Innovation Task Force – Third Plenary meeting

We had our third plenary meeting in Government Buildings yesterday,  chaired by Dermot McCarthy.  I’ve previously posted on the first,  second and consultation meetings.  The members of the task force are listed here,  and most of the public submissions to date are here.  

Almost everyone attended,  but two of the private sector members were overseas.  Junior Minister Conor Lenihan also attended for the entire day,  along with staff from the Department of the Taoiseach.   The meeting was scheduled from 10.00am until 3.30pm,  but ran over by a further two hours.

Dermot McCarthy noted that he is now also chairing an inter-Departmental group to co-ordinate followup to the various recommendations emerging from the diaspora event at Farmleigh.

The meeting started with a presentation by Peter O’Neill of the DCENR on the current status of our broadband infrastructure.  I’ve posted on this separately here.   It was followed by a short presentation by Adrian Devitt of Forfas,  in which he reported on current international comparisons,  and the role of State investment and regulation in facilitating the next generation network roll-out.

Frank Ryan of Enterprise Ireland then presented on a second infrastructure topic,  that of the provision of “wet labs” that could be leased by life-science start-ups and spinouts,  as well as perhaps by larger commercial companies.   A report by Biggar in July 2007 to both Enterprise Ireland and the IDA identified a national shortage (I cannot find the report online to link to it, please post me a comment if you have the link..) of such laboratory space in Ireland,  and suggested strategies to address this.  Frank reported that since then,  ten different sites in the greater Dublin area had expressed interest in hosting a 5,000sq.m. facility,  available as individual leasable modules of 300-350 sq.m.  Approximately 12Meuro would be needed for construction (such space requires facilities for chemical gas management,  bio-waste management and so),  and depending on location and planning permits,  between an 18-24 month lead time.  During the Q&A there was considerable discussion about the demand for such facilities,  particularly nationwide,  and potentially co-located on academic campuses,  and/or with the Cork life-science cluster and/or with the Galway medical devices cluster.   The possibility of private investment, multi-national and/or investment funds was also discussed.   Some believed that there could be a national demand of 5,000sq.m. per year for at least five years.

It was also noted that there are probable further infrastructure investments to catalyse an innovation economy,  including clinical labs and a genomics database.  In turn,  there can be immediate benefit beyond the direct innovation economy via job creation for construction works.

Each for the four working groups then gave a status update,  approximately one hour each including extensive discussion.  In my view each has made good progress,  and there are a number of specific recommendations emerging.  Rather than report on each one,  I list below a summary of some of the discussions,  to give you a sense of the deliberations.

Investment funding for start-ups was discussed at length.  There was a view that multinationals may well also invest in the strategic innovation fund,  under certain conditions.   Alternative philosophies of the role of State investment in start-ups were discussed,  and the need for a holistic view of the return to the State via payroll,  corporation and capital gains taxes.  The weak deployment of the State-catalysed seed funds was examined.  The need to attract overseas entrepreneurs into the economy to create further companies and employment was also explored,  as was the role of exits to allow acquiring companies to scale.

Technology convergence is seen as a major opportunity,  and can play to our strength as an island nation based on our indigenous companies and multinationals already here.  Public procurement can also have a role in this regard.   There may well be training and education implications to encourage innovation in cross-discipline and convergent technologies.

There was a lengthy discussion on the secondary and primary educational system,  with focus on what outputs and results we might reasonably expect from the changes being made in the educational system,  over the next five years.

The current status of the TCD-UCD alliance, including future plans,  were presented and discussed.   I was particularly interested in the projections for job creation and new company starts,  which by my calculations showed a ratio of approximately 6 per 100Meuro of research funding per year –  thus roughly twice the rate quoted by Michael Hennigan which I discussed in my earlier post here.

There was a discussion of the role which design can play in innovation,  and how some US universities have design programmes in their engineering faculties which are entirely funded by commercial firms paying for innovative designs,  and re-designs,  of their products.

Concurrently with all these discussions,  various suggestions and recommendations from many of the public submissions were also included.

But:  the rubber has to hit the road.  The task force has to report to Government before the end of the year (and subsequently to the public).  The contributions from the four working groups,  and from the public submissions,  must be brought together in what we all hope can be a cohesive and pragmatic document.

Yesterday,  we agreed a basic table of contents for our report.  All agreed that 2 or 3 editors must now be allowed to take all the inputs,  and synthesise these into what will become the report.  There are some volunteers,  and a final decision on who the editors will be will,  I believe,  be taken very early next week.

The next plenary meeting of the task force will be in early December,  and the draft of the final report should be available for the entire task force at least a week beforehand.   The meeting can then hopefully be used to take final amendments and suggestions.

So:  a lot done,  a lot discussed,  a lot of input,  but much more to do to bring things cohesively together.  The next four weeks or so are going to be a busy time.


