Thursday, 20 September 2012

Enterprise Ireland Open Day for Post Doc researchers

Enterprise Ireland (EI) recently hosted a very successful Open Day for Post-Doctoral Researchers. The event focused upon the EI Commercialisation Fund Programme which aims to convert the outputs of state funded research into innovative new products, services and companies.

Dr Helena McMahon, a senior postdoctoral scientist with Shannon ABC attended and found it a very informative session. The event was fully subscribed with each Irish University and IOTI represented. Dr Keith O'Neill, EI Director of Lifesciences & Food Research Commercialisation opened the session emphasising EI’s focus upon the development and growth of Irish enterprises and that one of the key strategies by which EI achieves this is through supporting Irish Post-Doctoral Researchers commercialise their research, licence technologies and develop spin out companies. Dr O'Neill highlighted that the funding and supports are in place for Post-Doctoral Researchers - what EI wants is high quality applications to fund!

The morning continued with Post-Docs from AIT, DCU, DIT and TCD describing their Commercialisation Fund success stories.  Dr. Brian VaughanCentre for Language and Communication Studies, Trinity College Dublin developed a speech recognition technology that could potentially be used to quantify the efficacy of communication between individuals. Application of the technology in the education sector was originally envisaged, however through the external expert consultancy (Commercialisation Case Feasibility Grant funded) and  key industry meetings organised by EI Commercialisation specialists it became apparent that there was significant opportunity for the exploitation of the technology in Aviation to measure the efficacy of communication between pilots.  Dr. Vaughan returned to EI with a Commercialisation Fund application validated by the market data collated through the feasibility study activities. Products for the Aviation industry are under development with a suite of alternative market and industry applications currently being explored by the TCD team.  Dr. Vaughan highlighted how in addition to identifying key markets, expert and  industry input accelerated the product development process as many of the key features that he and his team considered essential from a research perspective were not actually required from an industry perspective, in fact the additional features were sequestered and channelled into the “add on” product portfolio.

Dr. Suzanne Martin manger of the Industrial and Optics Engineering (IOE) group at Dublin Institute of Technology gave a fascinating talk on the realities of commercialising research in the current economy and the value of the EI Commercialisation feasibility studies ensure the commercial focus of research activities and identification of potential markets. Researchers at DIT had developed a novel method for the printing of holographic labels which could be adapted to any design shape or form to meet industry needs. IOE had secured a contract for application of the technology in the security industry, however the recession ensured that this did not materialise, a revised commercialisation strategy was required. IOE secured feasibility study funding, external experts were contracted in and application of the technology in the packaging of pharmaceuticals was identified as a key market. Meetings with key potential customers in pharmaceutical industry was organised and market potential validated. Similar to Dr. Vaughan’s experience industry input enhanced the product development process with a variety of applications and product adaptions suggested. EI provided Commercialisation Fund support and DITs holographic printed labels are now on track to commercial reality.

Dr. Christine Loscher, Deputy Head of School of Biotechnology DCU commercialisation fund experience highlighted how early consultation and engagement with EI commercialisation specialists can significantly increase the potential for commercial of research output.  Dr. Loscher and the DCU TTO office liaised with EI commercialisation specialists on the potential commercial application of a marine derived anti-inflammatory biomolecule identified in an IRCSET funded PhD project.  EI simplified the commercial feasibility case:  the biomolecule would only have commercial potential if its mode of action was novel. In other words, the molecular target of this biomolecule must be unique and not targeted by any other current approved drug on the market. Dr. Loscher highlighted that the advice received from EI at this point was critical focusing the research to answer this key question. The mode of action of the biomolecule was elucidated, it was found to be novel and to have significant therapeutics application.  A Commercialisation Feasibility Grant was applied for, which enabled the DCU team to hire an external biopharmaceutical expert to explore the market potential of the biomolecule identified. The feasibility study data gathered formed the basis of a successful Commercialisation Fund Application.

