Bridging the gap
The Government has increasingly stepped up its campaign of research commercialisation in recent years, with State agencies and third level institutions trying to bridge the divide between industry and academia. Peter Horgan spoke with some of the Cork people looking for different ways to rejig the economy
“It’s all about a Research and Development (R&D) agenda,” says Enda McDonnell, Regional Director for the South and South East region with Enterprise Ireland (EI).
“We want small and medium companies to realise that having an R&D department is as natural as having a marketing or accounts departments. We are trying to create links between companies in Cork and around the country to engage in research and demystify the role of R&D.”
Enterprise Ireland claims to have spent over €8 million in co-funding R&D in Cork companies since 2010, while client companies of EI nationally spent €97 million in science and technology infrastructure in 2011. To further encourage smaller companies to engage research institutions in R&D, Enterprise Ireland have ‘Innovation vouchers’ – worth over €5,000 in research capabilities.
“If small companies have an innovation problem, then these vouchers allow them to hire a researcher for three or four days to solve the problem. It’s about getting a change in the embedded culture of mystery between research and industry.”
Part of bridging the gap included the establishment of different Technology Centres around the country – with three located in Cork. University College Cork houses the centre dedicated to examining wellness and health through food. The other two are hosted in the Tyndall National Institute in Microtechnology and Applied Nanotechnology.
The Framework of Commercialisation in Nanotechnology in Ireland, developed by research body Forfás, is currently halfway through its lifetime, with a key emphasis of the document being the need for Ireland to 'focus'.
“Focus is an easy thing to say, but not quite an easy thing to do in practical terms,” says Dr Alan Hynes, Executive Director of the Collaborative Centre in Applied Nanotechnology.
“Nanotechnology and the Irish economy overlap in two distinct areas – life sciences such as medical devices and electronic materials for companies that make electronic products. Therefore our focus comes quite naturally from the companies that both serve and run this technology centre.”
Dr Hynes notes a “radical” shift in attitudes from the research community towards industry-led collaboration.
“Research needs to have at the very least a medium term impact on some form of industry. What we are trying to do in Technology Centres is bring the different cultures of research, industry and business together smoothly and efficiently.”
Dr Hynes also highlights the importance of having the centres for nanotechnology and microelectronics in Cork for the business community.
“It sends an important message to the business community both in Cork and nationally. It shows that the host institutions of Tyndall and UCC are open to research and open to the practicalities of research. Tyndall is one of the most industrially aligned institutions in the country and the expertise that is there is reflected by the way it engages easily with industry.”
Dr Hynes did stress however that the current competing culture amongst third-level institutions need to end and a national collaborative approached incorporated.
“We still have a bit to go in terms of where the Finns, the Swedes and the Americans are,” admits Enda McDonnell of EI.
“We are narrowing the market and the number of spin-out companies from the research undertaken by the various bodies is increasing. It’s about what we learn from every project, even the mistakes.”
Further information on the Collaborative Centre in Applied Nanotechnology and Enterprise Ireland can be found at www.ccan.ie and www.enterpriseireland.ie.