International 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. 

R&D in Ireland

Incentives 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.” 

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’. 

Scientist in lab

The Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund

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. 

DTIF 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. 

Drone in flight against sunset background

Recently funded

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. 

DTIF review

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.

This article first appeared in Business Plus and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

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For further information on the DTIF and R&D incentives claims, please contact Ken Hardy, or any member of the R&D incentives team. We'd be delighted to hear from you.