Thursday 18 July 2019

Agile Innovation Fund boosts R&D at firms

'More than 90 companies - including retailers, food producers, tech companies and manufacturers - have received support, with €20m in funding expected to be drawn down by the end of 2019' (stock photo)
'More than 90 companies - including retailers, food producers, tech companies and manufacturers - have received support, with €20m in funding expected to be drawn down by the end of 2019' (stock photo)

Joe Madden

Research and development is vital for delivering products and services that allow companies to open new export markets, grow and stay ahead of the competition - yet smaller companies often mistakenly believe that it is not relevant to them.

Companies can consider the allocation of resources to R&D to be less than feasible, or that securing external or State support is complex, involving lengthy application processes geared towards larger operations.

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For a growing number of SMEs, however, Enterprise Ireland's Agile Innovation Fund is disproving those assumptions.

Launched in early 2018, the fund is designed to be exactly what it says: agile, offering a quick application process and up to 50pc funding - to a maximum of €150,000 - for businesses seeking to develop innovative products and services.

More than 90 companies - including retailers, food producers, tech companies and manufacturers - have received support, with €20m in funding expected to be drawn down by the end of 2019.

One of those is P3 Hotels. The Dublin-based business provides custom-designed booking engines to hotel industry clients and wanted to develop a core product that could be rolled out to multiple customers.

Opportunity arose when they secured a contract to develop a new booking engine for Dalata Hotel Group, including an innovative online check-in.

P3 Hotels chief executive Phelim Pekaar said: "The Agile Innovation Fund allowed us to turn the whole process on its head and use the project as an opportunity to develop and build a software product that can be reused.

"We had six people involved and a budget of €100,000 - €50,000 from P3 and €50,000 from the Agile fund. The product went live in two properties last July and has since been rolled out to another 24 hotels.

"The key thing from our perspective was that Agile helped us to develop from scratch a core software product that is scalable. It has a common layer of code that can be rolled out to new customers.

"Previously, our work was all custom-built for individual customers."

Agile also helped Sligo-based foot orthoses manufacturer Firefly move from traditional manufacturing to 3D printing their products.

They received €90,000, not just to test 3D printing of customised orthoses, but also to develop an iPad app that allows podiatrists to digitally submit 3D scans of patient measurements, instead of sending casts.

Firefly marketing and sales lead Conor Lynch said: "Agile gave us a huge amount of control over how we wanted to spend the grant. We were able to hire a software developer and an R&D manager to lead the project.

"We're now beta testing the app and 3D printing prototypes. The final step will be bringing our products to full 3D printer manufacturing."

Test, automation and precision tooling supplier LaserTec also used the Agile Fund to develop 3D scanning capability, specifically 3D sensor and mobile device software, which allows manufacturers to scan and inspect components and parts on production lines.

The 3D sensor is being developed on a common S/W platform and will also be deployed for robot guidance and robot bin-picking applications. Following 18 months of development, LaserTec is ready to start testing the KnightOwl 3D product with clients.

Managing director Basil Cooney says the €90,000 they received from the Agile Innovation Fund was key to reaching this stage.

"It allowed us to go and hire resources and allocate time for personnel within the company to develop the product. We wouldn't have been able to do that without Agile.

"The application process made it much easier and quicker to configure what we wanted to get done and get approval in a short time frame."

Recent Agile Innovation workshops in Sligo and Dublin introduced business owners to the importance of new product and service development for companies of all sizes.

Many hadn't considered R&D before but become passionate about its benefits once they started.

The Agile Fund is simply a vehicle to help them do that.

Joe Madden manages in-company research, development, and innovation supports at Enterprise Ireland

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