The Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund offers huge state subsidies to SMEs and research partners. Only time will tell if the investment is worthwhile, writes
The state is directing huge amounts of taxpayer funding to promote innovation. How disruptive are novel technologies?
IIncentives such as the R&D tax credit scheme and the Research, Development and Innovation Fund encourage innovation investment. “The precursor to innovation is commonly R&D, of which Ireland is ranked in the top twenty globally,” says Hardy. “Our high ranking is a result of extensive FDI from large multinationals in the pharma and tech space, in addition to strong investment in highly skilled researchers.”
nternational studies on innovation levels rank Ireland highly, as seen in the Global Innovation Index (GII) produced by the World Intellectual Property Organisation. The 2020 GII report ranked Ireland 15th in the world, and WIPO ranked Ireland first for FDI outflows, ICT services exports, knowledge impact and knowledge diffusion.
KPMG partner Ken Hardy says that Ireland’s high ranking reflects the country’s strength in translating innovation investment into tangible returns. “This is in part a reflection of the national support mechanisms from the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, Knowledge Transfer Ireland and R&D tax credits related to innovation,” Hardy explains.
Translating an innovative idea into a profitable undertaking can be a lengthy and challenging process, requiring significant investment in infrastructure and personnel. In highly regulated industries, development can also take a long time. According to
Hardy: “For SMEs there is the dreaded ‘valley of death’ in the development cycle, a critical period where the probability of failure is highest, and attracting funding is at its most critical and difficult to come by. RD&I grants can be leveraged from the IDA and EI to support companies during this critical phase.”
Hardy also points out that companies can de-risk their R&D by collaborating with academia, which is encouraged by the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund (DTIF). This was launched in 2018 with a brief to distribute €500m in taxpayer funding to projects developing ‘gamechanging technologies’.
So far just under half of the funding has been awarded in three competitive rounds – €75m in 2018, €65m in 2019, and €95m in 2021. Medical technology projects have tended to secure the lion’s share of the funding awards. For example, in the first DTIF round, the largest funding allocation of €8.4m went to a project aiming to create a new gene therapy digital platform. And all of the projects approved for funding, of between €5m and €10m in the first call, were in the medical/health space.
In DTIF’s second round, a consortium comprising OmniSpirant (gene therapy), Aerogen (aerosol drug delivery), NUI Galway and CCMI (stem cell manufacture) was awarded €9.4m for a project to develop tailored aerosol delivery technology to treat pulmonary diseases. In 2021, a group comprising Relevium Medical, HiTech Health and NUI Galway secured €7m for a project focusing on regenerative treatment for knee osteoarthritis.
Artificial intelligence is also high on the agenda when DTIF awards are decided. Two AIdriven projects were awarded €3.5m between them in DTIF’s first call in 2018, and AI-related projects secured €9m in 2019 and c.€12m in 2021.
DTIF criteria require that project teams comprise between three and eight partners, with the aim of fostering collaboration between third-level institutions and private enterprise. Funding applicants must have at least two enterprise partners, one of which must be an SME. In the three DTIF rounds to date, 72 projects with 270 partners have been funded. In the most recent call, 62 SMEs feature among the 111 organisations involved and 22 of them are leading their projects.
PatientMpower founder Eamonn Costello was one of the entrepreneurs to benefit in DTIF’s second funding call. His business received €710,000 after partnering with wearable technology company Sixty, the Royal
College of Surgeons and Beaumont Hospital. The group is developing a remote monitoring device that enables patients requiring dialysis to be better managed in their own home.
DTIF funding allocations are usually paid out in instalments over three years. Neurent Medical in Galway received c.€1.8m in 2020 after leading a winning project in DTIF’s first funding round. Neurent is working with NUI Galway to develop a new treatment for chronic sino-nasal inflammations such as rhinitis.
Radisens Diagnostics in Cork was a big winner in DTIF’s second funding round in 2019, receiving €2.9m. The company is leading the project that was awarded €7m in DTIF funding to develop point-of-care blood tests to detect iron levels in the body. The other partners are Irish Manufacturing Research, Poly Pico Technologies and TCD.
Other ventures that did well in DTIF’s second funding call include Singularity Alpha, which trades as Akkure Genomics. Founded by Oran Rigby, Akkure is part of a team that secured €3.9m to develop a blockchain and AI-powered digital platform matching patients with clinical trials. In July 2020, Akkure received a c.€1m DTIF payment from Enterprise Ireland; the balance is being distributed to project partners Microsoft, RCSI and Ergo Services.
In the latest DTIF funding round, announced in April, 29 projects will share €95m in taxpayer largesse. Awardees include Shannon medical devices business PBC Biomed and product designers Dolmen Design & Innovation in Dublin. They are partnering with DCU on a project to create an adhesive that can stick broken bone tissue together for faster healing. DTIF funding of €3.4m has been allocated to this project.
