NDRC: A Bridge between Academic Innovation and the Marketplace

The National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) is an independent enterprise that endeavours to bring ideas nurtured in the academic world into the commercial marketplace should they be suitable. NDRC’s first projects began in 2008 when NDRC itself became operational and it is currently collaborating with 34 partners both in Ireland and internationally.

Although receiving a majority of its funding from the Department of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources NDRC is not a State agency and is set up as a not for profit company. We spoke to Amy Neale, Programme Manager and asked her why there was a need for NDRC or something like it.

“From our point of view we are focused on translating good research investments into commercial impact. So we are focused on what we would call translational research — taking good research outcomes and actually creating some market capital value on the back of those. That can be through licensing technologies or creating new spinout companies. We are very much focused on creating value for our partners and for the economy.

“We have put a slightly different model in place to the pipeline model that you might see elsewhere. We are very much focused on the types of outputs — either commercial licenses or new start up companies — that are in the digital space.

“All of our focus is on digital products in different application areas. We see that in that particular space there is the need for development to take place collaboratively.”

How does the process work?

“We set up and incorporate joint ventures between ourselves and an academic partner and an industry partner all of whom are sharing the risk to share the reward. Projects tend to be between eighteen months and two years. So we are just beginning to see the first outputs now and the earliest results from some of those projects.

Determining value is, “…an ongoing process throughout the lifetime of the project. From the very first engagement what we are trying to do is drill down into the market potential and who the customers are likely to be for any given idea.

“We start off with an evaluation process before we make a decision to invest in a project. We’ll ask people who have a good idea to put it down on paper. We will give them guidance on doing that but we will ask probing questions about; the problems they are trying to address, where the solution comes from, what the market looks like, what the competitive landscape looks like, who the customers might be. We’ll begin to probe what they think a likely route to market will be at that stage.

“We’ll then bring on board some international evaluators to have a look at the very earliest stage. They will provide us with some feedback from an expert’s position as to the potential of the idea. On the basis of that feedback we bring the team back in to pitch in front of a subset of our board. The NDRC board itself is balanced between academic and commercial partners.”

Where in the funding and enterprise system does NDRC fit in?

“What we are trying to do is create a bridge between research investment and venture capital. What we are trying to do is derisk technology before they go before any kind of venture investment. We are looking to reduce some of the risks that investors would typically see in the early stage technologies that are coming from the research base.

“For us that means getting some kind of validation from the marketplace. All of our projects have a focus on user trialling and market trialling at some point during their lifespan to ensure that we are not just developing technologies that nobody wants.

“We absolutely see that there is the need for a different sort of vehicle that helps academics get their technologies to market and we see that there is a gap in the market providing that. That is the gap we are trying to fill.”

If you have a project that NDRC may be interested or simply want to find out more you can contact them via their contact details at the website.

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