About chrisjhorn
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19 Responses to Innovation Task Force – Third Plenary meeting

  1. This report will make for interesting reading, but implementing its recommendations will be a mammoth task.
    On the funding of start-ups, it’s good to see that you’ve devoted a considerable amount of time to this fundamental issue – without a proper system being put in place, we wont go anywhere.

    The other issues being considered, like Technology convergence and an education system to meet our needs are all encouraging developments.

    The discussion that caught my attention most of all was – “the role which design can play in innovation”.
    This is an interesting area and needs to be explored to the fullest possible extent. Our present engineering training is primarily focused on analysis and unfortunately, that doesn’t lend itself to creativity.

    In today’s IT, Michael Hennigan puts the challenges facing us into perspective when he comments on the plight of the unemployed –
    “for those experiencing the misery of unemployment, wonder how long it will take to create 200,000 sustainable new jobs – the equivalent of 40 Intels – Ireland’s largest industrial employer.”

    • chrisjhorn says:

      @Edward Phelan

      I hope our report will contain recommendations on implementation, and I hope too that the report can be of relevance and interest to al, regardless of political persuasion..

      On the design issue, we had a number of submissions eg amongst others. See too my post on my Eng.Ire. blog at

      Re. employment levels, I deeply share Michael Hennigan’s concerns – see my own post on this blog from last week at

      One important aspect of our potential success as an innovation economy will be our ability to attract overseas entrepreneurs, as also is implicit in our terms of reference, see — we need to create an “inflection point” in our current trajectory if we are going to succeed.

      best wishes

    • chrisjhorn says:

      @Edward Phelan

      PS – I’m probably being stupid Edward but I can’t find Michael’s article in the IT which you quote – could you post a link ? I replied earlier before reading his article, but now can’t find it….


  2. Hi Chris,

    It’s very interesting to hear what is being discussed which presumably reflects the issues that are considered to be most important.

    There seems to be a consistent focus in all Smart Economy discussion about where the funding for it is going to come from. I’m wondering if you/the taskforce have found the answers to two very simple questions: are we generating ideas of sufficient quality here in Ireland?; and if we are, are the people behind them of sufficient calibre?

    I ask because we seem to have spent an awful lot of money over the past 10 years (I’d love to know the precise figure). What’s the point in pouring more in if there is a fundamental problem that’s inhibiting the success of Irish businesses who are soaking up that funding?

    The academic voice has been prominent through all of the debate and they have put forward eloquent arguments that innovation is a non-linear process and that it takes time for research to transform into commercial business ideas. In that case – and considering what has been spent in recent years – should we be expecting an acceleration of the rate of successful commercialisation sometime soon? Israel seems to have managed to move rapidly – more rapidly than us?

    I would also be interested to know if there is a big picture emerging in terms of what Ireland’s Smart economy might look like or is it more of a focus on trying to stimulate innovation across all sectors. Maybe you can’t reveal this yet..

    Also – have there been discussions about stimulating non-research based “smart” businesses? Personally, I think this is essential, particularly in terms of job creation.

    Finally – and apologies for repeating a view I have expressed before – it’s disappointing that there have been no rumblings about a grander political vision for a better Ireland (not just a wealthier Ireland). There’s a bigger battle to be fought than that of employment creation and wealth generation (although that too plays an important part). I’d love to see really big thinking about how Ireland will build a socially and economically progressive nation that stimulates innovation while simultaneously nurturing our cultural and natural heritage. At the moment it seems as if the “smart economy” is being viewed as the White Knight that will save us instead of thinking holistically about our entire economy. Maybe these discussions are happening somewhere and I’m missing them…

    Thanks for keeping us updated so soon after the meeting.


    P.S. Just as an aside I use a Macbook Pro and Flock as my browser. Each time I tried to open your previous site it crashed so I had to use my iPhone to read/post. This site works perfectly – thanks!

    • chrisjhorn says:

      @Siobhan O’Dwyer

      Re ideas generation and people capable of executing on them, I sincerely believe that we do have both. But as I mentioned in my comment to Edward Phelan earlier, the task force is also considering how we can create an “inflection point” to increase both of these – and encouraging ideas and people from overseas to come here is one part of this…

      For the “awful lot of money”, I believe the current public (taxpayer) funded part of the national R&D investment is about 700Meuro a year at the moment. But as I noted in an article earlier this year in the Irish Times, the entire Department Enterprise, Trade and Employment budget in 2008 (ie IDA, EI, SFI, Forfas etc..) was slightly less than what we spend for example on the Gardai – not to detract from the Gardai in any way – and far far far less than the big spending departments. One question is how much of this 700Meuro translates into new companies, and Michael Hennigan discusses this here.

