NIVA – simplifying the Common Agricultural Policy claims process

Horizon 2020 is an ideal funding stream as it enables cross-border collaboration and ensures that technology developed will be fit for purpose on a pan European basis.

David Hearne, Walton Institute, NIVA Horizon 2020 project

Key Takeouts:

  • Walton Institute (formerly TSSG), part of the Waterford Institute of Technology, is involved in a project that aims to develop and implement a range of digital innovations to improve the administration of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
  • The NIVA project has received €10.5m in funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
  • Walton Institute is focused on developing a geo-tagged photo app to help simplify the CAP claims process for farmers and paying agencies.

H2020 Case Study: NIVA

    The European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) supports farmers, safeguards agri-food supplies and encourages sustainable management of land resources. Administering and controlling payments to farmers under CAP is done through the integrated administration and control system (IACS), which is the subject of the Horizon 2020 project, NIVA (New IACS Vision in Action).

    The three-year project, led by The Netherlands’ Wageningen University & Research and involving 27 partners, aims to modernise IACS by delivering a suite of digital solutions, e-tools and good practices for e-governance. These will ultimately produce more transparent, simpler processes that will reduce the administrative burden on farmers, paying agencies and other stakeholders.

    In Ireland, a multi-disciplinary team made up of The Walton Institute (formerly TSSG) – a centre of excellence for ICT research and innovation – the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), Teagasc – the Agriculture and Food Development Authority – and led by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is tasked with developing a geo-tagged photo app.

    The app will be used to resolve claim queries by enabling farmers to send digital photos of their land parcels directly to the paying agency, which will reduce the need for inspections and accelerate claim processing.

    “Our app is one of nine innovations in this project with different countries working on each,” explains David Hearne of Walton Institute’s Creative Design Unit. “Other areas include decision support systems, machine data and a solution for simplifying payments, but in the end they will all come together in one ecosystem, which will be used by paying agencies across Europe.”

    Although it won’t be the first geo-tagged photo app on the market, Hearne explains that what sets this one apart is the user-centric, multi-actor design.

    “We take the approach that we don’t know what the users want; we can’t decide what’s best for a farmer in the west of Ireland who needs to send a photo to the Dept of Agriculture. So the project started by gathering data about the needs of all stakeholders, not just in Ireland but across Europe. It’s an iterative process, so when we’d developed the first version of the app, it was tested by users across Europe and their feedback informed the next iteration and so on.

    “The fact that farmers and other stakeholders have been involved from the beginning gives them a sense of ownership, and that should result in a higher adoption rate at the end,” adds Hearne.

     

    Horizon benefits  

    Horizon 2020 has provided €10.5m in funding for the project, but beyond the financial investment the programme offers multiple other benefits.

    Horizon 2020 is an ideal funding stream as it enables cross-border collaboration and ensures that technology developed will be fit for purpose on a pan European basis,” says Hearne

    “Currently, our app is being tested across nine EU countries with over 200 users, and other solutions being developed under NIVA will likewise be tested across different countries, so there’s a lot of interaction, integration and learning across the project.”

    Monthly work package meetings and bi-monthly project meetings, all virtual at the minute, keep the project on course and ensure that innovation is shared across the partners.

    On a personal and professional level, Hearne believes his involvement in Horizon 2020 projects has been highly advantageous.

    “It’s great to focus on these large projects with so many moving parts. You learn so much, for example, the various technologies used in different countries, how they are implemented and what the issues are.

    Hearne confirms “The opportunity to collaborate with researchers in other countries is also invaluable. You build up a huge contact base, which gives you the opportunity to collaborate on more projects.”

    To others who have not yet dipped their toe in the Horizon water, Hearne simply says “Do it”.

    “It’s a great opportunity to be involved in projects that can actually change people’s lives. With NIVA we’re reducing the burden on farmers, so we’re making a difference. My advice would be to focus on something that you’re really passionate about.”

    His other advice is to seek out the right partners at the start and use the supports that are available to help with putting the proposal together.

    “I was involved in writing sections of the NIVA proposal. It was a new experience for me because I come from a very technical background, but I had the support of people in WIT to guide me in how to approach it. And the more you do it the easier it gets.

    “We’re also in close contact with Enterprise Ireland, who have a real interest in the project, and we know that they’re there to help us if we need it.”

    For advice or further information about applying for Horizon 2020 support please contact HorizonSupport@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizoneurope.ie

     

    Innovation Arena Awards: showcasing ground-breaking solutions in the agriculture industry

    Innovation emerges when problems need to be solved, so it’s no surprise that some exciting technological advances are coming from one of our most important indigenous industries, agriculture.

    For many years, Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation Arena Awards in association with the National Ploughing Association has been an important showcase for entrepreneurs presenting agri-related solutions to the industry. In 2020, with the National Ploughing Championships cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the awards moved online for the first year; with the event in doubt again amid ongoing restrictions, the 2021 awards are now launching online once more.

    “This is the 11th Innovation Arena, and the eighth that Enterprise Ireland has been involved in,” says Enterprise Ireland’s Senior Regional Development Executive James Maloney. “The entries are based around efficiencies in agriculture; that can be from engineering or science, we’re also seeing a lot from the IoT [Internet of things] or robotics side recently, or how technology is helping to modernise agriculture.”

    There are 12 awards in total, with a €5,000 cash prize for each of the winners of the Best Start-Up Award and the Overall Award. Most importantly, however, the awards offer a platform for companies to showcase their solutions to a global audience, which could include potential customers and investors.