Commercialisation Case Feasibility Support, can be applied for (with your TTO office) at any stage throughout the year. This fund, with awards of up to €15,000 enables researchers to hire external experts/consultants to explore and develop the commercial case of the technology in question, activities may involve

·        Market analysis and validation

·        Profiling of the competitor landscape

·        Patent landscaping and develop the IP strategy

·        Investigation of potential routes to exploitation to the economic benefit of Ireland

·        Exploration of relevant regulatory issues or other barriers/hurdles to commercialisation

·        Create a small demonstration or early prototype

Encouragingly the application process is a three page submission with a 1 month turn around, with current funding success rate of > 80% of applications.

The next level of support is Commercialisation Fund Project which provides the capital support for technology development, R&D and commercialisation. Whilst it is not a pre-requisite to first apply for a Commercialisation Case Feasibility Support each of the speakers highlighted the value of this support in the identification of technologies that have commercial potential, identification of unconsidered markets and for engaging directly with industry and end users which can impact significantly on product development strategies.  There are two calls per year, in some instances EI may invite researchers to apply.   Proposals with costs ranging from €80,000 to €350,000 from all disciplines in the field of science and engineering will be accepted.

After the talks small group round table sessions took place in which EI Commercialisation Specialists further discussed the Commercialisation Fund in detail and the relationship between the Commercialisation Fund and other EI and National Funding Schemes such as the SFI TIDA and Innovation Partnerships.  Post-Docs were also provided with the opportunity to discuss their research and receive advice, insight and EI contacts to further explore potential funding opportunities and supports. Lunch followed the highly successful morning,  it was most encouraging to see the level of support both advisory and financial that EI have for third level research at this time when funding is at an all-time low.  EI have an open door for Irish Post Docs to identify and develop the commercial potential of their research with the ultimate aim of creating new products, services and technologies which will lead to employment revenues for the Irish State.

EI have recently published  “Innovations and Inventions” it exemplifies the success that can be attained by Irish Researchers that avail of the supports and funding offered by EI and SFI, with  details of the 117 spin-out company success stories, a must read that encapsulates the Open Day.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

ESOF 2012

The largest general science conference was held in Dublin last week - EuroScience Open Forum 2012. It was a great coup for Ireland to land such a prestigious event and there were close to 5,000 participants in attendance.
The Science to Business track was the main reason that I attended, although it was difficult not to be distracted by speakers such as James Watson and Craig Venter, as well as Mary Robinson, Maire Geoghan Quinn and Bob Geldof!
First up at 8am on Thursday was 'Female researchers and entrepreneurship, why does gender matter?'. An early start but the presentations and panel discussion made sure to hold the attention. Some of the key points raised were the need for entrepreneurial role models for female researchers and need for more confidence in terms of capabilities. Other presentations that day included 'Partnerships driving innovation' and 'What are the important criteria for successful open innovation?'. Trust is a key issue here for both building partnerships and open innovation and this is only built over time.
The time between talks was spent in the exhibition hall, a really easy way to lose a couple of hours with the number and quality of exhibitors. There was a speakers cormer as part of the exhibition, but it made speaking with the exhibitors in that section quite difficult when there was a presentation on stage!
Day 2 kicked off at 8am also (coffee required), with four presentations I wanted to attend all on at the same time - 'How can tech tranfer drive innovation' won out marginally over 'Scientific advice for European policy', 'Master class: bringing research to market' and 'The future of innovation policy - forging policy in uncertain times'. The keynote that day that I was able to attend was given by Maire Geoghan Quinn on 'Collaboration, competition, connection - evidence of intelligent deign in European science policy?', it was followed by a panel discussion and provided some fascinating insight into European scince policy decisions. Concluding presentations for that day included 'How can more SMEs engage in Horizon 2020' and Paradigms of Innovation that transform economies'. I met Conor Lenihan (former Fianna Fail TD) at the latter presentation, he is now Vice President of the Skolkovo Foundation in Russia. The Foundation, which was a focus of one of the speakers, is a high-tech innovation centre in Moscow, and Mr Lenihan is responsible for international partnership development.
The final talk I attended was 'The usefulness of useless knowledge and how to find uses and users'. A bit of an odd one, but basically Dr Helga Nowotny, president of the European Research Council, was reminding everyone that basic research is very important, and just because something doesn't have a commercial application straight away doesn't mean that it won't play a key role at a later stage.
An interesting comment that arose from the conference appeared to be a broad concern about the difficulty in getting academia/third level to collaborate with industry. I found it a bit difficult to relate to this as Shannon ABC's remit is to collaborate with industry (as it is for the other Applied Research Enhancement Centre's based in the Institutes of Technology around Ireland), perhaps this Industry pull model is one that Universities should consider if they really want to engage with industry? In contrast to this, many of the eminent speakers at ESOF 2012 seemed at pains to drive home the message that basic research should not take a back seat to applied research as vital break-throughs will not happen if the focus is entirely on applied outcomes. It begs the question, has Irish scientific policy moved too far in the applied research direction?

