Knowledge transfer partnerships deliver big boost to Irish economy

RESEARCHERS in Ireland’s third-level colleges are increasingly engaging with companies seeking to develop new products or boost their efficiency.

Knowledge transfer partnerships deliver big boost to Irish economy

RESEARCHERS in Ireland’s third-level colleges are increasingly engaging with companies seeking to develop new products or boost their efficiency.

The Knowledge Transfer Ireland’s (KTI) 2018 Review shows that new licences are up 33%, active industry research collaborations are up 38%, college spinouts are up 42%, and Ireland’s global research reputation is soaring. State body KTI is in operation five years, acting as a link between industry and colleges. Its website also shows companies how to access State funding to ease the cost of accessing research knowledge.

Beyond the numbers, however, the key benefit for Irish society lies in holding on to research and development work that could easily leave these shores. Some of the individual companies’ stories show the many benefits of knowledge transfer.

Powervation is a UL spinout company formed in 2006. It was acquired by Japanese firm ROHM in 2015 for $70m in an all-cash transaction. ROHM Powervation now employs around 30 or 40 staff at its Cork base.

InfiniLED Oculus was a spinout company from UCC’s Tyndall Institute in the field of AR/VR (augmented and virtual reality). It was acquired by Facebook-owned company Oculus and the technology is used to develop and make virtual reality headsets. Oculus opened an office last year.

Lifes2Good, an Irish SME in the health and beauty sector, connected with Shannon ABC at IT Tralee to research its hair-growth product, Viviscal. The Viviscal brand was sold as a subsidiary to Church & Dwight (a division of the Arm & Hammer Group in the US) in a deal worth €150m.

This has opened up discussions between Arm & Hammer and IT Tralee to engage in further research projects. Enterprise Ireland supported the initial research knowledge transfer.

Another great KTI story is the partnering of UCC with Janssen Research & Development, the pharma arm of J&J, with three facilities in Cork. It has developed into a great opportunity for the regions’ research institutions in the region.

“Janssen has worked repeatedly with UCC through APC Microbiome institute on a range of investigative projects, most recently on a project that employed 11 people,” said Dr Alison Campbell, director of KTI. “Over the past five years, Janssen has contracted almost €5m to research collaborations at APC.

“This is not a one-off collaboration. Janssen could see the quality of the research collaboration, the benefits of accessing data analysis, and the ease of engagement.

“Our review shows that there are currently over 1,800 industry collaborations live and ongoing with third-level researchers. That engagement is increasing by about a third every year.

“Some companies are turning to researchers to help them develop new products, but there are many other forms of collaboration. Xtract 360 is an Irish start-up that consulted with UL to develop a new mathematical and statistical model that can be applied across the motor insurance claims sector. This has opened up new potential markets across Europe and the US, positioning the company for growth.”

Rusal Aughinish Alumina, a plant in Limerick which extracts alumina sought the expertise of researchers at MACSI (a network of mathematical modellers and scientific computational analysts based in Ireland) in University of Limerick to develop bespoke systems for them. The company wanted to ensure that the quality of their extracted products would not be affected in the event of a loss of power at their plants. This project resulted in a 200% increase in the accuracy of prediction of product quality, enhancing the overall efficiency and decision-making of the plant.

The industry-research collaborations are growing steadily each year. There was a 33% increase in licences, option agreements and assignment agreements in 2018, the highest number since KTI’s survey began. The majority of licences were signed with Irish companies (76%), of which 61% were with Irish SMEs. Most of the licences were for patents and software.

On average, there are 30 new companies spinning out from Irish research each year.

There were 119 active spinouts (at least three years post-formation) in operation at the end of 2018, primarily in the ICT (35%) and the health and med-tech (27%) sectors.

“This year’s results show that we have developed a strong platform for knowledge transfer in Ireland, that is continuing to mature and evolve. The level of international interest in the Irish system and in KTI has been encouraging. The survey findings confirm the value that enterprise places on accessing Irish research and expertise to drive innovation and the upwards trend in repeat engagements reflects the quality of that experience.

