In another clue that the great pre-election giveaway is well underway, the government has launched a voucher scheme for firms to "become more innovative".
Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Micheal Martin implemented a recommendation of the Small Business Forum in the guise of a €10m fund to assist smaller enterprises become more innovative. In effect this means they can apply for a voucher - worth €5,000 and administered by Enterprise Ireland - which can be cashed in to buy in specialist, outside knowledge from public bodies such as universities and the regional Institutes of Technology.
Minister Martin also outlined details of a network of Competence Centres designed to foster links between companies with high-level R&D spend and trained researchers.
"Innovation Vouchers are the push that many small Irish companies need to explore what part they can play in building our knowledge-led economy," said Minister Martin. "This is a great opportunity for small companies to take part not only in the Irish pilot of this innovation creation exercise, but to be amongst the first small companies in Europe to take this step."
The voucher scheme begins on Wednesday and companies with a business opportunity or problem they believe may be assisted by outside specialist advice must apply for one of the 200 freebies from Enterprise Ireland by 30 April. The scheme is modeled on a similar project in the Netherlands and it is hoped will open doors to the great repositories of academic research, particularly high-tech knowledge, to firms who would rarely spend more than €100,000 on research and design projects per annum.
Any small company in Ireland, in any sector can apply for a voucher and Enterprise Ireland has set up a dedicated website where applications can be made.
Meanwhile, the newly-announced Competence Centres will encourage dialogue between research-driven businesses and academic researchers.
"There are clear benefits in bringing together companies that have similar research problems and teaming them with highly-qualified researchers to produce new technologies," said Minister Martin. "Through their collaborative research, Competence Centres will break through the technology barriers, bring their results to market and deliver a competitive advantage to Irish industry.
"Not only will the companies participating in these centres benefit from the shared intellectual property and research produced, but Ireland's economy will benefit in terms of knowledge generated and retained in this country, knowledge that currently is generated overseas," he added.
Minister Martin also highlighted the fact that the Competence Centre initiative is the first major research initiative that involves all the State industrial research and development agencies, working together under the auspices of Technology Ireland.
"I am delighted to see the Competence Centres and Innovation Vouchers initiatives come to fruition as they are two key measures outlined in the Strategy for Science Technology and Innovation," the Minister concluded.
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