Irish companies 'missing out' on millions in funding and expertise
Businesses encouraged to take advantage of European innovation programme
MILLIONS of euro worth of funding and expertise easily available to Irish businesses is going begging, a top European politician has claimed.
Maire Geoghegan Quinn, who is the European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, said Europe's next innovation fund, known as Horizon 2020, had been very popular among Irish businesses, but there was scope for even more companies to get involved.
"The Research Framework Programme is supporting research into all societal challenges.
"There is a place for all sorts of companies in the framework programme. It's not a closed shop and we need more people and new entrants," she said.
The framework programmes began in the early 1980s and the Horizon 2020, which is the eighth programme, has a budget of some €80bn to be invested around the union.
The seventh programme, known as FP7, has seen Irish organisations draw down some €488m worth of funding.
About 285 companies have gained €115m for research in areas such as agriculture, health and energy.
FP7, however, has been criticised by some for being too cumbersome and being too difficult for businesses, particularly SMEs, to access.
Ms Quinn accepted that had been the perception in some areas, but emphasised H2020 would be much easier to navigate. "Some companies told us that they left the programme during the good times because it was quite difficult to deal with it but that has changed.
"We now have a one-stop shop for all sorts of regulations, there will be a single set of rules across the EU [so the requirements will be uniform across the board], and we are focusing on these areas.
"Enterprise Ireland is the point of contact for Irish companies wanting to get involved in the fund and they have organised themselves superbly.
"They have encouraged and explained to people to get involved and now the opportunity is there for more companies to join it," she said.
Successive governments have trumpeted Ireland as a hub for technology and innovation, but the country has struggled in part because of a lack of venture capital in the country.
Ms Quinn, however, highlighted the promotion of such funding within H2020.
"The new programme provides for a venture capital fund in one member state to invest in another member state, while we are also encouraging states to pool research funding so instead of, say, three states carrying out the same research into breast cancer, they pool their resources and be much more productive," she said.
Despite the scope for growth, and for making Ireland a hub for innovation, Ms Quinn warned that the environment must be much more hospitable for SMEs to help them grow.
"Public procurement policies must back innovative SMEs, VC markets must be developed, a recently agreed common patent system in Europe must be put in place and we have to have appropriate standards for new and evolving technologies," she added.