    “Last year, the winners of the Overall Awards were Malone Farm Machinery in Mayo, with their Malone Express, a 16-bale trailer that can accommodate 16 round bales on a shorter chassis. Their piece on YouTube attracted 17,000 views in the first week. Because of our global network in Enterprise Ireland, the awards get quite a bit of traction abroad, and Malone would have had interest from overseas markets such as the US, France and Canada. The awards also have the capacity to change the mindset and ambition of the company; for instance, now a company in Mayo can produce machinery for a farmer in the US.”

     

    Finding solutions

    A 2018 McKinsey report revealed that agriculture is one of the world’s least digitalised sectors in the world, making the industry ripe for innovation, particularly in terms of finding solutions to improve efficiency, sustainability and sector-specific issues such as disease control and carbon emissions.

    “We’ve always been good at farming and good in research; now it’s about bringing science, technology and agriculture together to create solutions,” says James. “The opportunities are there too – agri-engineering exports are worth just over €500 million to Ireland, while agriculture-related exports were worth over €13 billion in 2019.”

    A big issue for agriculture at the moment is the need to lower carbon emissions. “Innovation for a green future in agriculture is a priority for us this year,” says James. “We’ll be looking for innovations that can reduce emissions, improve efficiencies and promote sustainable agriculture for the future. A good example is the winner of the Sustainable Agriculture Award last year, Hexafly, which essentially produces protein from black soldier flies. This is a very environmentally friendly way of producing protein for animal feeds, and is currently being used for fish food at present. As things develop, it could be used elsewhere in the food chain to replace more carbon-heavy protein producers.”

    The need to improve efficiency and reduce waste is also attracting new ideas. “We’ve also seen innovations in using technology and sensors to help farmers optimise the nutrition of both crops and animals, providing benefits on production costs, while also protecting the environment. For instance, if a plant doesn’t need certain nutrients, there are sensors emerging to recognise these characteristics partnered with software to deliver the data to the farmer, to make informed decisions based on science and information.

    “Antibiotic efficacy is a concern across the globe. Micron Agritech has a solution that allows farmers test for worms onsite to determine whether an animal needs an antibiotic treatment or not. The goal of innovative new technology and is to move away from broad-spectrum treatments, into more targeted applications, saving money and reducing resistance and protecting the future for all.”

    There are also many companies using emerging technology to find solutions needed by the global agricultural sector. An example is last year’s winner of the Best Start-Up Award, artificial intelligence and robotics company Iamus Technologies, which is collaborating with a large poultry processor to use its technology to continuously gather data from birds, providing feedback that could save the poultry industry billions of euros annually.

     

    Entering the awards

    The Innovation Arena Awards is now accepting entries from entrepreneurs with a working prototype or finished product through the Enterprise Ireland website.

    “The entry process is very simple,” James explains. “The application form asks for a 250-word description of your company, what you do, and the problem that your innovation solves. These entries are shortlisted for the next stage, which involves a more detailed entry form and in the past, a pitch on the Innovation Arena stage at the Ploughing Championships; this year, it’s more likely to be a virtual presentation and questions/answers.

    “You can decide what category to enter; occasionally, we may advise that another category is more suitable. All categories are eligible for the top award and cash prizes of €5,000 for Overall Winner and Best Start-Up.”

    Entries for the 2021 Innovation Arena Awards are open until the end of June 2021. Full application details can be found here.

     

     

    AgROBOfood – stimulating the uptake of robotics in the agri-food sector

    “The Horizon 2020 & Horizon Europe funding streams give participants exposure to a large European network of relevant research organisations, business advisory services, investors and companies.”

     

    Christine O’Meara, Walton Institute, AgROBOfood, Horizon 2020 project

    Key Takeouts:

    • Walton Institute, formerly TSSG, part of the Waterford Institute of Technology, is involved in a major project to encourage and facilitate the uptake of robotics in the agri-food sector.
    • The AgROBOfood project is being funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
    • Acting as a Digital Innovation Hub, The Walton Institute, is a one-stop-shop, supporting those in the Agri-food sector in locating and accessing robotics services or expertise and is mapping out the robotics ecosystem in Ireland.

    Case Study: AgROBOfood

    By 2050, our planet will be home to almost 10 billion people and the pressure on food production will be immense. There is now an urgent need to find and develop smart ways to farm and process food, and this underlies the European Union’s huge investment in agri-food-related innovation projects.

    AgROBOfood is one such project. Focused on helping the Agri-food sector become more efficient through the use of robotics, the four-year, €16.3m Horizon 2020 project involves 39 partners and is led by Wageningen University & Research in The Netherlands.

    The project team is broken into seven territorial clusters enabling more agile and effective group sizes. Ireland, represented by The Walton Institute (formerly TSSG) – an internationally recognised centre of excellence for ICT research and innovation and part of the Waterford Institute of Technology is in the North West cluster. This cluster comprises the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, United Kingdom and Ireland.

    AgROBOfood has three aims: to build a network of digital innovation hubs and competency centres; to load this network with a catalogue of services; and to showcase what robotics can do for the sector.

    “Walton Institute is the Digital Innovation Hub for Ireland. We can signpost stakeholders to competency or research centres or other hubs in Ireland or across Europe that can provide the services or expertise they need. And as an R&D centre itself, Walton can also provide services directly,” explains Christine O’Meara, Walton Institute project lead.

