The announcement earlier this week of the members of a high-level group to implement the report of the Innovation Taskforce has drawn mixed comments. Some see it as a sign that action will now be taken to deliver on the recommendations of the taskforce, while for others it is deemed a further delaying tactic. This latter opinion is bolstered it seems by the fact that six of the ten members of the implementation group (excluding the departments/agencies) were themselves members of the original taskforce.
For me, however, there is a more significant omission in terms of the composition of the group and that relates to the absence of any representative from the institutes of technology. Throughout the country, IoTs are drivers of innovation, supporters and enablers of high-potential start-ups (HPSUs). They have direct experience of developing an innovation ecosystem, working with entrepreneurs and leading applied research.
The scale of that experience was conveyed in a research and innovation yearbook published in December 2009 by Institutes of Technology Ireland:
• 300 collaborative research projects with industry
• 850+ entrepreneurs supported on Enterprise Platform Programme
• 250 spin-in incubation centre companies with 695 employees
• 16 Enterprise Ireland-funded Applied Research Enhancement centres
• 48 patents granted to spin-in companies
Institutes of technology also accounted for some 60 per cent of innovation voucher projects completed by HEIs according to figures published by Enterprise Ireland.
In the Midlands alone, AIT’s innovation and research centre (MIRC) and its enterprise programmes have supported 58 knowledge-based start-ups to date. Seven HPSUs participated in the most recent offering of its enterprise programme, while approx €1.5 million worth of collaborative research has taken place between AIT, MIRC and its enterprise programme clients. Eighty MIRC-coordinated innovation voucher research projects have been completed or are underway. An independent assessment conducted by Frontline Consultants on Enterprise Ireland’s Campus Incubation Programme showed the success of these regional innovation measures: MIRC’s net employment impact is 85 per cent higher and net GVA impact 21 per cent higher than respective averages for all campus incubation centres in the country.
The problem raised by the omission of an IoT representative is that this valuable experience of supporting innovation and implementing measures to create a knowledge-led society is lost to the high-level group. I have no qualms whatsoever with the other members of the group, each of whom I have no doubt will bring their considerable experience to bear on the implementation process. It is high time though to recognise the contribution of the institutes of technology and their role in the smart economy. Batt O’Keeffe should surely be aware of this.