The Innovation Exchange eyes further expansion, including partnership with Enterprise Ireland

The state body which connects large companies with smaller SMEs is looking at charges for corporate subscribers

Conor Carmody of The Innovation Exchange

Paul O’Donoghue

Large corporations will likely soon have to pay for access to The Innovation Exchange as the organisation continues its move nationwide.

The state body will also shortly announce a presence in two more business hubs in the east of the country, and is looking at a partnership with Enterprise Ireland.

The Innovation Exchange, an offshoot of state body Skillnet Ireland, last month established a presence in Cork after already opening business hubs in Kerry and Galway.

It connects large companies with smaller SMEs, giving relatively new companies a chance to pitch directly to established corporations, with a focus on digital transformation and technology issues.

The body has 300 SME members, who each pay an annual fee of €250. It is now looking at possible charges for its corporate subscribers, numbering just under 30, which currently do not pay for access to the network.

Conor Carmody, the organisation’s programme director, said it provides large companies with a valuable service.

“Large organisations know they need to change given how fast the world is evolving from a tech perspective, and we have SMEs which have developed innovative technical solutions, so we have an innovation ecosystem for both of them to come together,” he told the Irish Independent.

“Our process starts with corporates – they pitch the problems they are trying to fix to our SMEs.

“So there is an hour session with maybe 50 or 60 SMEs on the call. They say ‘here’s the problem, here’s how we buy and our approvals process, etc’.”

He added: “Then the SMEs send us a one-page submission on how they would solve the problem, we work through those and take a subset to the corporates.

“We can find innovation in the ecosystem and bring it to companies in a targeted fashion. If they said ‘I’m looking for something’ on the open market, they would be inundated with hundreds of pitches. We do the filtering.”

Mr Carmody said while it is looking at pricing, this has not yet been finalised.

“To date they haven’t paid, as you need to prove the concept. I think they should, and so do they. We’re trying to figure out our exact value to corporates. We give them access to deal flow, networking and thought leadership, so we give them good value,” he said.

“For the SMEs [paying €250], they get a new sales channel and are brought in front of large companies they may never see otherwise, the likes of Ryanair who we have in the network.”

The Digital Exchange was launched in 2022, with Skillnet Ireland committing €5m to the project. Since then six deals have been completed between corporates and SMEs in the network, with Mr Carmody saying many more are in the pipeline.

The group already works with the IDA, agreeing a partnership in September, and Mr Carmody said it is also in talks with Enterprise Ireland.

“We met them several weeks ago and will pick up on that. Some of their companies at scale-up stage would have good use with the Innovation Exchange framework and we will consider that in the weeks ahead.

“If we can bring large state agencies in with us, as well as corporates and SMEs, we will have a very valuable innovation triangle.”

The Exchange will also soon open operations in two new regional hubs.

“Our job is to bring an offering to business hubs which is valuable to their members. We’re in discussion with two more hubs and will probably announce one next week and then another next month.”