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Supporting Ireland to compete on a global level

Posted on over 1 year ago by Laurentina Kennedy

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Supporting Ireland to compete on a global level
Research leading to better technologies, new products, processes and better services

Minister for Research Simon Harris unveils a multimillion-euro strategic research partnership with stakeholders to deliver energy system integration to decarbonise the energy sector. File photograph: David Clarke

Impact 2030: Ireland’s Research and Innovation Strategy puts research and innovation at the heart of addressing Ireland’s social, economic, and environmental challenges. Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) support for excellent research and innovation is a key component of that strategy.

“Research and Innovation helps us compete for the best global talent, international funding, and foreign direct investment,” says SFI director of research programmes Siobhan Roche. “SFI is fostering a cohesive research and innovation ecosystem that supports Ireland’s competitiveness. This drives job creation, the growth of small and medium enterprises and academic-industry research partnerships, to achieve our national goal to be an Innovation leader.”

She points to Ireland’s established research strengths. “Ireland is recognised globally for excellence in research and innovation in areas like immunology, materials science, agricultural science, medical technology, data analytics, and software development. Our Shaping our Future strategy aims to build on this and develop Ireland as a global innovation leader.”

The research SFI supports leads to better technologies, new products, new processes and improved services, which in turn advances Ireland’s knowledge economy and builds resilience for the future, she adds.

“Our role is to support Ireland to compete on a global scale by building our national reputation in research and innovation and developing talent by supporting highly trained PhDs and postdocs.”

SFI also works closely the IDA and Enterprise Ireland to develop and support the research ecosystem by encouraging enterprise to collaborate with researchers in higher education institutions. “We are able to do that really well,” says Roche. “That’s one of the benefits of being a small highly connected country. There are many benefits to industry when partnering with academia, from connecting into world-class expertise and research to progress projects, gaining access to specialised facilities and testbeds, and of course access to talent — many highly skilled graduates move on to work with partner companies.”

The scientific advances resulting from those collaborations lead to new products, innovations and services, new companies, spinouts and the creation of high-value jobs. The statistics are impressive and speak for themselves.

In 2021, SFI supported more than 1,500 industry engagements countrywide, 739 of them with multinational companies and 803 with SMEs. In addition, SFI-funded research led to the creation of 13 spin-out companies, 68 patents, 90 licenced technologies, and 204 invention disclosures.

“We have a variety of mechanisms and programmes to support collaborative research and allow graduates to spend time in companies,” says Roche.

These include engagement with the SFI network of Research Centres. “Research centres work on areas of strategic importance to Ireland and bring together industry and higher education institutions,” adds Roche. “SFI funds 16 research centres at the moment with more than 700 companies collaborating with them.”

Research centres

She points to a study carried out by Prof Helena Lenihan of the University of Limerick which analysed the value of the Research Centres Programme. It found that companies that collaborate with the centres tend to increase their investment in research and development and redirect their R&D spending towards more scientific types of research. This in turn has led to greater potential for breakthrough ideas and disruptive innovations.

“Companies often start with a small-scale project but go on to become strategic partners of the research centres,” she adds. “We are seeing increased collaboration across the research centre network.”

The EYE-D award, valued at €2.4 million with co-funding from industry and charity partners, focuses on the study of retinal disease. Led by Prof Matthew Campbell, from the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at TCD, and Associate Prof in Immunology, Sarah Doyle, from the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, the project aims to uncover new insights into degenerative retinal diseases and identify new therapeutic treatments and drug delivery methods for Age Related Macular Degeneration, glaucoma and retinal degenerations more broadly.

NexSys SFI Strategic Partnership, valued at €16 million, is led by Prof Andrew Keane, at the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, UCD Energy Institute. The partnership aims to guide the energy sector’s transition towards net zero carbon by 2050 in Ireland.​