To EXPLORE staff-student collaborations, to seek out new ideas and new innovations

How does a university promote collaborations between students and staff to stimulate innovation? In a joint effort between the Vice President for Innovation and Performance at NUI Galway and the NUI Galway Students’ Union, the EXPLORE Innovation Initiative at NUI Galway has funded 38 student-staff projects since it began in January 2012. The projects each receive €1000 of funding from the initiative to deliver innovation that will benefit the university or the wider community in the area. Some of these projects include creating a locator app for cardiac defibrillators (AEDs) in the west of Ireland, building bilingual video-based teaching aids for school students, running a regular student-entrepreneur technology meetup in Galway City, and many more.

“There are just under 20,000 staff and students at NUI Galway and students account for 86% of this figure”, says Prof. Chris Curtin, Vice President for Innovation and Performance. “We know that students at all stages of their studies, together with the know-how of staff, can create an innovative culture on campus.

“NUI Galway and the Students’ Union have joined forces to introduce a new model for students and staff to work together to bring about positive and transformative change at the university.”

So what has been the actual impact of EXPLORE? In terms of staff-student involvement, over 215 staff and students have participated in creating and running the projects. As regards impact on the community, the numbers are in their thousands, directly or indirectly.

For example, the Cell Explorers project – run by Dr. Muriel Grenon and nearly 20 student partners at NUI Galway – had 200 children and parents taking part in their show at the Galway Science and Technology Festival, and also had 500 primary school children plus their teachers and parents participating in their biological and biomedical outreach programme.

The Exponential series of tech entrepreneur talks (previously covered on Technology Voice) has given over 300 participants the opportunity to learn from six of Ireland’s top technology leaders in a casual setting. The Video Lab YouTube channel of easy-to-follow chemistry lab demonstrations has had over 2,500 views since it launched in February 2012.

“EXPLORE breaks down traditional hierarchies in the university environment that can stand in the way of innovation and treats the entire campus population as active innovators”, according to Paul Curley, the President of NUI Galway Students’ Union. “We are seeing that when students and staff combine their wealth of expertise in new ways it can have very powerful results.

“EXPLORE’s far-reaching contribution to not only campus life, but also to the wider community, is to be applauded.”

The project areas for EXPLORE projects are wide ranging, including technology, science outreach, the arts, environment, health, employability and mentoring, teaching and learning, and skills development.

“Staff and students are equally enthusiastic about their involvement in EXPLORE”, says Amber Walsh Olesen, EXPLORE coordinator. “Student participants have developed valuable transferable skills within the areas of teamwork, leadership, project management and communication capabilities, and have bolstered their CVs with hands-on experience. In fact, some students have already secured jobs and summer internships as a result of their EXPLORE projects.

“Staff see EXPLORE as a way to pilot new ideas in a low-risk environment, to collaborate with undergraduate students, and obtain new skills, particularly within the area of digital media.”

A current EXPLORE project aims to build a high-performance computing cluster from used laptops. According to student partner Finn Krewer, “Supercomputers are big, expensive and need a lot of electricity. With this project we aim to acquire used laptops from students who are upgrading their laptops. We will then connect between 10 and 30 laptops together to form a small low energy computing cluster.”

EXPLORE is a first for Irish universities and has been inspired by similar efforts abroad. The goal is to establish a permanent fund for this initiative beyond 2013. To boldly go where no one has gone before.

ITLG: ‘Innovation in Entertainment’

The Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG) is opening its Southern California Chapter in the heart of the entertainment business today. Entitled ‘Innovation in Entertainment’ the event which will take place at Sony Pictures Studios, in Los Angeles, marks the impact of technology on entertainment and recognize the major advances made by Irish entrepreneurs and technologists.

“Without question, technology advancements are radically impacting the process of Innovation in Entertainment,” says Nora Zimmett from Bloomberg Television — media partner for the night. “With the launch of ITLG’s Southern California Chapter comes validation from Silicon Valley that Hollywood is fast becoming an influential center of technology advancement.”

Top entertainment executives speakers will take the stage on the night to explain how innovation will shape the future of their industry and will include Sony’s Chief Transformation Officer, George Bailey, Warner Bros SVP Post Production, Bill Daly and Rovi’s CEO, Fred Amoroso.

Included in the 300 attending are top leaders, founders, producers, presidents and CEOs from leading companies including Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios, Sony Pictures Studios, Intel, Motorola, Bloomberg, Dreamworks, HBO, Google, AT&T, NBC Universal, Paramount Studios, Nokia, and The Jim Henson Company.

The event’s technology showcase and media lounge will be featuring the latest innovation in film/TV, music, video games, mobile applications, social media and 3D Printing.

“The theme of Innovation in Entertainment rose out of the recognition that there is growing convergence between all areas of technology and entertainment and massive race to own the consumer’s screen.