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Entrepreneurial Universities 2012 - Synopsis

I attended the recent Entrepreneurial Universities Conference in Muenster, Germany, held over the 25th-27th April. There was great representation from Ireland there with Cork Institute of Technology, Dundalk Institute of Technology, University of Limerick, National College of Ireland, the Higher Education Authority and Shannon ABC all delivering presentations to the attendees.

The Conference was organised by the Science to Business Marketing Centre at Muenster University and the Finnish Entrepreneurship and Innovation Network for Higher Education.  There were 230 speakers at the conference and 6 parallel sessions ran for the duration of the two days – a fairly packed schedule. The themes of the parallel sessions were Enterprise Education: Fostering Knowledge Intensive Student Entrepreneurship, Competitiveness, Growth and Wellbeing through Innovations, Knowledge Partnerships and University-Business Cooperation, Entrepreneurship and Development and Science-to-Business Marketing.

The Conference provided an insight into how the third level sector is dealing with (or failing to deal with!) a progressive lack of funding, and making recommendations that, for example, colleges should not rely on licensing intellectual property as a revenue stream, but rather due to the lengthy time to get value from these agreement, treat it rather as an added bonus if it happens.

Other presentations dealt with engagement with SMEs and how to drive implementation of innovative practices within these organisations. Learning cafes, where groups of SMEs and Innovation facilitators were presented and had received very positive feedback from the attendees.

Entrepreneurship and innovation depends upon communication and a rather unorthodox way of stimulating this among innovators and investors, but particularly among research scientists.  “The Power of the Donut” is a concept developed by Business Arena Ltd and the University of Jyvaskyla, both based in Finland. They wanted to address the bottleneck in the technology transfer process that exists between researcher ideas and commercialisation of these. Their concept is that if you provide free donuts and coffee, people will show up. Literature is on display outlining on-going research at the University, ways to commercialize research and so. The programme was so successful that they have taken it on the road, travelling to other Universities to encourage researchers to talk, share ideas and commercialize their research.                  

Other nuggets of interesting information were:

·         Ireland has the highest perception of entrepreneurs in the OECD

·         German Universities file 600-700 patents per year

·         Innovation oriented entrepreneurial activity is 35% in Ireland, 25% in UK and 30% in US

·         Based on self assessment (!) Ireland scores highest for university business co-operation across all measured categories of a Survey on European University-Business Co-operation (6,280 responses in total) - The authors of the report were very careful not to rank countries as responses were based on self assessment, however there is a definitely a qualitative positive message there for Irish third level institutes.

·         The biggest driver for University Business co-operation is trust

The Conference is a biennial event, and based on the great information and contacts made at this one, I certainly hope to attend in 2014.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Open Innovation 2012