      Israel has been particularly successful in encouraging foreign venture capital, both private and commercial (ie from multinationals). A very tiny proportion – in contrast to Ireland – of Israeli venture capital comes domestically (eg from Israeli pension funds). I believe we now should also seek to attract foreign venture capital in a somewhat similar way…

      Not sure any of us have a big picture yet, feeling our way around the elephant, but I believe there is some consensus emerging in the task force, and we will obviously try and bring it together in the next month. Equally, its my view that the work here should not cease with our report, will need to be carried forward in an appropriate way, and probably further reports and studies will be needed to nudge the implementation along in the future.

      Innovation does not always require research, in my view, I fervently agree. See my thoughts on market insight, holistic orchestration and technology assembly as part of my post here.

      A political vision for Ireland is beyond the scope of our work, I believe anyway 🙂 But I do believe that our cultural and natural heritage should and can play to the national innovation agenda.

      Best wishes

      PS – I use a MacBook Air, and didn’t used to have problems with blogspot. But I had wanted to move across to wordpress for sometime – just couldn’t find some down time to do it, until recently..

  3. Pat Roche says:

    Many thanks for the wonderful opportunity to read about the taskforce and it’s activities. I appreciate very much you facilitating this insight and would encourage all those involved in public activities such as this to follow your example (indeed it probably should be a prerequisite for all public representatives that they blog and tweet!-very democratic).
    Whenever I hear reference to a Smart Economy my inclination is always to think that we already have one (how can you not have one when we have all the necessary institutions and infrastructure-maybe with some room for improvement- in place).
    I think what this is really about is Smart Governance and Smart Public Service. I think the weakness is in making sure that opportunities for economic development are understood and appreciated early by state institutions and helped through the system by a streamlined process. As someone who has spent most of my working career in industry (as an engineer) it seems to me that we have frequently not been good at recognising, encouraging and converting opportunities for sustainable economic development. My experience is that the reason for this relates to a lack of appreciation for the value of honest economic endeavour and too much interest in the “appearance of progress” , “self praise” and self-interest.
    I think the problem (innovation effectiveness) is a process one! If we did a “lean manufacturing” type analysis of the process in this country, then I’m sure that we could improve it’s effectiveness. Why is it that “process efficiency” only applies to industry?

    • chrisjhorn says:

      @Pat Roche

      Thanks for the kind words Pat.

      I think all of us in the task force feel that it is important to get as many good ideas “on the table” as we can. Hence our desire to try and make the process as open as possible, albeit within a very limited timescale of six months..

      One of the philosophical debates is to what extent it is appropriate and necessary to have State intervention in the “smart economy”. What is the role of a government and a public service in a smart economy ?..

      Another debate is the management of failure. In my view, to be successful in a smart economy, risks have to be taken, and failure must be expected – the key thing is to learn, and try again. See for example the recent FailCon in Silicon Valley –

      But our own civil service to date has been nurtured to abhor failure – the Dail Public Accounts Committee process in general causes civil servants to be extremely wary of taking risk..

      So, if we want a Smart Public Service as you suggest, then we would need to expect risk taking within the Public Service, and sometimes failures to occur as a result — this has not been the culture of our civil service to date, because of (arguably legitimate) concerns about wasting taxpayers funds, and the likely media (and opposition of the day) outcry. Is it the role of a smart government and a smart public service to take risks for a smart economy ?…..

      As an Engineer too, I do agree with you that the problem is fundamentally one of process, and we need process improvements. A systems engineering perspective may bring insights – I’m wondering whether a systems model would be useful for the smart economy, which would help guide thinking and risk/reward cost/benefit analyses 🙂

      best wishes

  4. Myles Rath says:

    As someone who made a submission to the task force and wished to look at other submissions I would like to thank Chris Horn for providing a link to the submissions from the public. I have checked the task force’s website on a number of occasions and there is no link that I, at least, could find. Could I suggest that Chris request that such a link be provided.

    I only recently came across this blog and I must congratulate Chris on the openness to considering ideas other than the conventional wisdom, which is very restricted in its scope but which seems to be generally accepted almost without question at present. One of my personal cliches which I used to quote to my students is “beware the conventional wisdom”. A guiding “principle” I also found very valuable was that a principle or theory that did not accomodate all the available (reliable) information was flawed and should be challenged and perhaps rejected. We seem to be following an approach to innovation that is dominated by a belief in basic science as the key to innovation. This needs to be challenged. I find the openness of approach on this blog very encouraging.

  5. Michael O'Brien says:

    To the point – lots of discussions and not a lot to show for it. Sitting round a table with the messers that got us here is not going to fix anything. One of the best ideas put forward 6 months ago was to commence on a school building programme and what have we, sweet fanny adamas.
    I personally feel that there is no empathy from those in the senior govenerment departments. What real benefits came from those people during the past 10 years.
    I’m not being negative just realistic. While the above posts talk about variants of your ideas, the reality is that unless you leave each meeting with a signed declaration of intent, you are wasting your time and my time as you are using tax payers money to host these dink danks.

