‘Innovate or Die’ was the key message delivered by Eamonn Murphy, Professor of Quality and Applied Statistics at the Enterprise Research Centre, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Limerick when he addressed a symposium of Collaborating European SMEs in Limerick today.
Representatives of a number of Ireland’s largest manufacturing firms along with SMEs and leading researchers from all over Europe attended the event, which was officially opened by Mr. Brendan Flood - Enterprise Ireland’s recently appointed Head of Regions and Entrepreneurship.
“Innovation and R&D are central to the operation and competitive success of every Irish SME”, Professor Murphy told those in attendance.
He continued, “The length of time and resources that indigenous companies invest in R&D dictates whether they remain competitive and gain new markets. Therefore, it is imperative that the indigenous business sector is supported and encouraged to participate in such activity, which is pivotal to the survival and success of the sector.”
Professor Murphy indicated that the Irish Government and the European Union, aided by agencies such as Enterprise Ireland and Supply Network Shannon and the third level educational sector, had made significant moves to improve the environment that SMEs work in so as to give them the incentives they require.
“Ultimately, however, it comes down to the companies themselves to pick up the innovation ball and run with it”, he added.
“Irish SMEs have traditionally always had significant innovation and R&D challenges, as they possessed limited resources to invest in new and improved products, skills and technologies. However, in 2007, there are increased resources available to small businesses that wish to develop into medium sized enterprises including various courses and programmes that the third level educational sector is now providing”, Professor Murphy said.
Addressing today’s symposium, Liam Brown, Marketing Chairman of Supply Network Shannon indicated that the recent launch of the €54 billion Seventh EU Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development provided a perfect opportunity for Ireland’s SMEs to invest in innovation and R&D activities.
Mr. Brown’s own specific area of expertise is Nanotechnology, Nanosciences, Materials and New Production Technologies (NMP) of which the total budget is €3.5 billion over the next seven years. The FP7 National Contact Point (NMP) for Enterprise Ireland, continued, “Previously, undercapitalised companies who sought to undertake Research and Development and invest in new technologies ran a serious risk of destroying the wealth they already had instead of generating it. The EU Framework Programme, however, complements the existing R&D and innovation strategies of SMEs, large organisations, third level institutions and research institutes. The key difference between national and EU programmes is that of scale. National projects are typically of the order of magnitude of hundreds of thousands of Euro while EU projects are typically multi million euro projects.”
Researchers in industry received around €40 million from FP6, with Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) accounting for around two thirds of this figure and multinational corporations (MNCs) accounting for the rest. A primary objective of FP7 is to make the programme more attuned to the needs of industry, particularly SMEs and a 15% target has been included for SME participation in collaborative research. It is anticipated that Irish researchers will draw down up to €200 million from FP7.
Mr. Brown added, “To get high level of involvement of Irish industry in FP7 projects, Enterprise Ireland in conjunction with a number of other stage agencies has significantly increased resources in the national framework support unit including appointing a National Director, Dr. Imelda Lambkin. A number of full time national contact points and delegates in the various thematic areas have also been appointed, including Mr. Sean Burke who is tasked with addressing research for the benefit of SMEs.”
Today’s symposium was organised by Supply Network Shannon (SNS), an open sectoral network of engineering and electronics sub supply companies located in the Shannon region. It coincided with a ‘Meet the Buyer’ event, which was supported by InterTrade Ireland and attended by representatives of Ireland’s largest manufacturing firms including Dell, Analog Devices, Bord na Mona, Bombardier, Stryker, Abbott, Schwarz Pharma and Wyeth.
According to Maurice McLernon, Advanced Innovations Ltd. and Chairman of SNS, “Small and medium businesses that attended ‘Meet the Buyer’ event were given the opportunity to address a number of key questions from the buyers. Do your potential customers know what your company could do for them? Is your marketing message reaching the right decision makers? These are questions that must be met with the right answers in an age of increased competition in the marketplace.”
Commenting on today’s symposium and the importance of investing in innovation and R&D activities, Mr. McLernon said, “As a partner in the European Coordination Action (ECO) CodesNet project, Supply Network Shannon - along with the University of Limerick - has contributed three papers on best practice on Collaborative Demand Supply networks and profiled six collaborative networks in the Shannon Region. However, in an increasingly globalised market our competitors are most likely to be in other countries.”
“As a lead partner in the SME Collaborate project, Supply Network Shannon is working with partners in the UK, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Turkey and the Czech Republic. Through collaboration with the right partners SMEs can gain competitive advantage to compete in the market place. The SME Collaborate project aims to develop methodologies to help SMEs to identify and collaborate with suitable partners”, Mr. McLernon concluded.
Since being incorporated as a limited liability company in 1999, Supply Network Shannon (snshannon.com) has introduced a number of initiatives aimed at reinforcing the Shannon region’s position as a world-class source of sub-supply products and services. SNS is driven by a voluntary Steering Committee whose officers are drawn from nine member companies and two development agencies, Shannon Development and Enterprise Ireland. Shannon Development has provided financial resources and other supports to assist the development of SNS. The University of Limerick also supports the Network through the Enterprise Research Centre and Centre of Environmental Research.
- Prof. Eamonn Murphy: Boart Longyear Professor of Quality & Applied Statistics; Research Director, National Centre for Quality Management UL; Research Director, Advanced Manufacturing Tech. Centre, UL.
- Mr. Brendan Flood has served in a variety of Management positions in Enterprise Ireland and he has just returned from London where he held the position of Director UK and Northern Europe. Europe. The Business Studies Graduate of Trinity College Dublin has extensive private sector business experience and was involved in a number of regional development initiatives in emerging economies.