An award of €5.1m is going to a project using AI to develop drones to detect drug smuggling. Several research centres and third-level institutions are part of this consortium, working alongside Clare drone company A-TechSYN, virtual reality specialists VRAI in Dublin, and 3D-printer Wazp in Kerry.
An in-house review of the first two DTIF rounds was conducted by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and published in
October 2020. Unsurprisingly, this review gave the fund a thumbs-up. The civil service analysis suggested some tweaks, however, noting that DTIF managers may have to consider if there is more focus on the ‘novel’ aspect of the technology or the ‘disruptive’ element, and to make this clearer in the programme guidance.
“In some cases it was felt there was a focus on the radical elements of the innovation, rather than the way in which it may disrupt markets,” the review stated. “There may need to be increased clarity on what is meant by ‘disruptive technology’ in the guidance to applicants and assessors. If the disruptive element is not featured as strongly in the activities of the programme, then this will have implications for the outcomes and impacts of the programme.”
The review also noted that in some grant-aided projects the role of the participating SME is marginal. “If SMEs do not play a core role in a consortium, it may limit the benefits in terms of collaboration and spillovers for SMEs, and may result in little disruptive innovation truly taking place within SMEs,” the report states.
Three steps to Fusion – Find, Fund, Launch
The formula for building a successful start-up is always complex. You have a great idea and an entrepreneurial mindset but you also need access to technical skills and of course, funding to bring it all together.
Through its flagship Fusion Programme, DCU aims to match leaders with breakthrough ideas to the best technologists and the right funding. Fusion works with entrepreneurs who have early-stage technology concepts, offering them the state-of-the-art research and development resources they need, to bring their product to market.
For the selected projects, grant funding will be provided to build the technology, typically over an 18month period. Successful applicants will be brought into the university and matched to a talented team of researchers with the appropriate expertise. Ongoing support, training and mentoring will all be provided throughout the project, before finally spinning out a new company led by the entrepreneur.
DCU has been funding researchers to create new start-up companies for many years. DCU’s Fusion Programme enables the university to increase the pool of ideas by finding great entrepreneurs and innovations from outside the academic environment.
Talent, Time and Resources
The success of DCU’s Fusion Programme lies in our ability to tailor the talent, time and resources we offer to the needs of each business idea. We can optimise your chances of success by providing access to a range of assets including:
Deep expertise and resources not readily available to most start-ups.
llllGrant funding that allows us to hire the best and the brightest. Additional support and training, including assistance with business and financial planning, pitch coaching, introductions to investors, and mentoring by senior researchers and business leaders. A simple and transparent application and selection process.
Innovation in Action
Universities have many talented researchers with deep knowledge across a broad range of topics. These researchers specialise in solving technical challenges and building products with the latest technologies. Valuable market feedback informs them about what products they need to build. The DCU Fusion Programme puts the Open Innovation concept into action, by combining your business expertise with our technical knowhow, to create new and innovative products and services.
DCU’s Fusion Programme was created by Paddy O’Boyle, Director of Business Development for ICT in DCU Invent. Having worked in industry for many years, including with Bell Labs in the US, Paddy actively promotes novel approaches to open innovation. Paddy (pictured) has been involved in over 30 start-ups from DCU’s ICT research to date. Fusion has been designed to build on this success and to expand to all research areas.
to achieve a technological or scientific advancement, resolution of a technological or scientific uncertainty and involves carrying out experimental and systematic activities, then your company is potentially eligible for this credit.
Research, Development & Innovation Grant
The Research, Development & Innovation (RD&I) Grant can provide funding for companies involved in R&D activities and is supported by both Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. Similar to the R&D Tax Credit submitted to Revenue, the RD&I Grant focuses on a strong technical report to underline and articulate your company’s innovation. A weak technical report will lead to a rejected funding opportunity.
Company Case Study
A medical device company had been claiming its R&D Tax Credits in-house. The company decided to engage Braithwaite to review its procedures and see if any value could be added to its claim. Upon evaluating the project list, discussing the activities with the technical leads and reviewing all costs incurred across all departments, it was evident that some activities and their relevant costs were being overlooked.
Through the investigation performed by the Braithwaite team, there was a 25% increase to the company’s R&D Tax Credit claim.
As a result of this outcome, the client retained our services not only for R&D Tax Credit claim but for our RD&I Grant services.
How Braithwaite Consultants Can Help Your Business
Advice on both Irish and UK R&D Tax Credit programmes.
lDedicated, experienced and independent advice with competitive and flexible fees.
lRobust claims supported by our expert technical and financial reports, as well as full Revenue/HMRC audit support for peace of mind when filing.
llRD&I Grant services.
Free Initial Consultation
To find out if you are eligible for the Tax Credit, please contact Brenda O’Leary for a free consultation. Tel: 086 319 4747 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org