    • chrisjhorn says:

      @Michael O’Brien,

      Just to note that the members of the taskforce are giving their time pro-bono, there are no fees, consultancy etc being incurred by the taxpayer.

      Possibly we are wasting our time. But we do feel passionately that we want to help Ireland recover.

      All we can do is try to influence those in senior positions in the government departments. I sincerely believe that many of them are seeking input and will act on it if it is reasonably thought through.

      Perhaps I’m naive on this. but I’m willing to give it my time.

      best wishes

      • ACZ says:


        Thank you for your comments – and your efforts.

        What you are doing brings a refreshing degree of transparency to the issues addressed – and transparency is a rare commodity is Irish politics at the moment – so I for one, am most grateful.

        I agree with your point about the need for risk taking within the Public Service, and for a greater tolerance of failure.

        My own view is that the civil service culture is more concerned with the covering of asses than with the preservation of taxes. Perhaps I am being too gloomy, but I can only speak based on my own experience.

        I have personally seen Enterprise Ireland Development Advisors chose to fund too many “safe-bet” companies – some of which are based outside the Republic, and many of which are already so firmly on the road to success, with established distribution/suppliers/revenue that they do not need the help of EI – who’s mandate is to assist companies to carry out growth & development that could NOT take place without the assistance of EI.

        When I think of risk-taking, I think of YCombinator – and I think we could really benefit from taking a few plays out of their book. A mid-size development grant (aimed at anyone with a plausible idea for an export-oriented business) would yield positive returns, in the long run. And in the short term, it wouldn’t cost much more/less than keeping folks on the dole.

        But instead of looking at funding innovation – we’re all shuddering at the notion that our kids will, in 50 years time, still be paying for the bail-out of the same banks that are trying to reposes our homes this week.

        Personally, I’d rather give 50K a piece to a couple thousand potential entrepreneurs – I think we’d stand a better chance of keeping the grandchildren housed – but, instead we get NAMA – and scandals about civil servants who paid hundreds of thousands in fake invoices to fake companies that they created (FAS).


        What fun!

        Your blog is a breath of fresh air.

  6. Michael O'Brien says:


    Fair point! I should clarify.
    I remember way back when Iona was blazing a trail acorss the globe. You were a leader with a vision and you had a team that believed and supported you.
    Sadly, there is no leadership at all in the entire cabinet. Brian lenihan is doing ok but is not the leader.
    So, pro-bono or not, timing is critical so much so that the gate is already closing and in 6 months, 8 months, if we are not bedded down with a series of major initiatives, then we are heading to a difficult place.
    What’s happening with the wind initiaitve? We should be so much down the road with that concept that it beggars belief that its not already rockin’ and rollin’

    • chrisjhorn says:

      I don’t want to comment too much on the cabinet or its composition, and will try and remain apolitical in my blog 🙂

      I do have a concern that our “smart economy” discussions at the taskforce are all well and good, but what short term impact can the “smart economy” have ?… How can the “smart economy” create employment and impact the general community in the very short term ?…….

      Re the wind initiative, do you mean “spirit of ireland” ? We hosted a great half day “kick the tyres” event last June with professional Engineers at Engineers Ireland (see I understand from the promoters (had email chat a week or so ago) that things are continuing well there although keeping a lower public profile just at moment.

      best wishes

  7. Pat Roche says:

    I think this article in Saturday’s Irish Times by Dan O’Brien really does get to the heart of our innovation problems. There is an inertia in the public service infrastructure that must be tackled first.

  8. Hi Chris,

    You have asked the question several times about how the Irish government at policy level can create the right environment for the smart economy.

    Here’s an extract from an interesting article on a recent Deutsche Bank report called ’Global Climate Change Policy Tracker: An Investor’s Assessment’.

    The report is based on research carried out by The Earth Institute at Colombia University which examined 270 climate policies in 109 different countries. The outcome is an argument for TLC (transparency, longevity, certainty) in policy regimes in order to mobilise capital.

    You can read the article here:

    I’ve also mentioned before what seems to be a short-sighted approach in Ireland relative to other economies. The UK and the US consistently talk about a “low-carbon future”, we talk about cleantech. Cleantech is just one strand of a much bigger picture and by taking a myopic view, we’re missing out on the bigger opportunities that are out there.


  9. Pingback: Innovation Task Force – Fourth Plenary Meeting « Chrisjhorn's Blog

  10. Pingback: Innovation Task Force – Fifth (and last ?) Plenary Meeting « Chrisjhorn's Blog

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