In March 2010, the Irish Government published the Report of the Innovation Task Force. It listed around a hundred recommendations that would serve “to place innovation at the heart of the enterprise policy.”
Subsequent to the publication, an implementation group was formed that met every eight weeks or so through the summer and fall of 2010 and right up until December. The members of the group were able to hear from the various ministers at the time as to where they were and how they were progressing on each of the recommendations.
However, since the general election was called in January this year, the group has not met since.
Chris Horn, entrepreneur and angel investor, was a member of this group and is concerned that the momentum that had been built up may be lost.
“It was a good thing because it brought entrepreneurs and venture capitalists into the same room as senior civil servants, agency heads and CEOs, and was looking at what had progressed and holding them to account.
“The fact that private sector people were in with senior civil servants was, I thought, beginning to make a difference. Things were starting to move.”
“It was much more than a talking shop — it was action oriented. ‘Where were we on particular recommendations? What was the latest in fresh ideas in light of what has been happening? Maybe we should start doing this?’
“We had four or five meetings by the time the election had called and things have ceased since then.”
The big question that Chris has is, “What is the new administration’s strategy for the innovation economy? Is it the same as the Innovation Task Force? Or is it something different? But so far there has been silence.”
While the implementation group was in existence, it “argued strongly for attracting the tier one venture capital groups from the US in particular. Another key thing was to look across all of Europe and see that right now there isn’t really a focal point for innovation, the high tech industry and startups.”
The implementation group felt that there was a real opportunity to make Ireland the innovation hub for Europe – not only for indigenous entrepreneurs but also to attract other entrepreneurs and investors from the EU and beyond. This would serve to make Ireland a focal point for innovation. However, it would have to be predicated on voluminous amounts of risk capital and venture capital being present.
“One big thing that Ireland has going for it that nobody else does is the multinationals.” Chris says, “There’s nowhere else in Europe, or on the planet for that matter, that has the same concentration of multinationals. We know that some of the multinationals here are very keen to licence out dormant intellectual property (IP) that they have into startups to prime markets that are not core to them right now.
“Given the concentration of multinationals here, there really is the opportunity for licensing the IP out of them to build companies here.
“There is a lot that could be done but it just needs better integration and better cohesion across the whole sector in terms of getting the message out and getting more risk capital into the economy from overseas.”
The ideas of cohesion and integration were also being applied to other areas of the Irish tech sector as well. One focus was on the various bridges between university research and the marketplace.
“On the TTOs (technology transfer offices), for example, one of the issues that we saw was different policies and different strategies, different contracts and royalty agreements across different universities and institutes. There was no sense of harmonization or common approach.”
This can be very expensive from the entrepreneur’s perspective as different agreements with different universities and institutes can lead to large legal expenses.
“Let’s have one stop here. We should just have a common policy nationwide. It doesn’t matter which university you go to, you are going to get the same deal. The deal itself is published up front with terms for the contracts for licensing technologies from the taxpayer-funded higher education institutes.
“We suggested a centralisation of this. Have one body that would allow you to access the information and the IP.”
Another area that the implementation group felt needed looking at more closely was the role of the state funding agencies. Chris says, “We strongly felt that Enterprise Ireland should get out of the later-stage funding of the market as that is more appropriate for venture capital (VC), risk-type private equity capital.
“The core need when we did our report was around seed investment and getting startups up and going to the point where they are VC investible. We felt that Enterprise Ireland should do more in that respect.”
While a new government may, understandably, wish for a different composition in the personnel that makes up the team that forms the implementation group, there is clearly a need for the work on the recommendations of the Innovation Task Report to continue. The question here is, “Will it resume?”