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Why Irish innovation will come out of the pandemic stronger than before

Ireland is set to emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever, thanks to the development of pioneering technologies supported by its Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund (DTIF).

This major €500 million Government-backed funding initiative, which is run by Enterprise Ireland, is designed to drive collaboration between Ireland’s world-class research base and industry.

It enables enterprises to compete directly for large scale funding, worth millions of Euros, to support the development and adoption of the ground-breaking technologies of the future.

The purpose of DTIF is to drive collaboration between Ireland’s world-class research base and industry, facilitating enterprises to compete directly for funding in support of the development and deployment of disruptive and innovative technologies on a commercial basis.

Because the funding is matched by the private sector, the DTIF both provides – and unlocks – large scale, multi-million Euro investments in the development and deployment of commercially viable disruptive technologies. It does this year after year.

Annual call for creative disruption

DTIF funding calls are made annually. This year, in April, the Irish government announced the latest tranche of ground-breaking projects to be supported by the DTIF, spanning areas such life sciences, medical devices, ICT, artificial intelligence, manufacturing and environmental sustainability.

In all, 29 major new projects secured funding worth €95 million. These include new technologies for sub-sea robotic drilling, for smart factory safety and radically more energy efficient industrial heating and cooling systems.

It’s a broad-church funding approach that spans everything from a new platform to improve productivity on construction sites, to new monitoring tools to improve outcomes for new-born babies.

This year’s round of investment brings the total Government funding awarded under three DTIF calls to date to €235m, across 72 projects and 270 project partners.

Post pandemic resilience

The high level of DTIF funding demonstrates the Irish Government’s commitment to investing in a stronger and more resilient post-pandemic economy.

All DTIF-funded projects involve collaborations of between three and eight partners including SMEs, multinational corporations and research organisations. Of 111 collaboration partners involved in the current call, 62 are SMEs. In 22 cases SMEs are project leads.

Funding successes to date include an adhesive to help knit broken bones together following fracture; the use of artificially intelligent drones to detect drug smuggling; and the development of a robotic drilling system suitable for offshore wind plant construction.

All projects selected for DTIF funding have game-changing potential, whether they use nanotechnology to reduce carbon emissions by 40% in industrial heating or AI to help identify early-stage cancer patients.

They also fall under the Irish government’s research priorities. These include robotics, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, health and wellbeing, as well as smart and sustainable food production and processing, and smart manufacturing.

Priorities also include innovations which help decarbonise the energy system and promote sustainable living.

Rigorous independent evaluation

Securing DTIF funding is a competitive process. Applications go through an intensive evaluation process involving remote screening and interviews by panels of international experts.

These are charged with seeking out only those projects with a strong enterprise agenda that can demonstrate commercial impacts within three to seven years of project completion, and which are seeking minimum DTIF-matched funding of €1.5 million.

“This is large scale funding for the kind of ground-breaking technologies that will enable us to come out of the pandemic stronger than before,” says Imelda Lambkin, manager Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund at Enterprise Ireland.

The DTIF opened in 2018 and is due to run for 10 years as part of Ireland’s National Development Plan.  Because the initiative is 50% co-funded by the project partners, it leverages substantial private sector investment.

Among the largest awards to date is €7m to a consortium including Relevium Medical, HiTech Health and the National University of Ireland Galway for a regenerative treatment for knee osteoarthritis using a hydrogen based therapeutic.

“We fund collaborative research which includes SMEs working with other SMEs, or with multinational companies, as well as academic researchers, all coming together to develop disruptive technologies,” she explains.

“These are technologies we define as having the potential to either alter the market or the way we live. By coming together like this they can create something bigger and better.”

A seal of approval

The competitive DTIF process forces applicants to make their case not just for the work they are doing, but demonstrate “why they are doing it, why this team, and why now?” says Lambkin.

“They must also demonstrate the strength of the disruptive technology; the excellence of their approach; the potential for market impact; the quality of the collaboration and the impact of the project on sustainability too.”

Each year’s applications are whittled down to only the most disruptive, with the most potential and the greatest prospects for commercial success.

The whole competitive process helps to foster innovation and collaboration across Ireland’s research landscape, from small innovative start ups to large multinationals and academic researchers, deepening the links connecting Ireland’s innovation eco-system.

Successful project teams often go on to success at European level. “Securing DTIF funding is like a seal of approval,” explains Lambkin.

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