Irish businesses are very fortunate to be in a position to tap into a vibrant publicly-funded innovation ecosystem. Companies that lack the scale to engage in research, development and innovation can utilise the research resources of the higher education institutions and other research organisations to develop new products and processes.
And accessing that knowledge and expertise is made easy and simple by Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI), the national office which helps business to connect and engage with Ireland’s research base. KTI works with business, investors, universities, institutes of technology, State research organisations, research funders and government agencies to maximise the amount of State funded technology, ideas and expertise that gets into the hands of business to drive innovation.
KTI is located in and funded by Enterprise Ireland with co-financing from the Irish Universities Association.
“Europe’s industrial strategy is essentially an innovation strategy,” says KTI director Alison Campbell. “It’s a really competitive marketplace out there and every organisation needs to be innovative. And that includes companies of all sizes in all sectors and public sector organisations as well.”
Very encouragingly, the level of collaborative innovation increased significantly during the pandemic.
“We are seeing lots of innovation,” says Campbell. “What’s happening is absolutely fantastic. There were 3,681 new R&D and consultancy agreements during 2020. That’s a pretty robust number and it represents a big increase of 39 per cent on the previous year. And it’s not just industry; a lot of it is engagements with other non-commercial organisations.”
The activity was broadly spread across almost all sectors.
“Of course, there have been a few sectors, like aviation, where you would have expected a downturn in activity anyway but all the other sectors are going up,” she notes. “During the pandemic, lots of companies have had an opportunity to think about how really important it is to be innovative.
“But we are not alone in Ireland to have a continued appetite among businesses to work with third-level institutions,” she adds. “We can’t let up. We must maintain the momentum and build on last year’s gains if we want to keep up with everyone else out there.
“We need a vibrant innovation ecosystem with lots of different players engaged. That’s going to be potentially more complicated in future.”
Fortunately, there are strong foundations in place. “When you look at those R&D engagements, three-quarters of them are with Irish companies. We have a very good level of engagement with research in the country.
“We also have a really good set of supports here in Ireland for investing in research to boost the competitiveness of companies. Those supports allow companies to access research and resources they don’t have in-house and enables them to experiment and innovate.”
She points to a number of companies that have benefited from engagement with the third-level research system. Inferneco is an innovator in the fire lighting sector that worked with IT Carlow and the Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway Design Plus on a new concept to sanitise glass bottles in two seconds with a safe sealed system. “The operator doesn’t get exposed to UV light during the process,” Campbell notes.
“They also worked with Waterford IT to develop new functionality for the process. Those collaborations have enabled the company to move into a completely new space.”
In another collaboration, the University of Limerick worked with EJ to look at access covers for things like sewage, water and telecommunications systems. “They worked together to develop composite covers to replace the traditional cast iron model. The new, lightweight product is more cost efficient to transport and probably has knock-on effects in terms of energy usage and transport fuel costs.
“When looking at innovations like these, their spill-over into the climate action and sustainability area is really important. That will give companies an additional competitive edge.”
Alcon, the global eyecare leader and a division of Novartis, wanted to improve its manufacturing process. “They worked with Munster Technological University in Cork on improvements to the injection nozzles to improve the process. That resulted in significant quality improvements.
“It was the first time a process improvement had been made outside of the US. The company is now looking at getting a second production line for Cork.
“These are great examples of companies working with institutes of technology and universities,” Campbell adds. “There is a real regional flavour to it as well.”
Companies wishing to access those research resources should go to the KTI website (knowledgetransferireland.com) where they will find information on R&D funding supports, advice on working with research organisations, and a guide to finding research partners in a wide variety of areas.
“And if they want to see more exciting research partnerships, they should watch out for the KTI Impact Awards which will be presented on November 25th next,” she concludes.
Source: The Irish Times