    “There’s definitely an appetite for digitization and automation, and Ireland has strong national players in, for example, the dairy sector where smart technologies are well advanced.” says O’Meara

    “There are a lot of exciting start-ups in Ireland working in robotics in diverse areas from pasture management to sustainable poultry production. Across Europe, great progress has been made across agri-food with areas like robotic weeding and harvesting set to advance quickly.”

    A key driver in the growth of the robotics ecosystem will be the results of three funding open calls. Two of these (Open Calls for Innovation Experiments) will involve a technology provider and a technology user coming together to advance and demonstrate their solution. The third open call will be targeted at a range of specific industrial challenges, for example, asking if robots can improve working conditions in the food industry.

    “From a TSSG perspective, the opportunity to reach out to, and build relationships with, start-ups and SMEs in the agri-food space through these open calls is really important,” says O’Meara.

     

    The Horizon advantage

    One of the advantages of the Horizon 2020 approach, says O’Meara, is that it presents a means of looking at broader impacts, beyond the local and across disciplines.

    “The Horizon 2020 funding stream gives participants exposure to a large European network of relevant research organisations, business advisory services, investors, technology companies, agri-food start-ups and large enterprises,” says O’Meara.

    “Although in this project each cluster is working somewhat independently, we’re collaborating through a shared technology platform to ensure best practices are replicated and everyone has full visibility of progress and developments.”

    O’Meara is involved in several Horizon 2020-funded projects, including Demeter and NIVA, and is keen to encourage others to explore the opportunities such projects present.

    “As well as giving access to a breadth of expertise, Horizon projects provide a way of broadening your network and extending your skills,” confirms O’Meara

     

    Don’t be daunted

    For some, however, the Horizon process remains an intimidating prospect.

    “Don’t be daunted by the proposal process. It’s quite structured and it’s clear what the EU wants to see. But you need to give yourself plenty of time. As soon as a call comes out you need to start thinking about what topics you’re interested in, what partners you’ll need and get the right team on board. Remember that there’s a lot of support available,” O’Meara advises.

    Most research institutes have in-house support for Horizon 2020 applicants but another excellent source of support is Enterprise Ireland’s National Contact Points These provide information and guidance on all aspects of Horizon 2020 from signposting to webinars about areas of interest, to helping identify partners and reviewing proposals.

    “Begin by identifying what supports are available to you and speak to someone who’s been involved in the process before. If you or your organization need help in writing the proposal, Enterprise Ireland can also provide consultancy support,” adds O’Meara.

    “If you’re successful in getting Horizon 2020 funding, you will have a  very well defined plan of action set out in your implementation description and detailed work packages and you’ll have specific deliverables. So you’ll know exactly what to do from day one.”

    For advice or further information about applying for Horizon 2020 support please contact HorizonSupport@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizoneurope.ie

     

    Plenty to celebrate stateside this St Patrick’s Day

    St Patrick’s Day offers an unrivalled opportunity to showcase Irish business innovation to a US audience.

    The traditional meeting between the Taoiseach and US President is taking place virtually this year, leveraging our important ties and connectivity with our trans-Atlantic neighbour more than ever.  

    The USA remains the world’s largest consumer market, a $22 trillion dollar economy. It grew by 4% in Q4 last year and early projections for 2021 indicate further growth of 3.2%, a strong performance for a developed economy.

    Increasingly Irish companies succeed here by recognising that the USA is no more one market than Europe is, and that to penetrate it they must go in state by state. California’s economy is, after all, approximately the same size as that of the UK. New York’s is approximately the same size as South Korea.

     

    The Pandemic Pivot

    The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact, with unemployment currently at 6.9%, up from 3.5% prior to Covid, which was a 50-year low. Lockdowns vary by state but as a whole the US is a market where the pivot happened fast, and the return will too.

    One of the biggest trends we see is how major US multinationals, such as Facebook, Microsoft, and many others are embracing the lessons learned. They have ‘leaned in’ to the opportunities that remote working, accelerated technology adoption and virtual collaboration have presented.

    Interestingly, this has also led to a level of economic migration and mobility not seen in generations as more and more people also take advantage of operating remotely and move to less dense population centres.

    The crossing of the digital Rubicon has also led to accelerated growth in sectors that were once described as emerging, these include ecommerce, cybersecurity, and digital health. There has also been a marked increase in the demand for content driven by the rapid growth in usage and choice across stream platforms. These relatively sudden supply and demand shifts always result in direct and tangential opportunities, and threats.

    As people live more online, those providing back end solutions, such as data management (provision and support products and services) and security, are seeing potential for robust growth.

     

    Building Back Better

    Further bolstering the optimism for strong 2021 GDP growth is the economic stimulus plan put forth by President Biden, further supplemented by significant planned investment in infrastructure and the green economy. At time of writing the $1.9 Trillion stimulus plan has moved back to the US House of Representatives for final ratification, this is expected to provide significant economic stimulus across the US.

    Other sectors are of course challenged. International student numbers from the US to Ireland have fallen for obvious reasons. Consumer retail, for those that have not embraced ecommerce, is struggling, and other sectors that have historically relied on a tactile or physical element to the sales process, e.g. machinery, will naturally struggle more in a virtual environment.

    A big question affecting businesses, and unknown in terms of our ‘new normal’, is what airline travel will look like. Capacity is certainly not what it was pre-Covid and there are complex variables that impact this supply and demand dynamic, not least of which are staff and equipment availability. Thankfully we continue to be relatively well served on the trans-Atlantic route.

