Innovation Fund helps Hundreds of SMEs Engage in R&D Projects

Hundreds of Irish SMEs have been helped to engage in R&D projects for the first time thanks to Enterprise Ireland’s Agile Innovation Fund.

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The fund offers fast-track approval and a streamlined online application process to allow companies to access up to 50 per cent in support for product, process or service development projects with a total cost of up to €300,000.

Over the past year alone, more than 120 companies received support worth about €12 million from the fund. This helped fund R&D projects worth more than €20 million, according to Enterprise Ireland divisional manager Tom Kelly.

“The Agile Innovation Fund is aimed at reaching out to companies that wouldn’t have a strong track record of investing in R&D,” he says. “R&D and wider innovation are unquestionably among the best ways of future proofing a business. The way technologies are changing and the way they are changing how business is done means businesses need to innovate. We are giving companies incentives to go down the innovation pathway. We want to get the message across that R&D and innovation are for every company. Ubiquity of innovation across all businesses is crucial and we need more companies to take on the challenge.”

A lot of small firms out in the regions are stepping up to do R&D. It’s very good to see that increase happening
And that message seems to be getting through. “We are seeing a lot of companies doing projects for the first time,” says Kelly. “Two cohorts of companies stand out in this regard. The first is the companies coming through the Local Enterprise Offices [LEOs]. There is great work being done by the LEOs across the country. Companies coming through them are smaller by definition and they are putting together good proposals and getting support from the fund.

“Last year LEOs in 14 counties had companies participating in the fund and the county with the most applications was Roscommon. A lot of small firms out in the regions are stepping up to do R&D. It’s very good to see that increase happening.”

The other cohort is made up of companies that are in a transition phase towards becoming Enterprise Ireland clients. “These companies are not yet exporting but we are helping them get there,” says Kelly. “A significant number of the companies supported by the Agile Innovation Fund are in that export development phase. Of the 120 companies or so we supported last year, about 45 per cent of them came from these two cohorts. They are companies that wouldn’t have been strongly associated with R&D in the past and that is very welcome.”

At least part of the attraction for those companies is the relative simplicity of the application process which has an approval time of about four weeks or sometimes even less. “It’s quite a simple process and we can give a decent grant of up to €150,000 depending on the size of the project. That can be very significant for a small company.”

And the application form doesn’t have to be very detailed. “There has to be some objective for the project,” Kelly advises. “What are you trying to achieve? Describe the starting point and the steps to be taken to achieve the objective. It doesn’t have to be that elaborate. You also need to demonstrate the technical uncertainty of the process or product improvement. It can be a business process innovation as well or a change in the way you are doing business. It doesn’t have to be a new product or service.”

The scheme is also relevant to larger companies
While the fast approval times and scale of the funding on offer are designed to appeal to smaller firms, the scheme is also relevant to larger companies. “It is very good for smaller projects with rapid turnaround times.”

It is also very useful as a learning experience for companies of all sizes. “The ideal for us is to see a company coming in and doing an Agile project, learning from it, building innovation capability and capacity, and then going on to bigger more challenging projects. Over time they will hopefully go beyond Agile projects and their confidence in their own ability will be greatly enhanced.”

Preparation for the first project is also vitally important. “Last year we ran nine workshops, eight of them virtually, to explain what’s involved. We are encouraging companies to scope out their projects well in advance of applying to reduce risk and come up with better proposals. We have a special Exploring Innovation feasibility study grant to help with this. We are keen to encourage companies to look at the intellectual property [IP] being generated and how they are going to protect it. You need strategy for IP, and Enterprise Ireland can help there as well.”

Find out more: https://www.enterprise-ireland.com/en/funding-supports/Company/Esetablish-SME-Funding/Agile-Innovation.html
Source: Irish Times

 

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