Murray. “In line with Enterprise Ireland’s strategy, these awards help promote Irish women entrepreneurs. We look forward to the announcement of the winners the coming weeks.”
This strong performance while welcome should not deflect companies’ attention from other aspects of Horizon Europe, Murray points out.
“Success can have its own problems. Irish companies have done very well with AIC accelerator funding but they should not restrict themselves to that. There are also opportunities in pillar one and two. Research and innovation is cross-cutting in nature. A company in the ICT sector might think a health call is not for it but ICT is increasingly becoming an enabler of health systems improvement across Europe.”
Enterprise Ireland co-ordinates the cross-governmental network of national contacts points for Horizon Europe, he adds. “As recently as yesterday, we were working with a group of SMEs to prepare them for final stage evaluation interviews for the most recent call under the EIC accelerator. We are encouraging all Irish researchers, innovators and newcomers across all disciplines to look at the opportunities under the programme and to contact us for information, funding, guidance and expert support in evaluating opportunities, and making applications.”