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

     

    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

    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.

    Supporting Regional Development Critical To Future Jobs Growth

     

    Resilience is a word we became used to in 2020 and it is an apt term to describe how Irish business responded to the dual challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and the end of the Brexit transition period.

    For thousands of businesses across Ireland, and their staff, it has been a tough, challenging year marked by disruption and uncertainty. But what has been remarkable is how Irish businesses have responded to the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit.

    At Enterprise Ireland we work closely with the Irish manufacturing, export and internationally traded services sector.  We invest in established companies and start-ups, we assist companies to begin exporting or expand into new markets and we back research and development projects creating future jobs.

    This week we launched our annual review for 2020.  The good news is that the companies we are proud to support employ more than 220,000 in Ireland.  Despite the challenges faced in last year, nearly 16,500 new jobs were created, closely mirroring the 2019 outturn.

    However, job losses were significantly higher than in previous years, resulting in a net reduction of 872 jobs across the companies we support.

    There is no sugar coating the fact that it was a tough year for business.  However, behind these statistics are individual stories of companies taking brave decisions to change their business model, reimagine their product offering and find new ways of doing business and connecting with customers to trade through the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit.

    Enterprise Ireland has worked with these companies throughout the year to ensure viable companies have the liquidity, supports and advice they need to trade, and importantly, to sustain jobs.

    Enterprise Ireland supported companies have a key role in the Irish economy.  65% of employment is outside the Dublin region and these indigenous Irish companies, many of which are world leaders in their field, are critical to delivering balanced regional economic development.

    Powering the Regions is Enterprise Ireland’s strategy for regional development.  It outlines specific plans for each region in the country, drawing on their existing enterprise base, their connections with third level institutions and their unique potential for growth.

    The strategy is backed significant funding.  This time last year more than €40m was allocated, in a competitive call, to 26 projects fostering regional entrepreneurship and job creation.

    These included the Future Mobility Campus Ireland, based in Clare, which explores the potential of autonomous, connected and electric vehicles, UCDNova’s Ag Tech innovation centre in Kildare and the Clermont Hub in Wicklow which focuses on content creation and draws on the region’s established film and audio/visual track record.  The 26 projects were supported under the Regional Enterprise Development Fund, which has seen €100m invested in similar projects since 2017.

    Given the potential impact of Brexit, particularly in the Border region, 11 similar projects designed to cluster expertise and innovation were supported with €17m in support under the Border Enterprise Development Fund in 2020.

    These were strategic initiatives, closely linked to government regional policy, with a medium to long-term focus on supporting regional enterprise.

    However, due to Covid-19, Enterprise Ireland moved last year to provide more agile interventions to regional businesses assist them to reset and recover.

    Ensuring that viable companies had the access to finance was an important necessity.  Through the government-backed ‘Sustaining Enterprise Scheme’ Enterprise Ireland allocated €124m last year to support more than 400 companies employing more than 10,000 people.  The majority of this funding went to regionally based companies.

    Similarly, €8.2m in funding for 95 enterprise centres, which are critical to the start-up ecosystem and future job growth regionally, was made available in September.

    Retail business across Ireland also benefitted from the Online Retail Scheme which saw 330 retailers allocated €11.8m in funding to enhance their online offering, reach new customers and increase sales.

    Through a mix of strategic funding aimed at long-term enterprise development and more agile funding supports Enterprise Ireland has helped to sustain jobs throughout Ireland in 2020.  We’ve also supported those sectors, such as cleantech, construction and life sciences which continued to grow and create jobs last year.

    The pandemic will have lasting effects including how we work and where we work.  Many of these long-term changes can complement strong local and regional economies.  A key element of the Powering The Regions strategy was the potential of remote working and co-working hubs that Enterprise Ireland is committed to developing with our partners.  That potential has been accelerated by the changing work patterns evidenced in the past year. Now, more than ever, having a strategic approach to enterprise development is vital, and Enterprise Ireland looks forward to the role it can play as we recover and build for the future.

    By Mark Christal, Manager, Regions and Entrepreneurship at Enterprise Ireland.

    New African Dawn: Launch of the Continental Free Trade Agreement

    A new year usually brings with it hope, optimism and new resolutions. The first two weeks of 2021 have however been fraught with the on-going pandemic, Britain’s exit from the EU and increased protectionism and populism around the globe. In marked contrast with this tone, one continent is pushing forward with hope, optimism and new resolutions.

    The first of January 2021 saw the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). This milestone agreement strives for greater trade cooperation on the continent. The aim is to bring together 1.3 billion people in a $3.4-trillion economic bloc that will be the largest free trade area since the establishment of the World Trade Organization. This agreement comes into force, with support from 54 of the 55 countries recognised by the African Union (Eritrea being the sole exception) is a hugely positive move.

