Guest post by Dr Vicky Kell, Director of Innovation, Research and Development at Invest NI
Studies show a solid link between investment in innovation, and profitability and growth. Add to that the battle to survive in an intensely competitive global market and the decision to invest becomes, in today’s jargon, a ‘no-brainer’. Investing in innovation, which includes Research & Development (R&D), leads to long-term commercial benefits; efficiency, productivity, competitiveness and ultimately increased sales.
Innovation essentially means coming up with new ways of doing things and can help Northern Ireland businesses to stay relevant.
There is a frequent misconception that innovation equals R&D but innovation is much more than that. It can include changes to products and processes, the introduction of new business models, organisational changes or selling in new markets.
Building a culture of innovation
A successful business has innovation at its heart. A company that builds a culture of innovation can become more efficient, save time and resources and it can increase its competitiveness in the global marketplace. It is absolutely essential to wider economic growth and has never been higher up the agenda of governments. The Department for the Economy’s Innovation Strategy 2014-2025 sets out the key long term actions necessary to ensure innovation plays its full part in realising our economic growth.
Get support for innovation R&D
It is well known that introducing new and improved products and services is imperative to grow sales and ensure ongoing business success, delivering real value for those that use innovation effectively. Some businesses don’t realise they are innovating, thinking it has to be a ‘white coat’ activity. In reality innovation is everything from refining products to meeting changing customer needs, to changing processes to make them more efficient. Other businesses are reluctant to undertake R&D because of the perceived risk and cost, seeing it as something only large companies can afford to do but it is relevant to all and there are many sources of support.
To help increase awareness of the sources of innovation support and the benefits it can bring we created the Innovation Escalator which provides a comprehensive overview of the various strands of Invest NI support available to businesses of all sizes; from a £5,000 Innovation Voucher through to industry-led Competence Centres.
Our Innovation Voucher scheme was introduced to increase levels of innovation. It encourages local companies to work with Knowledge Providers in our universities and further education colleges to grow their business. Since 2008, over 2,500 Innovation Vouchers have been issued.
One company to benefit from the scheme is Walled City Brewery. Master Brewer in the business, James Huey used an Invest NI £5,000 Innovation Voucher to develop the recipe for its ‘1689’ Mumm ale, which comes from a recipe dating back to the Siege of Derry. The Innovation Voucher enabled Walled City Brewery to work with the Foodovation Centre at North West Regional College, perfecting the first alcohol product to be developed at the state-of-the-art new food technology facility.
We also provide assistance to first-time investors in R&D or those companies who want to undertake further R&D projects through our Grant for R&D. There are many businesses that have found such support invaluable such as Belfast based Kraydel. The business has developed pioneering technology that can track the health and well-being of vulnerable people living alone. The revolutionary smart device, which could change the way we care for older people in their homes, was developed with £150,000 of R&D support.
Commenting on the investment, Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Kraydel, Paul Moorhead said:
“We recognise the value of continued innovation to the future success of our business, which is why we are continually seeking to improve our product offering. Through this new investment in R&D, we are leveraging the latest technology to build a comprehensive understanding of health in the home. At the same time, we’re reconnecting lonely and isolated people to the community.
“The strength of our product proposition is confirmed by the investment of the world’s largest health insurance company, RGA, in a recent seed investment round. Most recently our thought leadership in this area has led to participation on workshops in Downing Street on tackling loneliness, and technology for elder-care.
“The R&D support has been essential to our progress and we would like to thank Invest NI, not just for the financial assistance, but for the personal support and encouragement from its team.”
Opportunities through collaboration
Working in collaboration with others can open up opportunities for stronger innovation, with increased potential for success, by drawing in expertise from other areas. It can also open access to wider funding streams. There is a wealth of funding available in the UK, primarily through Innovate UK and Europe through Horizon 2020.
Innovate UK works alongside local partners to encourage business engagement in innovation, research and development to ultimately grow the UK economy. Its Regional Manager for Northern Ireland is now based in Invest NI alongside our Innovation, Research and Development team. We want more local businesses across all sectors to recognise the many facets of innovation, engage in innovation and take advantage of the full range of Invest NI support on offer. Find out more about Invest Northern Ireland's support.
Invest NI’s R&D support is part funded by ERDF under the EU Investment for Growth and Jobs Programme 2014-2020.