Our funding is giving Irish innovators a market edge
Innovation is a key driver of business growth. At Enterprise Ireland we see that - in relation to sales, exports and job growth - companies which innovate will most often outperform those that don't.
Our data shows too that a company's products only remain competitive for a limited time. It typically takes two to three years before a successful product is superseded in the market by something new.
In certain sectors, such as automotive or aeronautics, a product's shelf life might stretch to five years. In fast-moving consumer or business-to-business sectors, it can be as brief as six months.
Companies must, as a result, innovate if they are to remain competitive. Innovation does not always mean developing new products. More often it means enhancing offerings with incremental tweaks.
That is exactly the kind of project our new Agile Innovation Fund aims to support. To take a simple example, if you sell eco-friendly boilers in the UK, they are usually installed in a garage or outside the house.
In Germany, they are installed in the basement. To succeed in that market, you must adapt your boiler to work 10 feet underground.
Alternatively, a maker of consumer products aiming to sell in the Middle East might find their labelling requires a technical adjustment to function in 40-degree heat.
Our agile innovation funding can target these challenges. It supports smaller businesses and those who have not yet engaged in research and development, as well as businesses operating in fast-moving sectors.
Enterprise Ireland-backed companies typically demonstrate high levels of innovation, but not all have formalised the activity. While they enhance products to stay ahead of competition, companies often treat it as part of regular business processes.
That can lead to unnecessarily draining resources by not accessing innovation funding.
In some cases, a company may be innovating in partnership with a customer and believe the approach deems them ineligible for funding. Not so. As long as the customer is not contributing financially to the R&D, it is exactly the kind of opportunity the Agile Innovation Fund is designed to support.
We have made it as simple as possible to apply, with a form that can be completed in a morning. To make it even easier, businesses can fill out an even shorter one-page form that takes just 10 minutes to complete.
With that we can share a rough indication as to whether or not a project qualifies for agile funding, worth up to 50pc of a project costing up to €300,000.
Many companies have benefited from Enterprise Ireland's full package of innovation funding. Before 3D printing systems manufacturer MCor received RD&I support, its printers were large, expensive, and either couldn't print in colour or required a separate printer to do so. "We wanted to incorporate all the steps into one printer, reduce its size and also its price to break into new markets," said CEO Conor MacCormack.
Marco Beverage Systems used innovation funding to develop products that are up to 70pc more efficient than competitors. Paul Stack, operations director, said: "People sometimes see an R&D grant as something to get a product to market but a reputation for innovation also increases your brand value and drives sales all by itself."
Irish Dog Foods used Enterprise Ireland's innovation supports to create a unique range of natural products, opening up new markets like America and Japan. Liam Queally, managing director, said: "Initially, we set up as a standard dog food business. But we found that we were just a 'me too' brand, so we needed something to set us apart,"
Innovation funding has supported these and many more Irish firms to develop solutions that are more competitive in international markets. With Brexit looming, companies must broaden their horizons like never before and adapting products and processes may be necessary. Agile innovation funding is there to help and easier than ever to access.
Joe Madden manages in-company research, development and innovation supports at Enterprise Ireland.
Sunday Indo Business