“With so much relevant technology coming out of Ireland and Northern Ireland, there is no doubt that we have the resources and talent to make a demonstrable impact in the global entertainment and technology industries. We just need the public and private sector to continue a forward-thinking policy of strategic investment,” says John Hartnett, ITLG President and Founder.

The event is sold out but we will have a reporter on the ground so you can expect regular updates via our Twitter account, @technologyvoice.

The Opening and Naming of the Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre

The Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre was named and opened yesterday at the Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT). John Hartnett, the President of the Irish Technology Leadership Group and whom the building was named after was present at the event to receive this honour from his alma mater.

Following below are excerpts from the speech he gave to a gathering of some 300 people including the Minister of Finance Michael Noonan, the outgoing Mayoress of Limerick Marie Byrne and Dr. Maria Hinfelaar President of the LIT amongst others.

After opening remarks where Minister Michael Noonan, other dignitaries and the audience were thanked for taking the time and trouble to attend John Hartnett made the following comments;

“I came to LIT in the early eighties and access to education has been the most critical thing that has created not just my success but in starting my career off in a big way. It took a number of decades to get there but the really big start was from the LIT.

I hope the partnership that we are creating today, from my Silicon Valley perspective, will create another rung on the ladder for Irish Entrepreneurs.

I want to give you some key stats about Silicon Valley where I live today. It is about 45 miles north/south and about 10 miles east/west…It is very much the epicentre of technology.

The top technology companies in the world are headquartered there and that is not lightly said. Companies like; Apple, Intel, Cisco, Facebook, Twitter. All the big companies that you know and heard of are all there.

The combined market capitalization of Silicon Valley companies is 2 trillion dollars. For a small little location it has completely outshone every other location in the world. There are more than 700 VCs that operate in Silicon Valley.

It is the number one destination in the world for capital for young entrepreneurs. 40% of all investment in the United States has gone into Silicon Valley. That was 8 billion dollars last year and that was considered a bad year.

There are countries that have done a tremendous job of cracking the code and really accessing Silicon Valley. I would point to Israel as what Israel has done is focused very heavily on innovation, focused very heavily on access to capital in Silicon and the movement of investment from Silicon Valley into Israel.

Today the measurement of success is a public company on NASDAQ. Israel has 130 companies that there today which is a tremendous achievement. That is more than the entire continent of Europe. Ireland has about 3 or 4.

The big challenge for us…is that success isn’t being sold for 20, 30 or 40 million dollars. Success is going public. Success is about being multi-billion dollar company. Success is creating thousands of jobs that are going to stay here for a long, long time…

I have been in touch with over 400 Irish companies over the last couple of years. I have been very close to many universities both north and south of the border. I have experienced quality in terms of technology, in terms of the entrepreneurship here in Ireland. There is no question Minister, that Ireland can change the game. We just need to point in the right direction and stop looking back. Stop feeling bad about the past because we can’t do anything about it.

It’s all about the future.

In my view the future will be about innovation. In my view the future for our children will be what we did today about going after innovation. If Silicon Valley can do it why can’t we do it.

The secret ingredient is no secret.

  • The secret is that it has the number one university in the world for innovation — Stanford University.
  • It is the number one destination for customers. Those companies, the Apples, the Intels, are all there. That is where you are going to trade. It is a massive market place.
  • Probably the biggest one, which doesn’t recognised, is venture capital. Access to money is so important for young companies and right now in Ireland today access to capital is tough.

    Our relationship will hopefully create a gateway to that capital. Not just to our fund but to the syndication of our funds in Silicon Valley and help drive that investment into Irish companies.

  • The fourth ingredient is about attitude. It’s about vision. It’s about reaching big and it’s about going for it.

It’s about not criticizing failure. Many companies are going to fail. We shouldn’t get upset about the fact that Irish companies are going to fail at some point along the way. But we shouldn’t shoot down failure. Failure is what drives success.

It’s not good enough to be a small company. It is only good enough to be billion dollar company.

The leading nations are investing to drive this forward. We are probably underinvesting in innovation today compared to Scandinavian countries and countries like Israel. Israel invests between 4 and 5% of its GDP — We probably invest between 1.5 to 2%

We have a very well recognised education system…But we can’t be complacent. We are not in the top 5 or top 10 in Europe from an education perspective. We need our universities to be in the top 5 and that has to be our goal.

The investment here today in these facilities paves the way for these young people but that is the start of the journey. We need to make sure that both from a government and a private perspective that we are focused creating those multi-billion dollar companies.

We should be measuring the number of NASDAQ quoted companies that are produced from Ireland…

All we need is one $300Bn company and we will be well on the road but it takes some time do that. But I have every confidence that we can do that from an Ireland perspective.

We have the talent and I think with this initiative today, in terms what LIT are doing, is really taking leadership in terms of education, in driving entrepreneurship and really driving forward to our future which will be about innovation and technology.”

