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.

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