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26 June 2017

Big deal: Ireland’s ecosystem thrives

Knowledge Transfer Ireland’s new report shows that, last year, the number of spinouts in the country grew by 28, with 119 spinouts older than three years still in operation.

Author: Thierry Heles, editor

Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI), the country’s national office that helps companies access research at domestic universities, has released its Annual Knowledge Transfer Survey (AKTS) 2016, providing an insight into the ecosystem.

The report, published with the support of the Higher Education Authority, makes several heartening observations, chief among them that 28 new spinouts were formed last year and that by the end of December a total of 119 spinouts continued to thrive at least three years after incorporation – employing an estimated 1,080 staff.

Furthermore, a total of 1,243 collaborative agreements were inked between industry and research organisations, including universities, institutes of technology and other publicly-funded research agencies.

If that figure is impressive on its own, it is worth considering that of the corporates, 78% were already based in Ireland. Counting only small and medium-sized enterprises, that number rises further to 94%.

KTI counted 186 licences, options and assignments to intellectual property last year. New patent applications stood at 116 and invention disclosures reached 461, for a research expenditure of €535m ($600m).

The success comes despite KTI counting only 34 registered tech transfer professionals – a fraction of the number of tech transfer office employees that a single institution such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which has more than 80 team members.

Established in 2014 by state-owned enterprise support agency Enterprise Ireland, KTI appears to have many reasons to celebrate on its third anniversary. Still supported by Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Universities Association, KTI is accountable to the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the presidents of domestic universities.

And if news reports in January 2017 are to go by, that department and those presidents are very happy with KTI’s performance. Enterprise Ireland allocated another €34.5m to KTI for the Technology Transfer Strengthening Initiative (TTSI), a program that actually predates KTI.

Launched in 2007, the TTSI aims to bolster research commercialisation and deepen the engagement between public research institutions and industry. KTI previously managed the €28.5m in TTSI funding before securing the recent capital boost.

To date, the TTSI has led to the creation of 31 spinouts, the signing of 748 research agreements and the creation of 206 licensing deals.

The numbers are good news for Enterprise Ireland as well. The agency has been busy trying to prepare the domestic ecosystem for a dreaded Brexit shock – the Irish economy is heavily dependent on trade with its neighbour.

The agency has been organising a Brexit roadshow, holding regional discussions to support struggling businesses as some have already been suffering due to the collapse of sterling. It also offers a grant, dubbed Be Prepared, of up to €5,000 to domestic businesses to help them generate an action plan for coping with the potential loss of access to the UK market.

KTI is not the only organisation aiming to support the Irish innovation landscape. In June 2016, University College Cork, University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin partnered growth equity fund Atlantic Bridge to create a €60m fund for spinouts.

Enterprise Ireland also backed the University Bridge Fund, underlining the government’s keenness on spinouts. Other limited partners included the EU-owned European Investment Fund, which has begun pulling out of its UK commitments, and financial services firms AIB and Bank of Ireland.

Alison Campbell, director of KTI said: “Part of our role at KTI is to help drive capacity and capability for commercialisation within the research base.

“The results of this year’s Annual Knowledge Transfer Survey shows consistent performance in the level of engagement with industry and a steady growth in the maturation of spinout companies.

“The outputs leveraged from the amount of public research funding are impressive and recognise not only the focus on innovation within the Irish research base but the impact of the investment in technology transfer through the Enterprise Ireland TTSI program.”

Graham Love, chief executive of the Higher Education Authority, said: “Knowledge transfer and commercialisation of research are now firmly embedded within the Irish higher education sector and the AKTS 2016 results show that.

“The Higher Education Authority is pleased to work with KTI to ensure the provision of robust system data. The AKTS is a longitudinal study that enables us to understand and analyse successful outputs over time.” 

The full annual report can be found on KTI’s website here.

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