Shannon ABC hosted Open Innovation 2012 on 4th and 5th Apil in Limerick Institute of Technology. The event, which was the first one of its type to be held, had good support with attendees from 20 companies, 8 third level institutes and also from many representative and state bodies such as Enterprise Ireland, Institutes of Technology, Ireland and the Industry Research and Development Group.
The day kicked off with a welcome from Maria Hinfelaar (President of LIT), particularly for the President and Head of Development of the Institute of Technology, Tralee (LIT's Shannon ABC partner) and a rousing address from Minister Brian Hayes, who'd had the opportunity of a whistle stop tour around the Shannon ABC facilities in LIT.
Minister Hayes was very generous with his time, and spoke about the importance of innovation as Ireland lays the groundwork for recovery. Minister Hayes also emphasised the importance of enterprise/academic partnerships and the key role that Enterprise Ireland play in this. The Minister went on to comment that Shannon ABC is an excellent example of collaborative support provided to industry.
Dr Iain Gillespie provided the keynote speech and kept the audience in rapt attention as he laid out the global innovation profile, and where Ireland is positioned. His message for Ireland was broadly positive, a lot done, however a lot more to do also, and that the public sector research structure has a massive role to play in driving innovation and R&D for industry.
Following the keynote address there were impressive presentations from Hilda Mulvihill from Stryker and Kevin O'Keefe from GSK speaking about how Open Innovation plays a key role in their organisations. Illustrating the value that collaboration with third level institutes can bring to companies, the Pharmaceutical and Molecular Biology Research Centre (PMBRC) based in Waterford Institute of Technology and the Centre for Research in Engineering Surface Technology (CREST) based in Dublin Institute of Technology both presented with partner companies EirGen and Cannon Hygiene respectively. These presentations outlined different mechanisms to fund R&D and practical outcomes of these.
The theme of how to fund R&D continued after lunch, facilitated by a panel discussion which included presentations on the Irish Research Council, Science Foundation Ireland, FP7, Enterprise Ireland and tax credits.
Rounding off the day were presentations from two indiginous Irish SMEs - Brandon Products and Cybercolloids - talking about practial examples of Open Innovation and a presentation from multinational PepsiCo on their drivers for engaging in Open Innovation.
Day 2 gave postgraduate and early stage postdoctoral resarchers the opportunity to present on industry relevant/specific research that they were engaged in. The Medical Engineering Design and Innovation Centre (MEDIC), based in Cork Institute of Technology provided the presentation that set the scene for the day - that of managing intellectual property. A number of presentations followed detailing the technologically advanced and industry relevant work being performed in Ireland, presenters included those from CIT, ITT, LIT and DIT. The Conference concluded with a workshop on Intellectual Property provided by Technology from Ideas, they had a tough crowd for the final afternoon of the conference (!), but all were soon deeply engaged in throwing out brainstormed ideas for new technologies.
We have received very positive feedback so far, it was a very enjoyable event to run, and one of the best parts for me was having companies from quite diverse backgrounds in the room together. The potential for problem solving and developing new business realtionships was evident and we hope that all involved found it a worthwhile event.
We look forward to hosting Open Innovation 2013 in IT Tralee!    

Thursday, 15 March 2012

10th World Food Technology and Innovation Forum

I attended the recent 10th Annual World Food Technology and Innovation Forum 2012. It was held in Citywest in Dublin and attracted over 100 senior level delegates from over 30 countries.

The conference kicked off with a fascinating presentation from Catherine Bedford of Stylus, an online business resource for consumer-facing industries. She spoke about some of the most innovative consumer realted scientific progresses that they have become aware of including growing algae at home for air purifying as well as a food source, using disused railway tunnels in Australia to grow mushrooms, producing fabric from milk and using fungi to degrade nappies. This really provided a great framework for the conference and was a fascinating insight.

As the Conference progressed it became evident that the majority of the presentations were more about Innovation rather than Technology and is probably an indicator of where the sector is at the moment in terms of focus. The value of innovation and including external organisations in this process is viewed as key and a number of presentations focussed specifically on innovation management, including those from Kraft Foods, Arla Foods, Wrigley and Unilever.   

Ireland were well represented in the presentations by Joe Healy from Enterprise Ireland and Food for Health Ireland (FHI), with their CEO, Jens Bleiel. Joe spoke about the different models of industry/academia collaboration in Ireland and the benefits that this has brought. This led smoothly into Jens’ presentation on FHI – a collaboration between academic partners; UCC, UCD, Teagasc, UL and industry; Carbery, Kerry, Dairygold and Glanbia and also supported by Enterprise Ireland. One of the key messages from this presentation was that successful innovation is the future of the food industry.  FHI has an industry led research agenda, with the capacity to scale up new processes through its industry partners. Through extensive work packages they cover the mega trends in health and wellness including weight management, glycemic management, muscle metabolism for healthy aging, gut health, food safety and more.