    Over the past 12 months Enterprise Ireland has also leaned in to supporting our clients to stabilise, reset and recover. Supports such as the Sustaining Enterprise Fund, Online Retail Scheme, Virtual Selling programme, Competitive Start, our many management training programmes and others have enabled companies not just to cope with the challenges of selling into the US and globally, but to compete for and capture the opportunities that now exist in our new normal.

     

    Virtual St Patrick’s Day Celebrations

    Enterprise Ireland is walking this walk too in our traditional St Patricks Day events, having taken the traditional week-long programme of events for St Patrick’s Day and working with our Team Ireland colleagues migrating it online. Where Team Ireland would normally have the Taoiseach, Ministers, and a programme of economic, political, social and cultural events from coast to coast and border to border, we have pivoted entirely and will instead be hosting a multi-faceted programme including a series of in-depth sectoral webinars.

    We are running high profile mainstream media and social campaigns this week too, to maximise the impact of St Patrick’s Day, raising the profile of Irish companies and of the Irish Advantage.

    None of us knows what the new normal will look like. We do know that it will not be a simple snapping back into the old ways. Over the past 12 months we have crossed the digital Rubicon. It is now up to all of us to embrace the digital opportunities on the other side. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or whether you think you cannot, you are right”. We can.

     

    Join Enterprise Ireland USA for the ‘Ireland and the US: On Track to Getting Back’ virtual event on 16th March where senior business leaders from both sides of the Atlantic will discuss learnings from 2020, and powering growth in 2021. Register here.

     

    Getting There: Strategies to promote gender diversity in business

    At Enterprise Ireland, we have long since recognised that one of the keys to optimising our start-up sector in Ireland is to boost gender equality in business.

    Diversity in business is vital to reflect our modern, global economy and create growing, sustainable companies. Extensive international research has shown that diversity increases innovation and creativity, while research from McKinsey & Co revealed that gender diversity leads to improved productivity and increased profitability.

    However, promoting gender diversity takes work. “Back in 2011, only 7% of our High-Potential Start-Ups (HPSUs) included a woman on the founding team,” says Sheelagh Daly, Entrepreneurship Manager at Enterprise Ireland. “Seeing this, we put in place specific goals and plans to increase this, and now, in 2020, 24% of our HPSUs have a woman founder.”

    While Enterprise Ireland is well known for its entrepreneurship supports for women, increasing gender diversity in business leadership is a relatively new objective. Towards the end of 2018, Enterprise Ireland embarked on research to look at the broader issue of women in business to assess the current situation in Ireland and to see what could be done to improve the situation. The research revealed some unsettling statistics: that less than 20% of CEOs were women, falling to 9% in larger companies; that Ireland had the highest gender gap in self-employment in the EU; and that less than 10% of venture capital funding was going to companies with female founders. The research led to the publication of the Enterprise Ireland 2020 Action Plan for Women in Business.

    “The plan has four objectives,” explains Sheelagh. “To increase the number of women becoming entrepreneurs, to increase the number of women founders in HPSUs, to increase the number of women-led companies growing internationally, and to increase the number of women in senior leadership positions in companies in Ireland. All these objectives are inter-connected, so to achieve one of them you need to achieve all of them.

    “We’ve set ambitious targets for ourselves – we’d like to double the number of women-led companies in the export market by 2025.” says Daly.

    Promoting female entrepreneurs

    While the figures have improved immensely over the past few years, it’s clear there are still some physical and psychological barriers that pose more of a challenge for women in business. For instance, women still bear the brunt of unpaid work in Ireland; in 2019, the ‘Caring and Unpaid Work in Ireland Report’ from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Economic and Social Research Institute revealed that 45% of women provide care for children and older adults on a daily basis, compared with only 29% of men. Networking opportunities, mentors and the visibility of women leaders in enterprise have also been identified as important for women in business.

    “One of the initiatives we developed to address the barriers to funding for women founders is a women-specific call for the Competitive Start Fund (CSF), a fund for early-stage start-ups with the potential to turn into HPSUs, with specific CSF calls for women entrepreneurs. In 2020, 42% of the CSF projects awarded were led by female founders.” says Daly.

    “We also offer the ‘Innovate’ accelerator programme for women entrepreneurs which provides mentoring and a chance for women entrepreneurs to network and learn from each other.

    This is also what is done in Going for Growth, an initiative supported by Enterprise Ireland to offer peer support along with the mentoring piece from successful women entrepreneurs through interactive round table sessions.”

    “Another important initiative is the Part-time Key Manager Grant, which we introduced last year to facilitate the recruitment of part-time senior managers. The grant is available for both men and women, but aims to attract more women to senior management roles.”

     

    Accessible help

    While the specific female entrepreneur supports outlined above give gender equality a significant boost, a key aim at Enterprise Ireland is to make every programme accessible for all. For instance, the first stop for most entrepreneurs is Ireland’s network of Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs), with 31 offices in the country. The New Frontiers programme is delivered on behalf of Enterprise Ireland by Third Level Institutes in 16 locations around Ireland and helps entrepreneurs develop their business in readiness for further investment without significant financial risk.

    “We see really strong companies led by women at every stage of their journey,” says Sheelagh. “The supports are there, and we are really keen for more women to avail of those supports. I do believe that there are a lot of women with great ideas and the ability to put them into action; it’s then about the confidence to take that leap and use supports like the New Frontiers programme and aids from the LEOs. Those supports are there and can lessen the risk for both men and women when developing a new business.”