TSSG: Building The Future

The Telecommunications Software and Systems Group (TSSG) was formed in 1996 by Dr. Willie Donnelly and is based on the West Campus of the Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland. It is a public research organisation and the focus of its work is in the area of telecoms and internet technologies. TSSG engages in research and works with industry as well.

A unique aspect of the setup is that the TSSG competes for every cent that it brings in, and its funding is mainly dependent on the winning of tenders that are a part of the European funding framework and collaborating and partnering with other organisations.

Barry Downes, Executive Director – Innovation and Commercialisation, describes TSSG in this way, “We see ourselves very much as a European organisation. We see ourselves competing for collaborative tenders and working with the leading companies across Europe.”

Very often organisations end up collaborating with the very people they were competing against for given projects. But the benefit of being able to switch from competitor to collaborator is that, apart from requiring a flexible attitude and the ability to switch focus with some agility, it creates a sense of connectivity between different organisations and their similar or not-so-similar interests.

Apart from the financial benefits, the opportunity is there to grow an extensive knowledge base across a given number of areas that a lone operator would not be able to accrue very easily, if at all.

“Everybody’s got to compete to win these tenders, but they also have to collaborate with top-class organisations across Europe.” Over the years, the TSSG has worked with every major telecomms company in Europe, every major operator and all the major equipment providers.

But it is not just about Europe: through its commercial arm, 3CS – the Centre for Converged Services, the TSSG also runs programs such as “Innovation Partnerships.” As Barry explains, “It is a program where we will work on direct, collaborative R&D programs with a company where Enterprise Ireland will part fund that work and we will put our staff in at cost.

“What we are doing is leveraging knowledge and technologies that we have to directly work for an Irish company that can improve their product line or enhance their competitiveness in different ways.

“We do research, we do development and then we give the technology to the company. If you are a startup, your preference is going to be assignment obviously. I think this is reflecting the needs of startups. If you’re a company and you engage with us, you want to own the tech at the end. You don’t want to licence it. So we spent quite a bit of time working through our Technology Transfer Office developing standardised agreements so the tech can just be assigned out.

But the specialised knowledge and experience that the TSSG has is not only for established companies. In conjunction with Enterprise Ireland, they participate in the “Innovation Vouchers” scheme aimed at the smaller, newer companies and startups.

“The vouchers program is a way of getting Irish SMEs, small and medium-sized enterprises, to engage with public research organisations.

“If you run a startup, you can go to Enterprise Ireland and get a voucher for €5k or get a matched voucher for €10k and you come to us and say, ‘you’re in my area, I like to give you this voucher, I have a small project that I’d like you to do for me.’

“It’s a great program as it creates the opportunity for a small company to be able to work with a research organisation where we can deliver quickly and where they can see immediate value.

“We try and work like a consulting organisation for Irish industry. We want the companies to get the value of working with us, to leverage our expertise and get the IP at the end of it.

But there are major benefits for the TSSG as well. In the knowledge economy, the acquisition of knowledge is key:

  • Through the vouchers program, TSSG is able to engage and learn what startups and small companies are looking for and need.
  • Through the Investment Partners program, the same learning opportunities are available with the added element of short-to-medium term planning that does not always exist with smaller companies.
  • Through its collaboration with its European partners and their need to supply large scale solutions and innovations, the TSSG can learn as much as anyone what the future really holds.

This ability to directly observe and engage via partnership and collaboraton in a vertical plane from the very small companies to the very large, combined with being able to take a longitudinal look into the future at whatever development timeline that is most useful to the need at hand, allows the TSSG to have a unique and encompassing view of the telecoms and internet industry that very few organistions of any sort have.

“If we want to look at what the future of services is in four or five years time, we need to track a couple of key trends that are happening in the market that are having an influence both on our work and the industry as well:”

  • What’s happening with phones, operating systems, development tools and mobile apps.
  • The move from circuit switch calls to everything being IP.
  • IMS technologies.
  • Pervasive services: services that use location, context or sensors.

NB: We will be covering all these subject areas in greater depth over the next few weeks.

The European programs are the backbone of the TSSG, and along with the pure research funding partners such as Science Foundation Ireland, a central part of the organisation’s heritage forms a significant part of the work taking place there. But there is a strong and clear focus on serving the greater Irish business community as well.

“The goal is to leverage all of the knowledge we have in the TSSG, all the work we do in the TSSG, to work with Irish industry through those programs: vouchers, partners, contract research and consulting services for example. There are all these projects that Irish industry can interact with us on.

“We have a practical group that can engage with industry and solve real problems – implementing those solutions and also pushing the boundaries a bit.

“One of the key things we are focused on is trying to support and help Irish industry. We try and help them leverage knowledge that we have brought in from Europe or through international experts from SFI and do practical work for them.”

We would like to thank the TSSG for hosting our stay in Waterford and allowing our correspondent to have such comprehensive access to the people and projects that were made available to him.