A university professor co-leading a €4m cross-border research project to foster sustainable home-grown business across the west and north west says their funding is an investment in the future of region.
Prof James Livesey of NUI Galway says the award to The Atlantic Innovation Corridor is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, for social science research in Ireland.
“It is our job to really make something of it. We don’t see this as a grant, we see this as investment”, he said.
It is one of 62 pioneering projects between academics and institutions in Ireland and in Northern Ireland, for which Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Higher Education Minister SImon Harris announced €37m in funding today.
The awards, under the new North-South Research Programme, range in value from €200,000 over two years to €4m over four years and are mainly in the areas of health and social science.
The corridor stretches from the western counties of Northern Ireland to the Shannon Estuary, which has faced numerous challenges in recent years.
It has trail-blazing economic sectors such as the medtech, fintech and advanced manufacturing, but also faces problems including housing, and persistent loss of talent to other regions.
The ambitious project will take a multi-pronged approach to identifying obstacles to sustainable innovation in the region and ways to support its development.
The broad range of research will run from looking at the relationship between adolescent mental health and economic success on a regional basis to the best ways to support female entrepreneurs.
Prof Livesey, vice president for research and innovation at NUI Galway, said among the issues they wanted to address was that while Ireland had a very good track record of start-up companies “then we sell”.
He said it was great to have the multi-national companies, but there was an over-reliance on them and “we need to be more like the Finns and the Swedes and create whole sectors. We have to find the sectors where we can do that.”
NUI Galway and Ulster University are lead partners and the project also involves Galway Mayo IT (part of the soon-to-be established Atlantic Technological University) and the University of Limerick. There will also be partnerships business, representative bodies, non-government organisations and individuals.
Prof Livesey said the region was among around the world that would be going through digital, green and energy transitions in the next half a century and there was a need to co-operate and collaborate.
“We have to work and work like hell,” he said.
The wide breadth of other research projects covered in the programme include precision cancer medicine, vaccine training and youth crime.
No body of sustained research has addressed how a complex distributed and multi-city region, such as the cross-border, west and north west of Ireland, could foster sustainable innovation.
The focus of transition models has been on metropolitan centres and had little to offer small and medium-sized cities and the regions they animate, he said.
Today’s announcement represents the first tranche of the North-South Research Programme, which is funded through the Government’s Shared Island Fund.
Mr Martin said they were bringing researchers from all corners of the island together to work on pioneering projects , which was not only strengthening existing relationships, but is fostering new research partnerships.