Europe’s economic crisis is proving much more enduring than expected. As painful as it is, this pushes us to find new ways to support our innovative businesses, by bringing together science, education, research and innovation.
Our economy needs revitalising and restructuring towards future and emerging sectors, and the best way to achieve this is by promoting high-growth, innovative firms.
When companies and higher education institutions work well together, they become a powerful engine for innovation and economic growth. Together, they can create new jobs and address the big societal challenges we face.
In Galway, we are seeing that positive results can be achieved when this happens. The West Region’s academic and scientific institutions are embracing interaction with business. This is something we very much want to support through our EU research funds.
Vornia Limited, a start-up medical device company that was spun out from a National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway laboratory researching biomaterials, is a shining example of how great ideas can bring growth to the region. The company is involved in a €1.2 million EU project to develop novel cardiovascular stents for people with heart conditions and has doubled its number of researchers in a year. Some have been attracted to the west of Ireland from abroad, others got their training at the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT). The company’s lab is housed at the BioInnovation Centre on the NUI Galway campus and is also supported by the Innovation in Business Centre based at GMIT and receives funding from Enterprise Ireland.
It is not alone. Researchers from NUI Galway are coordinating some 30 EU funded projects and involved in tens of others, many also including local companies. For example, the €8 million Reddstar project, headed by NUI Galway and including Orbsen Therapeutics, a spin-out from the university’s regenerative medicine labs, is examining how bone marrow cells could be used to treat health complications that arise in diabetes patients.
Since 2007, researchers from the West of Ireland have been involved in 125 projects receiving nearly €46 million in EU support. The Marine Institute is another active partner, involved in some 24 projects.
To help our innovators bring their ideas to life, we need to support them with funding but also with knowledge, mentoring and the business advice that they need to succeed. Policy makers can help by adapting public procurement rules to create demand for innovative products and services and setting a framework for success – be it by improving access to venture capital or making patent protection easier.
This is what we are striving to achieve through our proposals to turn the European Union into a real innovation union. We have set out a series of steps to improve the conditions that allow scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs and companies to flourish.
One of our main ambitions is to remove obstacles that make it difficult for business to transform research into innovative new products, processes and services. Another is improving knowledge transfer between universities, colleges, public research organisations and industry. This is essential for ensuring that publicly-funded research results contribute to innovation and growth.
We are already contributing through programmes to increase mobility between industry and academia, for example, through our Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowships for young researchers, which firms like Vornia value highly.
Our future research funding programme, Horizon 2020, which starts next year, will go further. There will be even greater emphasis on innovation and economic impact, bringing the programme closer to the day-to-day work of third-level colleges like GMIT.
GMIT is already making an important financial, social, cultural and economic contribution to the region by training and up-skilling the workforce, by forging close links with industry to nurture innovation, and by promoting social and voluntary innovation. Together with the Business Innovation Centres in Galway and Castlebar, GMIT has helped bring research projects to commercially viable and successful businesses. The two centres have created over 170 jobs and 14 High Potential Start Up (HPSUs) companies, and there have been 28 successful spin-outs.
In the EU, we want to travel down this road by funding more close-to-market activities, including pilot actions and demonstrators. We will make it much easier for businesses to get involved: easing rules and procedures with the aim of reducing time-to-grant by 100 days. For small businesses, there will be a single, comprehensive programme, adapted to their needs.
Irish participants from all sectors have so far drawn down over €488 million from the EU’s current research funding programme. I would encourage research-intensive industries and academic institutions in Ireland to make maximum use of Horizon 2020 – the next EU instrument dealing with research, innovation and science and encourage them to explore possible sources of EU funding under this important new EU policy framework.