BUSINESS INSIGHT SPECIAL REPORT: Creating a research gateway for enterprise

Barry McCall reports on the Irish Research Council’s enterprise partnership programmes and their benefits to business.

The Irish Research Council (IRC) was established to deliver the postgraduate skills and talent to support the economy and the needs of the labour market; foster the development of an internationally competitive research community whose expertise supports sustainable development and growth; and provide the knowledge and insights to help shape society and benefit citizens.

To meet these objectives, the IRC funds individuals and supports excellent research across all disciplines, from arts to zoology. The council has also developed a number of targeted initiatives which are of increasing interest to employers and enterprises who want to grow their businesses. Funding is directed to enterprise and employers to support the development of talent and skills, and to drive the conduct of innovative research.

The council has two specific programmes that are aimed at enterprise: the Enterprise Partnership Scheme (EPS), where the student performs innovative research in an area informed by the enterprise, and the Employment-Based Postgraduate Programme (EPP), an initiative where the student becomes embedded in the company for the majority of the duration of their masters or PhD.

Both of these programmes allow researchers to experience the realities of the workplace outside academia. The demand-led nature of the research maximises employment opportunities for researchers at the end of the programmes.

“The Irish Research Council’s enterprise programmes offer an extremely attractive gateway for enterprises to dedicated research capacity,” explains Prof Jane Ohlmeyer, chairwoman of the Irish Research Council. “The schemes allows a company or organisation to access a high-calibre researcher who will work for a period of up to four years on a mutually-developed research project directly relevant to the mission or activities of the company. The programmes are very popular among enterprises, including SMEs, for whom research can help to unlock innovation in products and services, enhance business processes and ultimately enhance competitive edge and their commercial position in the marketplace.”

Researchers under both the Employment-Based Postgraduate Programme and the Enterprise Partnership Scheme avail of ongoing support from an academic expert in a higher education institution and this arrangement has acted as a springboard to closer and broader research and innovation collaboration between the host company and the associated research institution.

“When designing our enterprise programmes, the key consideration for the council was to make the applications process open, easy to understand and user-friendly for researchers and companies,” says IRC director Dr Eucharia Meehan. “As I come from an industry research background, I am very conscious of the need to have enterprise programmes like ours in tune with what industry needs. I see our role as providing the necessary supports and advice to enable and actually embed partnerships between our best research talent and successful companies. Our experience has taught us that success happens by making the process flexible and focused on the needs of the researcher and company.”