    “Through these initiatives, Enterprise Ireland seeks to address the challenges facing women in business and to inspire and accelerate the growth of Irish businesses by advancing gender diversity in leadership teams and excellence in our start-up sector.”

    Start-Up Showcase class of 2020: Proving again the ambition and resilience of Ireland’s entrepreneurs

    Starting a business is a difficult process at any time, but in 2020, it proved especially challenging, thanks to the uncertainty and difficulties created by the Covid-19 pandemic. But Irish entrepreneurs are nothing if not brave and ambitious, and 2020 was merely a year to show just how resilient and resourceful they are.

    In fact, despite having to overcome issues such as remote working and lockdowns, many new start-ups found opportunity within the Covid-19 crisis, either by pivoting their business or finding solutions to problems faced by people and countries dealing with the pandemic. To support their level of bravery and true global ambition, Enterprise Ireland approved more than €48 million in funding for new start-up companies and other start-up projects impacted by the pandemic in 2020. This figure included investment in 125 founding teams, supporting 80 companies through its High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) fund and 45 through its Competitive Start Fund (CSF) programme.

    The achievements of these start-ups were celebrated at this year’s Start-Up Showcase, which took place virtually on Wednesday 24th February and was officially launched by An Taoiseach Michéal Martin. Participants at the event included all of the HPSU and the CSF companies and a representative from each of the 13 New Frontiers programmes supported by Enterprise Ireland.

    “Most of the 125 companies at Showcase came through over the last 11 months, so the message is that we’re very much still open for business,” says Jenny Melia, Enterprise Ireland Divisional Manager, HPSU. 

    “The four main areas that we see are ICT, life sciences, fintech and food. In the last year we have adjusted to working remotely and living remotely, and many companies have been finding solutions to aid our new living and working needs, or pivoting their existing offerings to cater for this new need.”

    Funding proved difficult for new start-ups in 2020; recognising this, Enterprise Ireland provided support to existing start-up projects through the Sustainable Enterprise Fund for HPSUs, and invested earlier into some new start-ups. “There is risk involved, but we decided to go in earlier into some projects and help them deliver on their technical and commercial milestones,” explains Jenny. “Because of Covid-19, we might see that a company has had its clinical trials postponed or perhaps a company trialling a software product had to put the test on the long finger. In these cases, if the ingredients were right, we might invest a little earlier than usual. Another important aspect for us was to keep founding teams together because companies have had to work so hard to get the right talent in place and the last thing you want is to see those teams start to fragment.”

     

    Stand-out projects

    Every company featured at Showcase is fulfilling a very real need, and has the potential to globally impact their sector. “One of the most exciting is a company called Novus Diagnostics,” says Jenny. “The two founders came through DCU and have developed a rapid test for sepsis – about 11 million people die worldwide every year from sepsis, and every hour that’s missed in the diagnosis pushed up the mortality rate. As well as securing HPSU funding, the team has won EU funding, which is very competitive.

    “Another interesting company that has come through is Iamus Technologies, which has developed a smart robot for chicken breeding houses. The robot moves through the houses and measures the environment, the temperature, noting if any of the chicks are sick and alerting anything suspicious in real time. If anything goes wrong, it can spread very quickly in these environments, so having that alert in real time is really valuable. I think this is a great example of the strength we have in the agritech sector.”

     

    Supporting female and regional entrepreneurs

    Of particular interest is the promotion of women in business, and in 2020, almost 24% of the 80 new HPSUs supported by Enterprise Ireland are led by female entrepreneurs. And, 42% of the CSF projects awarded last year were led by female founders in sectors as diverse as climate change, fintech and edtech – proving that female entrepreneurship is incredibly strong in Ireland.

    Our experience over the years has shown us that it’s not just about the funding but it’s also about the networking and capability development,”

    “Alongside our female focus in the CSF, we set up a development programme called Innovate, where the female founders are networking and learning from each other, as well as learning from female entrepreneurs that have gone before them. We have found that this programme, alongside the funding and any other mentoring, has helped us to help the companies become investment-ready faster.”

    Another area of interest is to promote regional development by ensuring entrepreneurs all over the country receive the support their need. “We work closely with the four business incubation centres around Ireland and the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) to ensure the companies from around Ireland are not just getting the funding support but they’re also getting the hands-on support in terms of building out the company. Balanced regional development is one of the key priorities for us at Enterprise Ireland.”

    Jenny says that the intensity of this engagement is paying off; this is reflected in 2020’s figures, with a 50/50 split between new projects based in and outside Dublin in 2020. This reflects higher numbers in the West than in 2019, and more than double the numbers in the South.

     

    Support from start to finish

    Representatives from the New Frontiers national entrepreneurship programme also took part in the Showcase, reflecting the highly connective nature of Ireland’s start-up scene. Some companies complete New Frontiers and progress to CSF or directly to HPSU; others might be growing more slowly and will engage with our colleagues in the LEOs as they begin to build out their business,” says Jenny.

    Both the CSF and the HPSU maintain strong links with Ireland’s network of LEOs and the New Frontiers programme to recognise new companies with great ideas as they emerge, getting ready to support them as they grow their idea into an innovative and thriving business. For entrepreneurs, knowing that this support is available from start to finish is encouraging, especially as we continue to navigate through the difficult economic environment created by Covid-19 and Brexit in 2021.

