Naoise Nunn talks about Mindfield

Mindfield is an international festival of ideas organised by Naoise Nunn who is originally from Kilkenny but now lives in Oranmore, Galway. The most recent event took place in Merrion Square, Dublin and had more than 5,000 visitors over the May Bank Holiday weekend.

Mindfield has four main themes or areas; culture, technology, politics and inspiration. As Naoise explains, “It is about having the big public conversation about where we are at and where we are going and so on. The common thread is that the people are expressing ideas, coming up with ideas, trying to innovate, trying to get us out of the bind that we are in.”

The genesis of Mindfield began with a political cabaret that Naiose runs called Leviathan and is modeled on the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts in Hay-on-Wye, Wales and the TED talk series.

He set Leviathan up in 2003 as a very informal, interactive debate combined with entertainment. in the form of satire, film and comedy. Three years later he was invited to go down to the Electric Picnic and do Leviathan at the festival in a tent.

“Obviously, Leviathan is just one show and we ended up programming the tent for the weekend. The next year we had two tents. The year after that it was eight. Mindfield developed into being a festival within a festival — a spoken word forum for ideas and so on.”

Naoise had been thinking for some time about spinning Mindfield out on its own and make it an urban festival in a park. He says that he could not have picked a better location.

“Here we are in Merrion Square, right in the centre of the City. At one end you have the parliament, you’ve got the Arts Council, you’ve got the Goethe institute, you’ve got the Institute of Architects. There’s also Oscar Wilde’s house and the American College. It is the cultural hub of Dublin and of the country so it is the ideal location for it.”

Based on the success of this event, Naoise says, there will definitely be a Mindfield international festival of ideas taking place next year.

You can also view a video report which highlights the participation of the hackerspaces of Ireland at the Mindfield event and has an interview with Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, the inventor of Sugru.

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.