Busy Irish SMEs at times view research and development as nice to do, rather than activities that can strongly impact business results.
If a company has not been involved in knowledge transfer, it can sometimes view higher-education institutes as removed from the competitive realities of doing business.
Results from Enterprise Ireland's most recent client survey show that companies that collaborate with the Irish research system on market-led projects report more than double the sales and exports than those that don't. Knowledge transfer delivers other benefits, including a closer understanding of industry challenges within academia, new entrepreneurial activity, higher business activity and new jobs.
These compelling benefits show why Irish SMEs should invest in research and development and take advantage of the supports available.
Supported by Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Universities Association, Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI) helps companies to benefit from access to expertise and technology, by making it simple to connect and engage with the domestic research base.
A review of the Irish Technology Transfer System published by Enterprise Ireland in December showed that strong performance and a high level of impact has been achieved in the commercialisation of research over the last four years.
The Annual Knowledge Transfer Survey (AKTS) published by KTI reports that an impressive 109 spin-out companies from research institutions are active in Ireland many years after their initial formation.
Spin-out companies currently employ over 980 people. Some 99pc of active spin-outs are based in Ireland, with many having a global footprint. And 24 new products and services were brought to market based on ideas and technology from state-funded research.
The Herschel is a robot arm IR sensor technology, developed in a research collaboration between the School of Engineering at TCD and Ceramicx Ireland, a spin-out company that supplies industrial heating technologies to support manufacturing processes.
Frank Wilson, managing director at Ceramicx, describes his experience: "For me, knowledge transfer works best as advanced common sense. An organisation like Knowledge Transfer Ireland helps SMEs to connect with a world of academic expertise and institutions they might otherwise find difficult to access.
"They help you answer questions like 'Who do you engage with?' KTI can help your company focus on what your specific project needs. You might want to implement a product process that no other company is using yet. The expertise of academic specialists can help realise those plans. At Ceramicx, we're working on two important knowledge transfer projects at the moment. ."
For companies eager to explore what knowledge transfer could do for them, KTI's interactive "Find R&D Funding" tool provides a mechanism that helps them to find the most appropriate funding and supports for R&D activity in Ireland.
Enterprise Ireland recently approved the third phase of its Technology Transfer Strengthening Initiative, a €34.5m investment to be made over five years that will help sustain capacity within the Technology Transfer Offices to ensure continuing effective commercialisation of research and to maintain the bridge between the research organisations, businesses and entrepreneurs.
The number and range of supports on offer by the state to support enterprise innovation directly and indirectly are critical to driving increased levels of innovation in Ireland.
Ireland ranked tenth in the world in the Global Innovation Index 2017 and has been cited as the most R&D- effective country in the EU, achieving maximum innovation output per euro of public funding. With a skilled technology transfer resource in the publicly-funded research sector and an active innovation system, we can further KTI's work to make research collaboration and commercialisation simple and accessible.
Alison Campbell is director of KTI Knowledge Transfer Ireland