2010 Genesis Enterprise Programme Showcase and Awards Remarks by Micheál Martin T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you, Michael, for your warm introduction. I am always delighted to visit the Cork Institute of Technology and I can think of no better location for the Genesis Enterprise Programme Showcase and Awards. With its award-winning library and world class laboratories, not to mention the College of Art and Design, the School of Music and the National Maritime College, CIT brings together all we have in mind when we talk of innovation and creativity.
At last year’s awards ceremony I spoke at some length about the Lisbon Treaty and how our rejection of the Treaty a few months earlier had led to uncertainty about our future position in Europe. I am glad to say that since we last met that uncertainty has been dispelled – emphatically - by the people who voted in overwhelming numbers in favour of the Treaty in October. The European Union has, of course, made a major contribution to Ireland’s economic and social development.
In the south-west region, for example, a significant number of national road projects were built with part-funding from the European Union. These include the M8 from Fermoy to Mitchelstown, the Watergrasshill by-pass and the Killarney Road inter-change. The European Union will have spent €600 million on research and technological development in Ireland between 2006 and 2013. That works out at about €1 million each week and a significant proportion of that funding is being spent here in this region. The Faculty of Food Science and Technology at UCC, for example, was a major beneficiary under the European Union’s multi-annual research programme.
What appeals to me about the Genesis Programme is the way in which it brings academic centres of excellence such as our hosts, CIT, and UCC together with regional and national organisations such as Enterprise Ireland, the four City and County Enterprise Boards, Udarás na Gaeltachta and the Cork Business Innovation Centre. It is initiatives like these which are at the heart of the Government’s ambition to establish Ireland as an international innovation hub.
Over the last 12 years, I have witnessed the contribution of Genesis as a catalyst for the creation of a vibrant entrepreneurial community in the South West Region which is now delivering Ireland’s development into a Smart Economy. Genesis is a flagship in its commitment to innovation and best practice by continually evolving its unique approach to entrepreneurial development and sharing its approach and experiences with sister programmes in other regions around Ireland.
I know I speak for everyone present when I say how proud we all were to hear the news last week that the Genesis Enterprise Programme was short-listed for the European Union Enterprise Awards this year and it goes without saying that we all wish you every success at the awards ceremony in Madrid in May.
As you know, the goal of the Genesis Programme is to stimulate, foster and accelerate knowledge-based business start-ups in the south-west region. The European Union's new Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan Quinn, reminded us just last week that Europe has to become better at capitalising on its inventions. At national level, our strategy is to ensure world class education, research, innovation and enterprise are inter-dependent and the Genesis Enterprise Programme is to be applauded for creating synergies between these disciplines.
Education is key to the functioning of the economy and to raising standards of living. It is already apparent that, as the world economy recovers, it will be domestic entrepreneurs and start-ups that will create the jobs of the future and the government recognises that the three levers will be the education system, investing in new ideas and creating an entrepreneurial environment. The Genesis Programme is, of course, at the heart of this process.
Earlier this month, the Taoiseach launched the report of the Innovation Task Force. It sets out a vision for Innovation Ireland and puts an emphasis on strengthening knowledge transfers from higher education institutions into industry.
Over recent years our view of innovation has changed and this is recognised in the Innovation Taskforce report. Our perception of innovation as something which is confined to high technology Research and Development in ICT and pharmaceuticals has been transformed.
Innovation is about looking at the ordinary in different ways, about constantly striving for improvement in every element of a business or product, about new forms of collaboration and interaction. The Government’s vision is of a Smart Economy in which all companies, from the smallest start-up to multinational corporations, are supported by an environment which allows them to apply their creativity and connections to develop their business.
To establish the 17 new businesses that are here tonight, the nominees have already had to be innovative in finding new products and services, new ways of delivering their goods, or new markets. But this is just the start of their journey and to continue to grow and succeed, I urge you all to keep innovation at the heart of your business.
This year’s winner of the Genesis Enterprise Programme Alumni Award has clearly embraced these concepts in the development of his very successful enterprise. When Pat Ryan established Abtran with Michael and Gerard Fitzgerald he recognised the value of partnership to securing growth for his company. Last year Abtran announced a €6m investment in its Learning & Innovation Centre. The Centre represents a collaboration with clients, Enterprise Ireland and universities to research new ways of delivering services to the public and customers of its client organisations. I believe that it is this focus on working closely with clients to understand their needs and on developing the skills and creativity of its people that has led Abtran to develop into the largest indigenous business process outsourcer. It has been 10 years in the making and I look forward to seeing how the company grows in the next 10 years. I hope that we can look forward to seeing many more Abtrans being set up here.
