Sharing third-level research banks with cash-poor, ideas-rich SMEs

The numbers prove there is no shortage of great ideas in Ireland and these produce tangible results when business and State research work together

The numbers prove there is no shortage of great ideas in Ireland. Photo: Stock image

Elizabeth Carvill

In today’s fast-moving world, investment in research and development (R&D) is essential for every company to stay competitive, but for smaller companies, financing and adequately resourcing R&D can be more difficult.

Our universities and institutes of technology are filled with some of the most exciting, world-class research and ideas as well as specialised facilities and equipment.

Key to building commercial innovation and ensuring that great ideas can evolve into new products and solutions is developing and strengthening links between these public research opportunities and business.

This is where Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI) comes in.

Established by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in 2013, KTI helps to get technology, ideas and expertise from state-funded research into the hands of business.

KTI acts as a signpost for all businesses, from start-ups to multinationals, allowing them access to Ireland’s research system quickly, easily and effectively and allowing them to engage in the process of knowledge transfer.

But what exactly is knowledge transfer? Knowledge transfer is an effective way to help companies build on key areas of innovation capability.

Knowledge transfer is enabled through collaborative or contract research engagements between business and the third level.

Outputs from these engagements, such as new technologies or intellectual property, can be used to develop new products, processes and services.

This research also underpins the creation of spin-out companies.

Based in Enterprise Ireland, part of KTI’s role is to act as a national office, making the knowledge transfer system simpler for business to access. It does this by managing a funding programme on behalf of Enterprise Ireland to support Ireland’s network of Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs), also known as Innovation Offices.

These skilled teams based in universities and institutes of technology oversee the process of knowledge transfer and managing relationships with companies seeking to benefit from the access to skills, technology and intellectual property from within Ireland’s third level and other research organisations.

There are plenty of supports available — financial and otherwise — to help support this process and Ireland continues to perform well in terms of this engagement.

The 2020 Annual Knowledge Transfer Survey, produced annually by KTI, revealed that 3,681 new R&D and consultancy agreements were made between companies and non-commercial entities and higher education institutions during the year, an increase of 39pc on the previous year. Three-quarters of these agreements involved Irish SMEs.

The survey also revealed that 30 spin-out companies were formed in 2020, and that there are now 128 spin-out companies still active three-plus years after incorporation.

Many of these spin-outs also go on to become High-Potential Start-Ups, supported by Enterprise Ireland. Some recent examples include TU Dublin spin-out Ocumetra, UCD spin-out Sirius XT, NUI Galway spin-out Neurent Medical, and Dundalk IT spin-out Nova Leah.

In fact, Ocumetra, which developed a pioneering eye monitoring tool that can identify abnormal (myopic) eye growth, became an HPSU just six months after its foundation.

The numbers prove there is no shortage of great ideas in Ireland and these produce tangible results when business and state-research work together.

For example, Inferneco Ltd and IT Carlow worked to bring to market a bottle-sanitising system for the hospitality industry using UV light, and Grian Water and Letterkenny IT, worked to develop a new prototype of its MyGug water treatment product, which turns organic matter into renewable fuel.

KTI wants as many businesses as possible to benefit from Ireland’s impressive research, development and innovation ecosystem.

Our website contains a range of downloadable materials and resources including a research map of Ireland, a downloadable national directory of research supports and an interactive funding finder tool.

Potential can be unlimited when the forces of third-level research and businesses are combined with a common goal and purpose to deliver more advanced solutions for industry and society.

Elizabeth Carvill is senior executive at Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI)