Wednesday 29 January 2020

Patrick Prendergast: 'Beacon of hope in docklands shows Ireland means business'

Creating a Grand Canal Innovation District would serve to widen the nation's horizons, writes Patrick Prendergast

Provost of Trinity College Dublin, Dr Patrick Prendergast; Iseult Ward, Co-Founder and CEO FoodCloud  and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; at the Grand Canal Innovation District launch.
Provost of Trinity College Dublin, Dr Patrick Prendergast; Iseult Ward, Co-Founder and CEO FoodCloud  and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; at the Grand Canal Innovation District launch.

Last Friday's news that the Government has endorsed plans to create a Grand Canal Innovation District in Dublin is a decisive step toward positioning Ireland as an innovation economy in the decades to come.

The plan, which was drawn up by representatives including industry and the four Dublin universities, and led by the Department of the Taoiseach, aims to bring researchers working at Irish and foreign companies together with university researchers in the same buildings clustered around a world-class research institute.

A national investment of this sort will ensure that Ireland remains an attractive place to do business while carrying out the sort of research that the world needs to overcome challenges of technology, urban living and climate change.

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In the past, innovation was the result of inventions made by individual geniuses like Henry Ford or Thomas Edison or, more recently, by teams working together in large companies like Intel or IBM. But things are changing. Today, most innovation comes from teams of researchers and entrepreneurs networked in complex innovation ecosystems and linked through cities, airports, the internet and common interests.

That's why Trinity College Dublin is spearheading this national project to create an innovation district in the docklands of our capital city. It will benefit every part of Ireland but only Dublin has the concentration of activities to make a project of this kind work at the scale Ireland needs to compete internationally.

Dublin already has an extraordinary cluster of technology and life science companies, but we now need to bring those companies closer together to create an enterprise culture that encourages entrepreneurs to create new companies that will either become world players themselves, or be the basis for expansion of existing companies.

Big businesses innovate and grow by buying smaller companies and technologies spinning out of research organisations such as universities.

This new research and innovation district will create a dense environment of large and medium-sized companies and multinationals located close by start-ups which will grow by mergers and competition.

At the heart of the Grand Canal Innovation District will be a new Trinity campus and the E3 Research Institute, which will bring together industry researchers along with research scientists and academics in shared labs and research spaces to find solutions to global challenges.

Most of the funding will come from Trinity and other universities, philanthropy and industry, with the cabinet-endorsed report calling for a €150m investment from the State.

The last few years have seen new fault lines develop internationally to which Ireland must adapt. Brexit changes the relationship with our nearest neighbour and the power-relationships within the EU itself. China-US tensions are already having an impact in technology markets. Africa's population is predicted to expand dramatically.

All this is only background music to concerns about the changed habitability of the planet due to climate change. In this new world, it would be complacent to assume more of the same old industrial policies will continue to suffice. We will need all collective ingenuity to thrive.

To avail of the opportunities this change presents, Ireland needs to stand out and send a powerful message that it is open for business and that research and innovation is at the heart of our economic and social development.

The Grand Canal Innovation District can send that message. The area has all the ingredients necessary for the evolution of a world-class innovation district: global leading-edge companies; highly talented, globally networked university researchers; an enabling environment for start-ups; and a dynamic city setting well respected internationally.

The district's potential was confirmed in a cost benefit analysis carried out on behalf of Trinity which owns a five-and-a-half-acre site at Grand Canal. The study by Indecon calculated total benefit of €3.2bn to the country from the development of a Trinity-led innovation campus which will be at the heart of the district. Researchers from across the Irish university sector will work on the campus with each other and with the world's most innovative companies.

Indecon sought the views of 60 firms on the potential impact of a new campus and innovation district on start-ups. Some 94pc agreed that the Grand Canal Innovation District would have 'significant' or 'very significant' impact on start-ups in the technology sector. They also believed it would promote the development of an innovation culture in Ireland to support knowledge-based enterprises.

Innovation districts have already been successfully developed in cities such as Boston, Barcelona and London and valuable lessons have been learnt from their experience. The most obvious is that to succeed these districts cannot be like the sterile 9-5 science parks built 30 or 40 years ago. They have to be living, thriving, cultural and working communities.

This is why the proposed split between users of the 5.5- acre site is: 40pc commercial; 40pc research and 20pc retail, social, cultural and accommodation. The active involvement of the residents in Pearse Street and the surrounding docklands area is essential.

A range of educational, cultural and social programmes will ensure that the district evolves in a way that improves the quality of life of all those who live and work in the area. A cultural and creative hub will connect the artistic and technology communities, a focal point of this being the Lir, Ireland's National Academy of Dramatic Art.

The advisory group that drew up the report is determined that the Grand Canal Innovation District will be an asset for all of Ireland. Located in Dublin but linked to the rest of the country and the world outside our borders, it will act as a beacon to the outside world, showing that we are indeed a knowledge economy with formidable research capability and formidably talented individuals.