To this end one of the recommendations of the taskforce is the establishment of a national undergraduate internship programme with the concerted involvement of industry. Campus start-ups will be key to this innovation ecosystem.
Often we look, with good reason, across the Atlantic for inspiration. 4,800 companies have been born out of research by one institution there, M.I.T. in Boston, and there is no reason why we cannot do the same here.
The participants at the Global Irish Economic Forum, which met in Farmleigh in September, recognised the importance of culture in promoting Ireland abroad and in developing a brand for the country in new markets and, indeed, the Innovation Task Force has also spoken of the role the arts and creative sector can play in positioning Ireland in a new way. So you will forgive me if I quote the poet Derek Mahon, to make my point.
In his wonderful collection, “The Hudson Letter” Mahon created a series of vivid, poignant and at times amusing letters from Irish emigrants in the United States and this one is written to a fictional Mrs. Moore in Inishannon. In it the poet looks with a mixture of awe and wonderment at all that is happening in the United States and then he observes with tongue-in-cheek:
“… Curious their simple faith
that stars and stripes are all of life and death –
as if Earth’s centre lay in Central Park
when we both know it runs thro’ Co. Cork.”
The message, then, is that – yes - in a globalised world we can, and indeed, we should look across the Atlantic and elsewhere for inspiration but there should be no reason why we cannot do it here. We can be the centre of the world or better still a first class centre for fresh thinking. When we speak of Ireland as an innovation hub we mean we want to encourage interaction between C.I.T. and U.C.C. with M.I.T. and a myriad of similar institutions across the globe.
In this new century we need to be part of that conversation. The emigrants Mahon was writing about were on a one-way ticket. Today, the smart economy can put us on a two-way street where we can exchange ideas and find inspiration. Our vision is that the Ireland of the future will be a smart, high value, export-led economy. It will have some of the world’s leading research-intensive multi-nationals, a number of which will be Irish-owned and it will have thousands of innovative small and medium enterprises.
That means we will have to be smart and creative. We have to act local and think global. The Forum at Farmleigh marked a new phase of active and practical engagement between Ireland and our overseas communities, particularly in the business sector. Since that event, the Government has put in place a number of new initiatives, including the Global Irish Network, designed to harness the considerable enthusiasm among participants and their strong willingness to support and assist in building a successful future for Ireland.
When we consider the role the diaspora can play I think we can take some inspiration again from The Hudson Letter when Mahon writes:
“Sometimes at night, in my imagination,
I hear you calling me across the ocean.”
When we have the right ideas and the right products, our prospective partners and customers as well as our friends in the global Irish community will be ready to hear our call.
I have no doubt that the decision to shortlist the Genesis Enterprise Programme for the European Enterprise Awards will enhance our reputation for innovation across the continent. For its part, the government is also working hard and investing heavily in science and research, to build an environment where people turn smart ideas into world class goods and services.
The Finance bill has strengthened the research and development tax credit scheme, which together with research and development grants and the Patent Royalty Exemption, form a suite of measures aimed at encouraging, supporting and promoting Research, Development and Innovation within the country.
Total investment in research and development has trebled in the ten years to 2008 and investment in Higher Education research and development has quadrupled during the same period.
Last year research and development projects represented almost half of all IDA projects approved for the year and were valued at just over €500 million. Indeed, there are currently about 170 IDA supported companies here with a significant research and development mandate which spend approximately €1.7 billion.
As Minister for Foreign affairs I cannot conclude this speech without noting that nearly 50% of successful Genesis graduates are now trading internationally. It can be a difficult move for a small company to take their first step into an overseas market but, as we can see from the experience of Genesis graduates, with the appropriate support it can be a very worthwhile move.
My Department has a network of Embassies and Missions around the world which are tasked with supporting your growth and development in overseas markets. Embassies overseas can often provide valuable information on local economic and cultural practices and issues of market accesses which may affect your company. Our Embassies also work to ensure that they have an extensive network of contacts in their countries of accreditation, including of Irish businesses operating there so that they can provide useful introductions to new entrants to the market. As you look beyond Ireland’s shores you I urge to make contact with Ireland’s Embassies overseas and make use of the knowledge and the networks that they have developed.
When I look at the 17 new innovative businesses showcased here this evening and I recall the many successful graduates of the Genesis programme it makes me believe that not only can we look at M.I.T. in Boston and say that is no reason why we cannot do the same here. We can say we are doing it. This is where we begin. The genius is here. It is through collaborative initiatives like the Genesis Enterprise Programme and the commitment and innovation of hard working entrepreneurs that we will build the smart economy.
Congratulations to all tonight’s winners and I wish everyone here a very enjoyable evening and thank you once again for the invitation.