The networking service at the Conference was excellent with the opportunity to have pre-arranged one-to-one meetings with attendees at the Conference. I found this an excellent service and got great value from it. Enterprise Ireland, as host sponsors, were also on hand to provide introductions where necessary and received a great deal of interest in their exhibition stand.

The Conference next year is set for February, in Dublin again, and I would recommend anyone in the Irish food industry who did not attend this year to mark the date in their diary.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Innovation and the Pet Food Market

I attended the recent Enterprise Ireland workshop on Innovation and the Petfood Market in Eastpoint in Dublin. It was a fascinating day with many excellent presentations.
The market and market potential for the pet food sector in Ireland is €100 million + and has been, as some experts described it, "recession proof". Markets in other European countries are significantly higher, indicating the potential for the Irish market to grow further, and also the export potential for Irish companies.
The big driver for pet food is humanisation, or more simply, as Garett Dee (Leads Enterprise Ireland's Global Petfood and Animal Nutrition Sectoral Team) put it, 'look at human food trends now, in two years, that's what animals will be eating'. Its advice that holds true, particularly when you start to look more closely at the petfood market - food for healthcare issues such as obesity, healthy treats, functional foods containing omega 3 fatty acids and even 'hypoallergenic' foods.
Prof Dolores O'Riordan gave a great presentation on on-going work at UCD in collaboration with industry in this area. Predominantly the project revolves around encapsulation of enzymes and other molecules to ensure that they maintain maximum activity until they reach their target digestive area. The project is overseen by an Industry Steering group to ensure that commerical relevance in maintained (in much the same way that Shannon ABC is directed by an Industry Steering Committee). 
The day wound up with a round table discussion about opportunities for the petfood sector, funding through FP7 was discussed with a suggestion to the companies to contact either a research provider or their national contact points for FP7 to help guide them through the process. Opportunites were highlighted by Susan Steele and John Fagan from BIM's Seafood Development Centre in the area of utilising fish waste in the petfood sector, and also from Ann Maria Mullen on the collaborative opportunities with Teagasc. 
Given the direction of the petfood sector, paralleling human food, there are opportunities for petfood companies to also leverage on Shannon ABC's experience in the area of bioactive compounds, and the generation of value from waste.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Shannon ABC selected to present at 2012 Conference on Entrepreneurial Universities

From 25th to 27th April 2012, the Science-to-Business Marketing Research Centre and FINPIN will host a joint global conference on “Entrepreneurial Universities” in M√ľnster, Germany. The conference provides the attendees with an excellent opportunity to share and exchange the latest knowledge on “Entrepreneurial Universities”.

The conference will include key note addresses by policymakers and renowned experts in the field of entrepreneurial universities and the conference sub-topics, parallel track and several workshops. Offering both a double-blind paper review as well as a call for presentations, the conference calls out to both academics and practitioners.

Shannon ABC were selected to present at the conference in the 'Knowledge Partnerships and University-Business Cooperation' sub-topic. The presentation is entitled: "Shannon ABC - Regional Industry's Vehicle for Innovation".

Innovation has many suggested definitions with one basic tenet - conversion of knowledge into money. This conversion can be an obstacle for many companies through weak links in the innovation chain such as lack of research facilities, funding, personnel and inexperience in applied R&D. Traditionally academia has focused on basic research with long lead-in times to commercialisation, making it often difficult for industry to benefit from academic collaborations.

Shannon ABC was established specifically to meet the research needs of industry and is utilised as the vehicle to provide a business-facing academic service to industry. This service allows industry, often SMEs, to bridge the gap between new product concept and market entry. We will be presenting case studies from some of our client companies to illustrate the impact of our collaborations.

We are very excited about the conference, with invited speakers including those from the University of Adelaide, Australia and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South Africa discussing "Alternative Business Models for University-Industry Collaboration" and "Entrepreneurship and Development" respectively. It is sure to be a fascinating conference.