The Grand Canal Innovation District is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. For the sake of the future of Ireland, we have to grasp it.

Patrick Prendergast is provost of Trinity College Dublin and an engineer. The advisory group report is available at http://merrionstreet.ie/en/News-Room/Report_of_GCID_Advisory_Group.pdf

Last Friday's news that the Government has endorsed plans to create a Grand Canal Innovation District in Dublin is a decisive step toward positioning Ireland as an innovation economy in the decades to come.

The plan, which was drawn up by representatives including industry and the four Dublin universities, and led by the Department of the Taoiseach, aims to bring researchers working at Irish and foreign companies together with university researchers in the same buildings clustered around a world-class research institute.

A national investment of this sort will ensure Ireland remains an attractive place to do business while carrying out the sort of research the world needs to overcome challenges of technology, urban living and climate change.

In the past, innovation was the result of inventions made by individual geniuses like Henry Ford or Thomas Edison or, more recently, by teams working together in large companies like Intel or IBM. But things are changing. Today, most innovation comes from teams of researchers and entrepreneurs networked in complex innovation ecosystems and linked through cities, airports, the internet and common interests.

That's why Trinity College Dublin is spearheading this national project to create an innovation district in the docklands of our capital city. It will benefit every part of Ireland but only Dublin has the concentration of activities to make a project of this kind work at the scale Ireland needs to compete internationally.

Dublin already has an extraordinary cluster of technology and life science companies, but we now need to bring those companies closer together to create an enterprise culture that encourages entrepreneurs to create new companies that will either become world players themselves, or be the basis for expansion of existing companies.

Big businesses innovate and grow by buying smaller companies and technologies spinning out of research organisations such as universities. This new research and innovation district will create a dense environment of large and medium-sized companies and multinationals located close by start-ups which will grow by mergers and competition.

At the heart of the Grand Canal Innovation District will be a new Trinity campus and the E3 Research Institute, which will bring together industry researchers along with research scientists and academics in shared labs and research spaces to find solutions to global challenges. Most of the funding will come from Trinity and other universities, philanthropy and industry, with the abinet-endorsed report calling for a €150m investment from the State.

The last few years have seen new fault lines develop internationally to which Ireland must adapt. Brexit changes the relationship with our nearest neighbour and the power-relationships within the EU itself. China-US tensions are already having an impact in technology markets. Africa's population is predicted to expand dramatically.

All this is only a background music to concerns about the changed habitability of the planet due to climate change. In this new world, it would be complacent to assume more of the same old industrial policies will continue to suffice. We will need all collective ingenuity to thrive.

To avail of the opportunities this change presents, Ireland needs to stand out and send a powerful message that it is open for business and that research and innovation is at the heart of our economic and social development.

The Grand Canal Innovation District can send that message. The district has all the ingredients necessary for the evolution of a world-class innovation district: global leading-edge companies; highly talented, globally networked university researchers; an enabling environment for start-ups; and a dynamic city setting well respected internationally.

The district's potential was confirmed in a cost benefit analysis carried out on behalf of Trinity which owns a five-and-a-half-acre site at Grand Canal. The study by Indecon calculated total benefit of €3.2bn to the country from the development of a Trinity-led innovation campus which will be at the heart of the district. Researchers from across the Irish university sector will work on the campus with each other and with the world's most innovative companies.

Indecon sought the views of 60 firms on the potential impact of a new campus and innovation district on start-ups. Some 94pc agreed that the Grand Canal Innovation District would have 'significant' or 'very significant' impact on start-ups in the technology sector. They also believed it would promote the development of an innovation culture in Ireland to support knowledge-based enterprises.

Innovation districts have already been successfully developed in cities such as Boston, Barcelona and London and valuable lessons have been learnt from their experience. The most obvious is that to succeed these districts cannot be like the sterile 9-5 science parks built 30 or 40 years ago. They have to be living, thriving, cultural and working communities.

This is why the proposed split between users of the 5.5- acre site is: 40pc commercial; 40pc research and 20pc retail, social, cultural and accommodation. The active involvement of the residents in Pearse Street and the surrounding docklands area is essential. A range of educational, cultural and social programmes will ensure that the district evolves in a way that improves the quality of life of all those who live and work in the area. A cultural and creative hub will connect the artistic and technology communities, a focal point of this being the Lir, Ireland's National Academy of Dramatic Art.

The advisory group that drew up the report is determined that the Grand Canal Innovation District will be an asset for all of Ireland. Located in Dublin but linked to the rest of the country and the world outside our borders, it will act as a beacon to the outside world, showing that we are indeed a knowledge economy with formidable research capability and formidably talented individuals.

The Grand Canal Innovation District is a once-in -a-generation opportunity. For the sake of the future of Ireland, we have to grasp it.

  • Patrick Prendergast is provost of Trinity College Dublin and an engineer. The advisory group report is available at http://merrionstreet.ie/en/News-Room/Report_of_GCID_Advisory_Group.pdf

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