Annual Knowledge Transfer Survey points to continued success between industry and public research

19 July 2022

Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI), the Irish body that connects businesses of all sizes to publicly funded research opportunities, has announced the results of their Annual Knowledge Transfer Survey (AKTS) 2021. The AKTS is the annual scorecard for Ireland’s knowledge transfer community and assesses the status of collaboration between industry and publicly funded research in Ireland as well as the levels of commercialisation of State research. 

According to findings in the AKTS, Irish research performing organisations (universities, institutes of technology and other publicly funded research institutions which are primarily publicly funded), are spending upwards of half a billion Euro on research expenditure. 2021’s figure of €672m is the highest on record, and an increase of over one-third since KTI began collating research expenditure in 2013.

KTI’s findings also show that spin-out companies, formed from research performing organisations, grew in 2021. 32 new spin-outs were formed from throughout the year, up marginally from 30 in 2020.

There is a total of 143 Active Spin-outs that are three or more years in existence, and these companies employ 1,218 people, a further increase on 2020’s figures. Five companies that started life as spin-outs were acquired in 2021, yielding a combined €4m in revenue to the research performing organisations and underlining the attractiveness of Irish spin-outs to external investment.

The continued increase in research expenditure highlights the significant opportunities available for Irish and multinational businesses of all sizes to engage with Irish publicly funded research. Engaging with the third level on R&D is known to make businesses more competitive than those who don’t.

Companies continue to have a strong appetite for engaging in research, development and innovation (RD&I) with 80% of R&D agreements last year being with Irish companies.  66% of companies that engaged with Irish publicly funded research last year were SMEs.

Robert Troy TD, Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment said:

“Irish enterprises have demonstrated their resilience and fortitude again and again and are key to maintaining our stable economy. As many businesses will know competitiveness and productivity are central to continued resilience and part of that is their ability to innovate. Today’s findings from KTI therefore are very welcome and the growth in the number of companies engaging with Irish research to access expertise, and the increase in companies being created from research demonstrates the breadth of collaborative and entrepreneurial opportunities that exist.

“Innovation through research is shown to deliver real value to Irish companies and to better position them to compete effectively in global markets.  The calibre of Irish research and the opportunities it presents to business in Ireland continues to be recognised globally. The important role of Technology Transfer Offices and Innovation Offices at research organisations across the country is key to making many of these successes a reality.  This Government is committed to continuing its support for the research system and to further build and develop what is already a vibrant and fruitful space which acts as a job multiplier right around the State.” 

Imelda Lambkin, Manager Disruptive Technology, Innovation & Knowledge Transfer at Enterprise Ireland, said:

“Our 2021 AKTS shows that despite the challenges of the last number of years, the connection between Irish publicly funded research and enterprise is stronger than ever. We are seeing a continued geographical spread of activity from businesses engaging with the third level and other State-funded research organisations, and it’s heartening to see the level of investment these institutions are putting into cutting edge research which are shaping the ideas of tomorrow. New products and services are being brought to market each year to address tangible problems across multiple sectors. The Irish knowledge transfer community is successfully future-proofing many industries to remain more competitive at a time of external economic pressure.”

Research Collaboration & Commercialisation in practice

Hexafly Biotech is an Irish company pioneering the use of insects and insect-based products for inclusion in feeds and as plant nutrients. Among other products, Hexafly Biotech produces a soil enhancer called Hexafrass and in 2021 the company worked with Maynooth University on a collaborative research project investigating novel applications for Hexafrass. It was discovered that the application of Hexafrass to soil significantly reduces the reproduction of barley aphids (greenflies) on cereal plants. These are a major pest which are difficult to control with chemical insecticides. This discovery creates the possibility of Hexafrass becoming a highly effective and environmentally sustainable treatment for use in horticulture and agriculture.

Hexafly Biotech signed licence agreements with Maynooth University to commercialise the know-how and outputs of the research project. The Innovation Office at MU captured the IP generated during the research project, initiated licence negotiations and supported the successful licensing agreements. The Innovation Office at MU has also led discussions for further development of the IP with Hexafly who continues to work on company-funded collaborative research projects with the university.

Alvan Hunt, CEO and Co-Founder, Hexafly said:

“SSPC funding and collaboration with Maynooth University has allowed us to co-develop novel applications for our products that will have commercial value in the coming months and years. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Maynooth university as we continue to advance our R&D program and bring more discoveries to market.”

Edgeliot is a new company that licensed technology from Dublin City University to spin out from the university in 2021. The company is focused on delivering end-to-end anomaly detection solutions for high value telecommunication tower infrastructure. Edgeliot has developed a remote monitoring solution and its working product is called mHalo, which is being trialed with Cellnex Telecom, Europe’s leading operator of wireless and broadcasting infrastructure. The company is also at advanced stages in commercial negotiations and deployment having successfully raised the first tranche of funding for €250k of a first investment round of €750k and is in the process of raising further investment to maintain aggressive growth plans.

The Innovation Office at the university, DCU Invent, has been involved with Edgeliot from inception. The office provided guidance and support across the licensing and spin-out process including the development of the company business plan, contract negotiation and drafting as well as supporting the successful company application for Enterprise Ireland funding. The Innovation Office continues to work closely with the company to support its development and growth as Edgeliot explores a number of research projects with DCU and other Irish universities in the area of climate monitoring.

Gary McDarby, CEO, Edgeliot, said:

“'DCU Invent has been a huge help in the creation of Edgeliot. In particular, their flexible approach to supporting a spin in made the project possible. Senior staff in the Insight Centre for Data Analytics were hugely supportive in how we hired our team and the licensing and spin-out process was straightforward and professional. We continue to work closely with DCU Invent to explore other opportunities”

The 2021 Annual Knowledge Transfer Survey is available in full here.