We had our second plenary Innovation Taskforce meeting today in Government buildings, from 9.30am-5pm. I reported on the first here.
The meeting today was chaired by Dermot McCarthy (Secretary General Dept. of Taoiseach). No Minister, junior nor senior, attended on this occasion. The CEOs of Enterprise Ireland (Frank Ryan), the IDA (Barry O’Leary), SFI (Frank Gannon) all attended, together with the Chair of the HEA (Michael Kelly). The Secretary General of Dept Education and Science attended (Bridget McManus) but not the Secretary General of the Dept. Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Sean Gorman) who had attended the first meeting.
The meeting started with a summary of the outcome of the inaugural Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh, last weekend, by Joe Hackett of the Dept. Foreign Affairs. A number of the Taskforce members had also attended, and were able to give some further colour to the meeting on what had transpired. I myself had been invited, but unfortunately could not attend due to family reasons. Overall, the forum had apparently been very upbeat in mood and atmosphere. A summary produced by the IMI of the outcomes of the parallel sessions on the friday afternoon was circulated, and a fuller report containing the outcome of the saturday discussions is in preparation.
The meeting then proceeded to the main agenda item and specifically presentations and discussions of the work to date of each of the four working groups. This took a number of hours. The general impression which I gained was that the first two working groups – WG1 on incentives, intellectual property and venture capital; and WG2 (of which I am a member) on commercialisation, technology transfer and convergence – are thinking very closely alike indeed, and in particular focussing on an innovator-centric approach. By innovator-centric, we mean that everything we consider (agency support and co-ordination, tax, R&D, intellectual property, angel investment and mentoring, venture capital funding, exit mechanisms, etc) must all be in the context of how to make innovators successful. By innovators, we include not just founder innovators for start-ups but also innovators within the multinationals operating in Ireland and indeed also within the public sector; and not just Irish resident, but also attracting innovators into the economy from overseas. By innovation, we include not just innovative new products for the global market, but also likewise innovative new services and business processes.
WG3 – on achieving the innovation island – is focussed primarily on marketing the nation, and included today a presentation by the IDA on their new branding campaign to promote Ireland, particularly for the USA market. WG4 – on the international innovation hub in Dublin – is at this time primarily focussed on the implementation of the TCD-UCD Innovation Alliance, although Dermot McCarthy noted that this should serve as a template for other similar initiatives nationwide.
We also had a short discussion about exemplar projects to illustrate Ireland as an innovation economy. Personally I very strongly feel that any such initiatives which are supported by any public investment should be focussed on maximal leverage for the Irish economy, so that clusters of new companies and initiatives can be catalysed for the global market, by smart, insightful and disruptive State intervention: we need to create inflection points for growth.
We had a short discussion about public engagement. To date, some 92 submissions have been received in response to our public invitation for suggestions and comments. Many of these contain some excellent, and thoughtfully articulated, suggestions. In addition there are a number of cognate taskforce initiatives being undertaken by the government, including for R&D by DETE; the green economy by both DETE & DCENR, and higher level education review by the DES. We are considering how we may further engage with these myriad stakeholders and submitters, possibly via one or more group meetings.
We also discussed how best to continue to engage with the public at large, through continued press and media interviews and opinion articles; and in due course nationwide, ideally apolitical, public dissemination. We are, naturally, particularly conscious to do so in a highly cost effective manner.
Our next meeting is at the end of October. The four working groups (WGs) are continuing their work, but also are being facilitated by the Secretariat to clarify on what we all agree on at this stage, and also on what we at this point do not yet have a common view. Equally, a table of contents for our final report (due in December) will be drawn up by collaboratively by the chairs of the WGs, and some initial drafting work begun, before we next meet.
Overall, I felt today was refreshing and honest, and I was actually encouraged by our progress despite the large size of the group. A tremendous amount of effort and time is being devoted by members of the task force, with a large number of meetings and discussions engaging a very wide audience at home and overseas. All of this work is being carried out pro bono, and I am heartened by the commitment of all despite the very challenging national circumstances.