Saturday 16 December 2017

Waterford IT sale and spin-outs reviewed

WIT president Willie Donnelly
WIT president Willie Donnelly
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) has announced an external review into the spin-out and sale of companies at Waterford IT's technology research and innovation centre.

Former Donegal county manager Michael McLoone has been appointed to conduct the review, which is due to be completed by October.

Concerns about potential conflicts of interest in the sale of one such company, FeedHenry, have been raised at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

FeedHenry, a software company, is a spin-out from WIT's Telecommunications Software and Systems Group (TSSG)which sold in 2014 for €63.5m, from which the college, which owned 3.1pc of its shares, received €1.3m. At the time of the sale, current WIT president Willie Donnelly was vice-president of research at the college and a director of TSSG. He is also a founder of FeedHenry, with a shareholding of almost 2pc.

WIT recently completed an internal review on matters relating to FeedHenry, following which Mr Donnelly wrote to the HEA seeking an external expert to validate the process. He said he wanted to deal with "disquiet" that had arisen.

Announcing the review, the HEA stated that it should extend beyond the FeedHenry case to the governance, policies and procedures for commercialisation activities of the TSSG, particularly as they related to spin-out companies.

Mr McLoone's remit includes examining whether the TSSG has appropriate policies and procedures in relation to commercialisation activities.

Mr Donnelly told the PAC he had declared his involvement with FeedHenry and two other spin-out companies, and did not participate in decisions over commercialisation of research.

He said in research-driven colleges, conflicts of interest did occur, and what was important was for an institute to have a framework in place to manage those conflicts. He said he had complied with everything.

Irish Independent

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