Unifying innovation

Business, Technology | Sat 15 Jun | Author – Business & Finance
Maire Geoghegan-Quinn

Irish companies should look carefully at future EU research funding opportunities, says European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Màire Geoghegan-Quinn.

Of the €488mn the Republic of Ireland has drawn down from the seventh EU Research and Technological Framework Programme (FP7) 2007-2013, €115mn has gone to 285 Irish-based companies.

In essence, this EU initiative better known as FP7, financially backs research activity in a number of different economic disciplines.

Policy sectors supported include agriculture, transport, health, energy, security, space, industrial services, environmental measures and the information, communications and technology industry.

Examples of successful Irish participation within the FP7 EU programme include:

  • – The Aquaserver initiative providing innovative water treatment and heat recovery systems that would be suitable for cost effective installation in 90% of European households.

  • – The Mush TV project putting in place solutions for emerging disease threats to the mushroom industry.

  • – Rampaware developing robust cost-effective collision awareness systems for ground support equipment operating on airport ramps.

  • – Climawinda demonstrating the effectiveness and commercial potential of particular new windows for energy efficiency purposes in buildings.

  • – The Wavebob project converting ocean energy into electricity.

  • – The RoseI initiative providing robust sheep electronic identification measures.

Horizon 2020 is the next EU instrument that will support the research, innovation and science sectors in Europe during the period 2014-2020.At the heart of Horizon 2020 is the need to simplify how future beneficiaries can draw down funding opportunities to support their business plans.

The EU intends to reduce the application process from the point of application to the commencement of a Horizon 2020 project from the current 350 days to 250.

By making EU research funding simpler and more coherent, Horizon 2020 will also be more user-friendly and open to new participants.

In particular, a special instrument for small and medium sized companies will be part of Horizon 2020. This will include both debt and equity components that will be facilitated through the operational structures of the European Investment Bank and the European Investment Fund.

Of course the European Union backs the need to support both basic and applied scientific effort. But we have to put in place the structures that will guarantee the translation of new research advances into innovative goods and services that will positively serve the needs of society.

This will ensure for example that we can build more energy efficient networks and cleaner transport infrastructures, protect future food supplies and tackle chronic diseases.

And one of the ways to achieve these objectives is by ensuring that both the private and public sectors work together in developing new products and services. That is why a range of public-private actions are being supported by the European Union.

Areas that are part of this policy framework include developing new innovative medicines, replacing petrol cars, building more environmentally friendly aircraft and ensuring that more practical applications from the use of the internet are materialised.

Under Horizon 2020, new public-private partnerships will be launched in the areas of robotics, bio-based products and the low carbon energy sector.

Direct financial support structures for the research and science sectors must also be complemented by a series of broader policy initiatives that will guarantee that a proper innovation eco-system in Europe can flourish and prosper.

Key elements of Innovation Union, which is a cornerstone of the Europe 2020 strategy include the following measures:

  1. 1) The enactment of a new unitary patent in 25 of the 27 EU Member States (excluding Spain and Italy). This new unitary patent will substantially reduce the cost of patenting in Europe and will be particularly helpful to small and medium sized companies. At the moment, it costs SMEs 20 times more to patent a new product in Europe than it does in the United States of America.
  1. 2) Ensuring that the public procurement sector, which comprises 17% of GDP within the EU, supports innovative small and medium sized companies. This would include replicating, to some extent in Europe, the US Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programme that incentivises innovative SMEs through its public procurement policies.
  1. 3) Building a stronger venture capital base in Europe that will financially back, to a greater extent, companies working in the fields of research & development, innovation and science. GDP support from the private sector for the research & development areas in Europe stands only at 1.15% per annum. This level of financial commitment falls behind other countries such as the USA and South Korea.
  1. 4) Developing appropriate standards for new and evolving technologies as they are brought into the marketplace.
  1. 5) We cannot develop a thriving innovation environment in a vacuum. The programmes we implement to achieve this goal must be fully integrated.

That is why the policy of supporting research, innovation and science is a cornerstone of EU economic strategy for the future.

I believe that there are many opportunities for companies based in Ireland to engage more actively in Horizon 2020 over the next seven year period than they have during the course of FP7.

I would urge such enterprises to look very carefully at the annual call for proposals under Horizon 2020 to see how such participation can be improved.