     

    Transport & Logistics Industry Update – Webinar


    The Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and the re-shaping of transport routes brought a very turbulent start to 2021. Logistics and transportation companies involved in the movement, storage and flow of goods have been directly impacted and had to rapidly adapt to changing business landscape. Irish companies exporting their products or importing components or raw materials need to follow and understand these trends to stay competitive.

    This Enterprise Ireland webinar identifies these challenges and examines current developments with a panel of industry experts.

    The webinar is chaired by Enterprise Ireland’s Director UK & Northern Europe Marina Donohoe with insights from:

     • Gopal R, Global Leader, Supply Chain & Logistics, Frost & Sullivan

    • John Ward, Managing Director, Maurice Ward & Co. Ltd Ireland

    • Richard Nolan, CEO, Nolan Transport – Nolan Group

     

    Register now to attend the webinar.

    New Frontiers: Turning great ideas into promising businesses

    Great ideas are in the Irish DNA, but turning these ideas into viable businesses takes time, ambition, hard work and support.

    To help entrepreneurs turn their ideas into promising businesses, Ireland has built up a solid network of supports for early stage start-ups, with a high level of connectivity to ensure that businesses can access the right support at the right time.

    Many entrepreneurs begin their business journey at the Local Enterprise Office (LEO), which offers a wide range of experience, skills and services.

    Typical supports offered by the LEOs include training and mentoring programmes, access to financial support and microfinance loans, general business advice and help with business planning.  and with 31 LEOs nationwide, entrepreneurs don’t have to travel far to find business support.

    The LEOs are also the front door into other support services such as the local authorities, Enterprise Ireland and State agencies, including the Department of Social Protection, Skillnets, Education and Training Boards, Microfinance Ireland, Revenue and Fáilte Ireland.

    The beauty of the structure is that it’s inter-connected,” explains Teri Smith, manager at Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) division. 

    “At the HPSU, we would communicate with the LEOs and other starter programmes like New Frontiers, so a suitable business can very readily come onto our radar if they’re going through those channels, which allows us to transition them at the right time.” 

    “From an Enterprise Ireland point of view, a lot of entrepreneurs would have started out with LEO supports or New Frontiers; when they have their business plan, their prototype and their market opportunities mapped out, and ready to raise seed investment, that’s generally when they transition to Enterprise Ireland.”

     

    New Frontiers

    The highly regarded New Frontiers programme is a popular starting point for many entrepreneurs. Like the LEO supports, New Frontiers is available nationwide and is delivered on behalf of Enterprise Ireland by Institutes of Technology and Technological Universities in 16 locations around Ireland. Since Enterprise Ireland began managing the programme in 2012, 4,700 individuals have participated in New Frontiers, with 1,430 going on to the immersive Phase 2 of the programme.

    “New Frontiers is a good starting point,” says Teri. “Phase 1 can be done while you’re still in your day job, so you don’t have to go ‘all in’ to progress your idea and see if it has the potential to turn into a business.” 

    The programme is aimed at early-stage entrepreneurs with business ideas from across all sectors including food & consumer products; information & communication technology; engineering & electronics; medical devices; biotechnology; pharma, digital media; cleantech/renewable energy;

    They could also be developing new solutions that would have export potential, or an innovative alternative to what is mainstream in the marketplace. Entrepreneurs would have to have qualified that there is market potential for their product in order to be eligible for a place on the programme.

    New Frontiers is delivered in three phases. Currently offered online due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation, Phase I consists of weekend and evening workshops to research and test the market potential of the idea. By the end of this phase, participants should have a good idea as to whether their idea can become a viable business – and be confident enough to leave their job or take a career break to immerse themselves in their fledgling business.

    Entrepreneurs who have successfully completed Phase 1 can apply for Phase 2, which is a full-time intensive programme that focuses on developing and validating the business proposition. Participants are supported throughout this phase with workshops, mentoring, regular milestone reviews, a free co-working space and guidance from the programme team.

    In addition, a tax-free stipend of €15,000 is paid directly to the entrepreneur over a six-month period, along with web hosting and support worth $15,000 from Amazon.  No equity is taken in your business in exchange for this support package.

    Upon successful completed of Phase 2, participants can also apply For Phase 3, which focuses on bringing the product/service to market and preparing to acquire further funding.

    Many New Frontiers participants have progressed on to Enterprise Ireland supports such as the Competitive Start Fund and the High Potential Start-Up Fund; these include Wellola, Video Sherpa, Swyft Energy, Snapfix, Examfly, LiveCosts, Positive Carbon and Safecility. And from there, great things can be achieved.

    For instance, Immersive VR Education in Waterford, one of the 2016 participants, raised €6.75 million following a successful IPO in 2018. In 2020, Cork ed-tech company and New Frontiers graduate TeachKloud raised €750,000, with investment led by Frontline Ventures and ed-tech investor Sean Tai. And in terms of creating employment, 2017 participants Xerotech has established an R&D centre in Claregalway with space for 40 engineers.

    The highly connected nature of Ireland’s supports for early-stage entrepreneurs means that the sky really is the limit for ambitious innovators. Great ideas with huge potential are quickly identified and given the right support to bring them as far as possible, furthering our island’s reputation as a hotbed of promising start-ups.

    For more information on New Frontiers, including a calendar of starting dates across the country, visit www.newfrontiers.ie

    It’s never too soon – and a business never too small – to plan for export success

     Mark Christal, Manager Regions and Entrepreneurship at Enterprise Ireland outlines why developing export activity is of critical importance to Ireland.