    The Agreement establishing the AfCFTA was signed in March 2018 and of the 54 Member States of the African Union that have signed, 30 countries have deposited their instruments of ratification with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

    The main objectives of the AfCFTA are to create a single market for goods and services, facilitate the movement of persons, promote industrial development and sustainable and inclusive socio-economic growth, and resolve the issue of multiple memberships, in accordance with the African Union’s Agenda 2063. The agreement lays a solid foundation for the establishment of a Continental Common Market.

    AfCFTA presents a significant opportunity to boost intra-regional trade as well as increase Africa’s negotiating position on the international stage. Intra-African trade has always been relatively low. In 2019, only 15% of Africa’s $560-billion worth of imports came from the continent – compare this with a figure of 68% in the European Union (UNCTAD).

    In addition, many African nations have struggled to develop better-enabling environments for attracting investment and it should follow that this agreement will help to make the continent an increasingly attractive location for foreign companies seeking to penetrate its huge market potential.

    This landmark agreement is off the starting block but there is much to be negotiated to reach the desired goal of #OneAfricanMarket.

    Under AfCFTA trading, with an aim to eliminate export tariffs on 97% of goods traded on the continent, tariffs on various commodities where rules of origin have been agreed will be drastically reduced and businesses of all sizes will have access to a much bigger market than they used to before. Non-tariff barriers (NTBs) to trade will also be addressed and a mechanism for reporting of NTBs has been put in place (www.tradebarriers.africa).

    In parallel to the AfCFTA, the African Union has also introduced the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons.

    Though it will be years before the AfCFTA is fully implemented, the significant steps that have been taken to get the agreement to this point should not be underestimated, particularly in the current difficult global environment. Increasing prosperity on the African continent will ensure that it continues to be a continent of great interest to Irish exporters.

    Enterprise Ireland has been assisting Irish companies to navigate the Sub-Saharan African market through our office in Johannesburg, along with an established and growing network of industry specialists across the continent. Contact us to learn more about the opportunities for your business in this growing export destination.

    Nicola Kelly, Senior Market Advisor, Middle East, Africa & India

    Irish tech and expertise to help drive global offshore wind growth

    The global energy system is undergoing rapid changes, with renewable energy comprising an ever-increasing share of the electricity grid.

    One of the key technologies leading the charge is offshore wind, with the UK leading the global market in 2021. The UK’s ambitious 2030 offshore wind generation targets mark it out as an international leader, with many countries, including Ireland, now following their lead with their own progressive 2030 targets.

    Globally, Bloomberg New Energy Finance recently reported a 19% annual growth rate in offshore wind, faster than any other industry.

    In response, Enterprise Ireland established an offshore wind cluster to identify and work with the key Irish companies with the capability to support the industry’s growth.  Launched in early 2019, the cluster now numbers over 50 companies. Its members have made substantial progress securing contracts with the UK offshore wind industry, tackling the sector’s most urgent technology challenges and identifying collaboration and innovation opportunities with fellow cluster members.

    Cluster Launch and Irish Capability

    The cluster was formally launched during the inaugural Enterprise Ireland Offshore Wind Forum in March 2019, which brought together over 120 Irish and UK industry delegates. The forum followed the completion of supply chain mapping exercises undertaken by Enterprise Ireland’s cluster leaders, Darragh Cotter and Liam Curran, in which over 80 Irish companies with the potential to supply the offshore wind industry were identified. Key Irish strengths stand out in the areas of IoT, big data, robotics and wireless communications with Ireland’s strong track record in engineering consultancy—particularly marine, geotechnical and electrical engineering—also identified as a key supply chain offering. The scoping exercises also unearthed Irish companies with the ability to pivot into offshore wind from areas such as onshore wind and vessel services.

    “Irish companies offer highly skilled and specialised services to the offshore wind industry,” says Darragh Cotter, Senior Market Advisor in EI’s London office.

    “We have to lean into our strengths and box clever. We have a clear understanding of where Irish companies add value. By focusing on existing national skills, we can make strong inroads into the offshore wind industry.”.

    While the industry cluster promotes Irish capability to the global industry, the cluster also facilitates collaboration amongst Irish companies. “Companies get to know each other and their respective strengths, they identify areas where they can work together and supplement each other’s offers. Fostering collaboration is vital to the ongoing success of the cluster,” according to Liam Curran, Senior Technologist with Enterprise Ireland.

    Enterprise Ireland hopes to hold its next in-person Offshore Wind Forum at the end of 2021 to showcase Irish SME capability to a range of international and domestic stakeholders.