“We also see a continuing move in 2018 from a transactional model between research and industry that requires negotiations for each new project, towards a relationship model, leading to the accelerated translation of research into products. As evidence of this, there were 365 repeat collaborations in 2018, an increase of 19% year-on-year. Our focus will be to build on this momentum of qualitative progress as well as increased volumes.”

The process of knowledge transfer is all about taking that expertise and transforming it into something of commercial or societal gain. KTI is the national office with the role of making it simple for companies to access all the wonderful research going on in Irish universities and other third-level institutions and helping turn it into something beneficial for their business or for society at large.

Essentially, KTI is the conduit between the research and the business, bringing them together.

Business movers

Esme Murphy has been appointed as energy advisor to the retail and leisure sectors with smart energy provider Pinergy. This is a newly created specialist role that will work exclusively with both of these sectors. Esme will be primarily responsible for supporting and advising businesses on how best they can manage, monitor and take control of their energy requirements and costs through the use of Pinergy Smart Energy solutions. She joined Pinergy in 2018 as corporate sales manager for South Dublin, Wicklow and the South East region. She has over 18 years’ experience within the area of sales and account management and has industry expertise in new business development and retention and engagement of new clients. Originally from Bunclody, Co. Wexford, Esme is now living in Dublin. She holds a degree in Business with Recreation Management from WIT.

Niall Murray has been named as business partner with KBC Business Banking, Cork, the digital-first bank which is currently focused on the growth and development of customer relationships in Cork. A Cork native, he brings over 25 years’ experience, having held business development roles in banking across Bank of Scotland Ireland, First Active and AIB. He joins KBC from Vsource, a tech-enabled talent sourcing service where he was VP for customer success and sales operations for the past two years. Niall holds a degree in Financial Services from UCD and holds Professional Banker designation, a diploma and a cert in Financial Services from the Institute of Bankers.

Louise Phelan has joined Phelan Energy Group as group deputy CEO, which is led by her brother Paschal Phelan. Louise left PayPal earlier this year, having spent 13 years as its vice president. She has worked in US multinationals for 30 years. She brings a wealth of business and leadership experience. Formed in 2005, Phelan Energy Group is a solar power producer in 15 countries worldwide. Its vision is to achieve the lowest cost for solar energy in the world. Headquartered in Dublin, the group has invested over US$600m in grid-connected solar plants and has a further US$150m projects under construction. The group has a further pipeline valued at over US$1bn under development. Louise is is a board member of Ryanair and a member of the Voxpro board advisory committee.

Liam Nagle has been named as executive chairman of Norbrook Holdings, upon the completion of the three-year term of Sir Ian Gibson, who will continue on the board as a non-exec director to support a smooth transition. Recently appointed COO, Pat Magner, also joins the board. Liam Nagle will continue in his role as CEO. He joined Norbrook in February 2015 as CEO and has implemented a rolling five-year strategic plan. He brings over 30 years of global business experience, notably as chair of SISK Group’s construction and healthcare groups, 2014-15, having previously been CEO of SISK Group, 2008-14. He has also held senior positions in Bookham Technology, Nortel Networks and Intel.

Colette Sexton has been appointed as associate director in the Public Affairs Division of PR firm Edelman. During her career as a journalist, Colette was a news correspondent with the Sunday Business Post and a political correspondent with The Times, Ireland edition. She brings considerable experience reporting on business and politics as well as a significant professional network to her new role. Edelman’s head of public affairs, Feargal Purcell, said: “Colette’s time in politics and her intuitive understanding of the direction in which Irish society is travelling, means she will be a serious asset to all our clients.” Colette will take up her role as associate director on September 2.

Professor Norelee Kennedy has been appointed as vice president for research (VPR) at University of Limerick. She is an associate professor of physiotherapy and head of School of Allied Health at UL. She will take up the new position in January. She has worked as an academic in UL for over 14 years and as head of School of Allied Health for five years. The Tipperary native graduated from TCD with a BSc Physiotherapy in 1999 and a PhD in 2004. Her research focuses on inflammatory arthritis and physical activity in exercise. The VPR at UL is a member of the executive committee, responsible for Research Support Services and the Technology Transfer Office.

More in this section

Lunchtime News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up

Our Covid-free newsletter brings together some of the best bits from, as chosen by our editor, direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up