    That includes export activity for businesses of all sizes, including small and medium ones as well as micro businesses which employ fewer than 10 people. It includes businesses already in operation and start-ups too because, put simply, Ireland needs to export more.

    An OECD report in 2019 found that just 6.3% of Irish businesses exported and suggested that it needs to be closer to 10% if Ireland is to have the resilience we require in our enterprise base. That was before Covid-19 which has greatly increased our exposure to risk.

     

    Export Compass webinar series

    Being a small business is no impediment to export success but preparation is key. Because developing exports is an important strategic objective of Enterprise Ireland, it has partnered with the Local Enterprise Office network to launch a new webinar series called Export Compass.

    This online series is completely free and is open to all companies.  As well as expert advice it features small business owners willing to share the benefit of their experience in terms of tips for success and pitfalls to avoid.  

    The webinars are tailored to suit micro and SME businesses who are either just starting out or who wish to grow an existing business through export sales.

    There are five webinars in the series, with each covering practical advice on specific issues including assessing your reasons for exporting – or not, choosing the right market and identifying customers within it.  

    Understanding business culture in your priority markets is vital too and the series includes representatives from some of Enterprise Ireland’s 40 overseas offices.

    While the pandemic has created massive challenges, it has also accelerated the adoption of digital business practices. It is now the norm to seek and win new business overseas entirely online, a fact which presents Irish businesses with enormous opportunities. 

    The Export Compass webinar series outlines tools and techniques to help win export customers in a digital world. It also provides information about the funding and finance options available as you prepare and execute your export plan.

    Research is vital. Developing exports has never been less about jumping on a plane, but about developing a strategy and putting the necessary structures in place first, including management capacity.

    Businesses are already mindful of how, as a result of Brexit, there are now additional costs involved in trading with the UK, the Irish exporter’s traditional first port of call.

    Some 31% of export sales by Enterprise Ireland clients still go to the UK and it will remain an important trading partner, but the webinar series also looks at the opportunities that exist across the Eurozone. It is a market to which we still have unfettered access and which, at a population of almost 450m, is still huge.

    Over the past 12 months we have all seen a dramatic digital shift in the way consumers and businesses buy. Despite the challenges, the pace at which the global digital economy is opening up is generating enormous opportunities.

    Helping businesses to realise their export potential is the cornerstone of both Enterprise Ireland’s and the wider government’s strategy. Last month’s report of the SME Taskforce reiterated this, highlighting the need to support all potential exporters, including micro businesses.

    That is because our resilience – and our growth – will come from an ability to achieve export success, both as companies and as a country.  Global exports hold the key to growing our economy and our employment levels.

    We need to encourage as many companies as possible on the road to export success. The Export Compass webinars is a good place to start.

    The 5-part series will look at:

    1. What is the basis of your export plan? Where in the world you might export?
    2. Who is your ideal customer? Culture and doing business in other countries
    3. How to prepare for export. Sales and marketing to win export customers in a digital world
    4. How to finance your export plan. Finance management through funding and pricing
    5. Bringing it all together. Q&A session

     

    A version of this article was previously published in the Sunday Independent

     

    Cutting costs and reducing food waste: Positive Carbon’s solution for the hotel industry

    We are all becoming more and more aware of our impact on the world, yet when it comes to business, profit often takes precedence. But if you can form a business that makes profit and helps the environment – then you’re onto a winner.

    This year, Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund (CSF) is encouraging applications from eligible companies that address the challenges and opportunities relating to climate change. “It’s really exciting to see more environmentally focused businesses coming through,” says Aisling Kirwan, co-founder and Director of Operations at Positive Carbon, a recent recipient of funding through the CSF. “If you can bring together a business model while answering environmental concerns, it’s a win-win. And people are becoming more aware of the consequences of their actions and their impact on the world around them.”

    Positive Carbon is a great example of a business looking to have a positive impact on the environment with a product that saves money for their customers. Aimed at the hotel market, Positive Carbon manufactures a solution to reduce food waste in as simple a way as possible.

    “From research, we found that hotels were the biggest wasters of food by far,” Aisling explains. “From talking to chefs and getting feedback from general managers, we came up with a solution that we thought would work the best in a busy kitchen, with the aim of halving food waste. A hotel, on average, spends €200,000 a year on food that ends up in the bin; if we can halve this, we can help the hotel save money while reducing the environmental impact of the waste.

    “Our solution is a fully automated food waste monitoring system. A weighing scales fits under any bin in any kitchen and sitting alongside that is a camera that looks directly into the bin. When waste is thrown into the bin, the scales weighs it while the camera takes a picture for identification. All of that information is collected and displayed for the client, so they can see exactly what is being thrown away. For instance, the information might reveal that 13 kilos of chicken was thrown away today – this clearly needs addressing. Avoidable food waste accounts for 66% of the waste in hotels, and with functions, that number shoots up to 87% – it’s an absolutely massive amount of waste, both food and money.

    The United Nations has said that if we can reduce food waste, this is the single most effective thing we can do to reduce CO2 – and it’s such a quick and easy and achievable fix.says Kirwan.

     

    CSF applications – a demanding, but rewarding process

    With a background in the food waste industry working with innovative companies such as FoodCloud, Aisling and her co-founder Mark Kirwan first applied to Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme to see if their solution to reduce food waste could become a viable business; Positive Carbon then opened for business in May 2020.

    “The CSF felt like the logical next step for us,” says Aisling. 

    “We used the funds mostly for product development, to bring out a new version of the product, and then to upscale manufacturing as we are bringing onboard a number of new hotels over the next few months.