    Cluster initiatives

    Key to the success of the cluster is a collective understanding of how the industry operates, its procurement practices, key technological trends, and cost reduction drivers. Enterprise Ireland has enacted several initiatives to increase awareness amongst Irish SMEs. Activities have included;

     

    • Offshore wind insights programme: This mentorship programme, run from Enterprise Ireland’s London office, links Irish companies with UK industry experts. The mentors work one-to-one with companies to provide strategic direction.

     

    • Market study visits:Visits to key UK offshore wind hubs to increase member’s industry knowledge and to build important supply chain connections.

     

    • Industry Exhibitions:In October 2020, Enterprise Ireland and eight Irish companies virtually exhibited at Global Offshore Wind, which gathered over 400 speakers and exhibitors from across the industry.

     

    Offshore wind cluster companies support over 4,000 jobs in Ireland. Export opportunities, combined with the development of Irish offshore wind, creates a strong regional employment opportunity. “We have seen coastal communities internationally pivot their local marine experience to the Operations and Maintenance phase of a project and Irish coastal communities can do likewise. SSE, for example, have designated Arklow as their O&M base for their Arklow Bank project and anticipate employing 70 people locally” commented Liam Curran.

    For now, the immediate focus for the cluster are the established export opportunities in markets like the UK. “Irish companies are increasingly successful internationally. This experience will be crucial to the success of Irish offshore wind and increasing Irish jobs in the sector over the coming decade” noted Darragh Cotter.

    Conor O’Donovan: Brexit disruption can be offset by Look for Local campaign

    Thousands of Irish companies have been availing of the opportunity to promote their business through the Look for Local campaign, which was launched in November by the Local Enterprise Offices

    Backed by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in partnership with Enterprise Ireland and the local authorities, the Look for Local campaign aims to highlight small Irish businesses in every sector, asking individuals to support businesses in their locality when looking for goods or services.

    “The campaign is tapping into the deep well of goodwill towards local businesses that exists in communities throughout Ireland,” says Conor O’Donovan, head of global marketing and corporate communications at Enterprise Ireland. “Local companies across a range of sectors are featured on the Local Enterprise LookforLocal website.

    “It is supported by national and local advertising and marketing,” he adds.

    “We want to try and encourage more consumers and businesses to look local if they require goods or services in the period ahead.”

    He advises any small business which wants to be featured on the LookforLocal website to contact their local LEO to make arrangements.

    “More than 4,200 businesses are benefiting from the campaign which has generated excellent traction online after just a few weeks.”

    The campaign is of particular relevance to companies which have pivoted and changed their business models during the year in response to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Since January, the LEOs have approved over 11,000 Trading Online Vouchers for small Irish businesses, helping them to establish an online trading presence, or adapt it, under the National Digital Strategy.

    In addition, 330 retailers have been approved for €11.8m in funding as part of the government’s Covid-19 Online Retail Scheme, which is administered by Enterprise Ireland. The scheme is targeted at retailers which are looking to enhance their current online presence.

    An online presence is also increasingly important for exporters. “A trend we’ve been seeing is that international buyers will search online before making contact with a potential supplier. It’s essential that Irish exporters have strong online visibility.”

    Many small local exporting companies will now have to contend with the additional disruption caused by Brexit.

    A key Brexit mitigation strategy for exporting firms is market diversification and the Enterprise Ireland Irish Advantage website offers them a shop window to buyers across the world to aid them in its execution.

    Exporters and potential exporters interested in being promoted on the Irish Advantage website should contact Enterprise Ireland or their Local Enterprise Office,” he said.

    O’Donovan also advises businesses to visit Enterprise Ireland’s Prepare for Brexit website.

    “The site is full of resources and information to help businesses get ready for Brexit.

    “On January 1 the UK will become a third country as far as trade with the EU is concerned. The Brexit Readiness Checker will take you through all the essential steps to take, including customs,” he says.

    “Revenue has estimated that customs declarations will increase from 1.2 million a year at present to 20 million a year. There has been a massive uptick in visits to the site in recent months. The message is getting through that being better-informed means being better prepared and that makes for better outcomes.”

    Irish companies are, by and large, retaining their existing overseas contracts, but new contracts are down this year as a result of Covid-19.

    “Exporters can’t jump on planes or trains or go to trade shows, so we are facilitating them to connect with new buyers online and encouraging them to avail of funding, advisory and innovation supports available from both Enterprise Ireland and LEOs”, he said.

    And there is a high degree of awareness of those supports. “That was one of the very encouraging findings of some recent Department of Finance research,” says O’Donovan.

    “Almost 90pc of SMEs are aware of Enterprise Ireland supports and initiatives while over 80pc are aware of what’s available from the LEOs. That awareness will be of critical importance as we strive to help Irish companies become more innovative, competitive and diversified in order to succeed and take advantage of the opportunities that will arise in the coming year and beyond.”