The importance of the publicly funded research system to the success of the Irish economy cannot be understated. Every year, dozens of highly innovative spin-out companies emerge from our universities and institutes of technology, creating high-value jobs and generating new exports in the process.
This Thursday, Big Ideas 2021 will showcase a dozen of the latest companies to emerge from that spin-out pipeline.
The Enterprise Ireland-led event gives these companies and their founders a unique opportunity to take centre stage and to pitch their businesses to an audience of leading Irish researchers as well as the Irish and international investment communities.
Big Ideas provides investor-ready start-ups with a pathway to gain support for their business and investors with the opportunity to benefit from the enormous commercial potential offered by these companies.
The event switched to a virtual format last year which saw attendance grow from 250 in 2019. Up to 2,000 attendees are expected this year.
While there are some disadvantages to the virtual format, including the absence of face-to-face meetings between promoters and potential investors, there are also advantages, including the ease of attendance and the ability to attract interest from the overseas investment community.
In future years, it is likely that Big Ideas will be held as a hybrid event in order to avail of the advantages of both formats.
The high level of interest in the event is no surprise given the track record of success of Ireland’s research-based spin-out companies.
Over the past decade, almost 200 Enterprise Ireland-supported spin-outs have emerged from the third-level system and are still trading.
Together they employ more than 1,200 people in high-value jobs and spend about €120m annually in the Irish economy.
That’s not including the 30 spin-outs which have been acquired by overseas companies for an estimated €500m in direct returns to the economy.
Overall, about 15pc of the companies that enter Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start Up (HPSU) programme each year are spin-outs from the publicly funded research system.
They are also Ireland’s primary source of deep tech start-ups. Deep tech is the term used for critically important advanced technologies..
These include medical devices, artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain, advanced material science, photonics and electronics, as well as biotechnology, and quantum computing – which will drive industry forward in the coming years and are vitally important to Ireland’s continuing international competitiveness.
Among the innovations featured at this year’s Big Ideas event are solutions which address a wide range of issues, including the high cost of TV outside broadcasts, motivating children to take exercise in an increasingly digital world, lengthening hospital waiting lists, and high levels of disengagement among mobile workers.
These companies all began life in the same way, with a researcher who had an idea that they believed to have commercial potential.
Identifying those researchers and ideas is the job of Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Team, which works in close collaboration with the Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs) in Ireland’s universities and institutes of technology.
Our annual Big Ideas event aims to inspire the next generation of researchers to follow in the footsteps of the participating spin-out companies and translate their research and innovation into real-world impact.
This interplay between Enterprise Ireland’s team of commercialisation specialists and the TTOs is extremely important.
The TTOs are on the front line when it comes to identifying those ambitious researchers whose ideas have real market potential.
The Commercialisation Team’s role is to provide the supports, including funding, mentoring and the connections required to bring the researchers along the commercialisation journey to a point where the project has been sufficiently de-risked to make investment sense.
The fruits of that collaboration can be seen in the success of Irish spin-outs in winning funding from the European Innovation Council (EIC). Five Enterprise Ireland-backed companies received €21m under the latest EIC Accelerator call.
These five firms were among just 65 projects to be selected for funding from more than 2,700 applications across Europe, and two of them were spin-outs from the Irish third-level system.
- Gearoid Mooney is Manager, Research and Innovation (R&I) Division at Enterprise Ireland. Full details on the Big Ideas 2021 event are available at www.bigideas.ie