    “I’m also taking part in the Innovate programme as part of that, the three-month accelerator programme for women entrepreneurs delivered by Dublin Business Innovation Centre in partnership with Enterprise Ireland, which has been really great. It’s good to be in an environment where you can talk about any issues or thrash out solutions.”

    Like many other CSF recipients, Aisling says the application process was a rewarding exercise. “I definitely wouldn’t say it was easy! There are a lot of different stages to it, but it was also very enjoyable. It made us really think what we were trying to achieve in our business, get that down on paper and then be able to pitch our plan to a panel as well – and to be confident enough to answer questions. It’s definitely a demanding process but you get a lot out of it as well.”

     

    Covid – time to prepare

    Launching a new business during the Covid-19 pandemic certainly brings its challenges but for Positive Carbon it also gave them time to prepare. “With Covid-19 limiting hotel business, we’ve had the chance to sit down with general managers for a chat about our product,” says Aisling. “People are so generous with their time; it’s nerve-wracking to call up someone out of the blue but people are happy to talk to you and give you really valuable advice and feedback.”

    Aisling says that the reaction from the industry has been positive – and no wonder, as this product has the potential to save businesses a massive amount of money, something that the beleaguered hotel industry will welcome. “After such a difficult year, hotels are excited to try new things. Food waste is such an unnecessary cost – and it’s not just the cost of the food itself, it’s the cost of the staff time in prepping, cooking and storing the food. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimates that when you take in all the factors involved in food waste, the true cost is €5,000 a ton.”

    Looking to the future, the team at Positive Carbon is gearing up for a busy year. “We have our first product live in the Grand Hotel in Malahide; once everything is back open, that will be fully operational. We also have four independent hotels and a hotel group interested in starting in the next couple of weeks. So we’ll be busy!

    “We’ve come a long way in the last few months, and that’s with the support of Enterprise Ireland and the CSF.” says Kirwan.

    Apply for Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund – find the application form and eligibility criteria here.

     

    The Future of Digital Transformation in US Dairy – webinar

    The COVID-19 pandemic, price volatility, and the drive towards sustainability in dairy farming means that farmers, processers, and haulers now have different needs and challenges. In a time when digital solutions are in increasing demand in the US dairy sector, innovative Irish companies have proven that they have the answers.

    Building on our strong reputation in dairy, Irish companies have developed products that are trusted by a wide range of end users in the US, from individual farms and haulers to large multinationals like Danone North America and Agrimark. Digital innovation has played a central role, as the US dairy industry seeks to modernise and automate, smoothing out processing inefficiencies and safety concerns. In leveraging digital, Irish companies can win in the space, by delivering scalable solutions that offer improvements across the entire value chain.

    One example is Piper Systems, which recently won FDA approval for their Dynastream product – the only system approved by the NCWM authority as a legal for-payment device across the USA. Piper’s ability to deliver accurate weights and temperatures, fully representative samples, and real time product data and traceability results in a streamlined milk collection process, making it safer, easier, and more efficient.

    Click below for a discussion on the US Dairy sector and its increased need for digital solutions with insights from:

    • Robert Troy TD, Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation
    • Director of Milk Quality for Danone North America, Jennifer Walker DVM, Ph.D.
    • Leigh Hamilton, CEO of Piper Systems

    Our webinar reflects on:

    • Opportunities and priorities for Irish companies entering the US agri/dairy sector
    • Trends and macro issues affecting US dairy
    • Importance of traceability in supply chains
    • US Demand for increased technology solutions in food safety and the impact of this along the entire value chain

    For key discussion points see the below timings:

     

    1:05 : Introduction from Minister Troy

    13:40: How has the US Dairy sector has changed in recent years?

    16:55: Dr. Walker on how digitisation has transformed ‘troubleshooting’ on-farm issues

    19:25: What makes the milk collection process a great fit for digitisation?

    23:30: What is more important to US customers – improving milk quality or process efficiency?

    27:10: Digitising the dairy value chain and the importance of traceability to build consumer trust

    34:00: The rise of automation and future data applications in Dairytech

    37:50: How better data will change dairy forecasting and logistics

    40:45: The importance of sustainability in dairy – how to ‘make sure consumers feel good about choosing dairy’

    43:50: How industry will act as a catalyst for positive change in dairy

    46:30: Q&A – How should Irish companies approach US dairy companies?

    49:00: Q&A – What is holding back the adoption of technology in US dairy?

    The New UK – Succeeding in a Changing Market

    The UK Market is evolving. Irish companies are demonstrating incredible resilience in adapting to a changing landscape and are now looking to the future. Join our webinar on February 11th at 9am ‘The New UK: Succeeding in a Changing Market’.

    During this webinar we will be joined by a panel of guests to explore changes underway in the UK and Ireland’s unique relationship with this major market on our doorstep. Panellists include:

    • Julie Sinnamon, CEO Enterprise Ireland
    • Adrian O’Neill, Ambassador of Ireland to the United Kingdom
    • Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester
    • Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region

    The CEO of Simon-Kucher & Partners, a leading global consultancy specialising in top-line growth strategies, will share his insights on how to succeed in this new world and profit levers to consider.

    The webinar will also see CEOs from a range of Irish companies including Dublin AerospaceEI ElectronicsVRAIEPS, and Gifts Direct/The Irish Store, sharing their UK growth strategies – inspiring others with growth ambition.

    Register to view our on-demand webinar.