Innovation Vouchers: 802 issued, 110 redeemed so far

I did an FOI about Innovation Vouchers recently and Enterprise Ireland subsequently decided it would make sense to publish the stats on their website and so they have. You can now see the knowledge providers who have done projects for companies and the companies themselves.

For me this shows takeup is great but once companies have the vouchers the issue is either lack of vision or else inability to find a knowledge provider to do the work. Some companies I know definitely have no idea how to use them despite some orgs really wanting the custom and willing to suggest things to them but I know other orgs have laughed a company out of it for their “puny” 5k. The stats are interesting too as Carlow is out on top so far yet you’d think a Dublin institution would be getting most trade.

Maybe EI needs to actually give some case studies or the knowledge providers themselves? How many have open days like the NCI?

The Business Post has an article about the numbers here.

For those that are unaware, Innovation Vouchers give limited companies 5k in voucher format that can be redeemed at a College, IT or group for research or development of something that can be used by the company. They’re a great idea.

11 Responses to “Innovation Vouchers: 802 issued, 110 redeemed so far”

  1. I’m still waiting a year later for a call-back from UCC (and two years re Technology Transfer Initiatives). Had interest from WIT and DERI and recent interest from CIT. Most eager is Tipp Inst.

    One of the issues is lack of skills. How many Undergrads or PostGrads in Ireland can do hardcore web-development or know the Facebook APIs? I think there is a serious disconnect between the types of things start-ups want done and the types of things Third Level Institutions are capable of delivering.

    Also, due to the generally long timescales involved, most will pick something low-priority to get built. Which of course means it drops to the bottom of their to-do list.

    I like the approach described by the Embedded Software guys in CIT. Tell them what you want and they’ll find the expertise no matter where it is. Still tho, for 5k, there is only so much they can do using that model.

    As for the recent change allowing companies to pool money, I haven’t been able to think of one thing where that would be appropriate for us. For a start, who would own the IP?

    The Vouchers seem to me like so many EI initiatives, well intentioned but missing the point. (A bit like that €175m we are all waiting to see invested in any tech company).

    In the late 80s and early 90s, UCD Elec Eng was at the forefront of taking heavy duty DSP research and working with local companies to turn that into market leading products. Surely the focus for EI in this area should be on the Third Level Institutions to enable them to re-gain that delivery capability and re-create the Stanford model over here. Then us start-ups will be ready and waiting to work with them.

  2. Evert Bopp says:

    While the innovation vouchers are a great idea they seem to have gone the same way as most other EI innitiatives; ideas that die a slow death due to bureaucracy riddles implementation.
    I have requested information on applying for Innovation Vouchers from several people in EI on a number of occasions and still have to receive a reply.
    This gives me no hope in the actual use of the voucher. Saying that if they would issue me with a voucher I have some work ready to use it for…

  3. My circumstances are very similar to Conors. We have one since the end of last September as well.
    Biggest problem for us was the skills problem. Serious lack of the necessary skills amongst the vast majority of the providers as Conor points out.
    Those with the skillset we needed weren’t interested in such a small project (5-10k). Not to mention some of the ridiculous IP issues.
    Eventually we’ve just decided to forget about it as it was more hassle than it was worth.

    So basically “Ditto” on what Conor said but he put it much better.

  4. thanks for the post Damien and for forced stats extraction. We were more successful with dbTwang. Currently in the middle of a project with Mike Kiely in Tipp Inst – however we agreed parameters of it with him first so we knew when we applied that we would start as soon as it was awarded. We did not look for EI guidance as our understanding was that this is a seeding engagement initiative and so the guidelines for what would be accepted were loose.

    We may now consider applying for a second one once the first successfully concludes.


  5. MJ says:

    The stats only seem to be for 2008, did they give you the results of the original 2007 push?

    In relation to case studies their eNewsletter often has them, but not specifically about Innovation Voucher users. Seems like a great idea to give the whole initiative a push – you should make the recommendation! It would be nice if you didn’t have to of course, but as you say – beurocracy!

  6. I think innovation vouchers are one of the better funding mechanisms that EI have but they are not being used correctly which is a great shame. Unlike many other EI grants there is no % to be paid by the company with 100% of the money available to pass on to the college of your choice. The only commitment that companies need to make is a couple of days research on the various colleges and finding a good “fit”. 2 days may seem like a lot of time to give up and although 5k may not seem like a lot to some companies you can often get much more out of the vouchers than the 5k.

    We have just launched a voucher with the NCAD which means that we have 6 students of 4 people working on a complete overhaul of our site from a design perspective. They are final year students and for us to pay pro designers for this body of work would be impossible. Not only could we pay pro designers but we are also finding the work they are doing is better than anything we have seen before as they all have their finger very firmly on the pulse from an internet design perspective. Apart from the fact that we are getting a lot of “free” work done we also have access to some of the best designers in the country when we need to hire full time.

    Luckily the NCAD had the foresight to see that this innovation voucher was a bonus from outside their normal funding and will be using it as a prize to reward the best project. Can you imagine the quality of work we are getting and how much the students are pushing themselves to learn as they fight over a cash prize?

    For those who say it takes too long to complete paperwork etc the entire process has been…..

    1.15 Minutes to complete the form

    2.30 Minutes meeting the head of the college in person

    3.3 minutes to take the voucher out of envelope and forward to college

    4.As much time as you can afford to work with the students as the more time you commit the better result you will get

    For those people who say you just got lucky and there is not that fir for everybody out there, other options I was considering for current voucher….

    Creating an iPhone app using a voucher using tech colleges
    Using Art and film school to create cool intros and media for our videos as well as viral marketing videos
    Use food college to create a nutrition database for our site
    etc etc

    There are lots of possibilities and although the information is not freely available and it takes blog like this to highlight the vouchers the biggest barrier is people thinking creatively and putting some of their own time into the project and co-operating with the college. 5k is a lot of money and if used correctly will help your company grow immensely.

  7. Damien says:

    @MJ I only FOId for 2008. I’ll ask them for 2007 stats and whether they’ll go online.

    I emailed the Nat College of Ireland with my idea, we had a 20 min call working out what I wanted and they made some suggestions and I then went off and applied for a voucher. Two weeks later I got an email to say I was approved so work with the NCI should start soon.

  8. Fergus Burns says:

    Great post Damien – i would echo Conor’s comments – but very interesting comments from Keith and Niall [the problem is really two fold – level of cash – and skills available]

    When you consider that digg started for @2k and twitter was a sideline project – it does demonstrate that a small amount of cash can lead to bigger projects.

    I hope EI and 3rd level institutions engage on this meme.

  9. Tipperary Institute takes the innovation voucher theme into Limerick OpenCoffee as tabletop conversations and have done work that we would profile at Barcampcork if that’s helpful.

  10. Keith Bohanna makes a very good point about working with the Institute before applying for the voucher. A simple chat will often make things much clearer.

    I found IT Carlow to be very helpful in assisting me with the process and making clear to me which ideas were flights of fancy and which ones were realistic.

  11. There is a question to be asked about the whole strategy, in my mind. The whole thing is based on the assumption that academic institutions and SME’s can work together on relatilvely small SME-driven projects. I just don’t know if that’s really all that practical as a model. It’s hard for a university to do a project for sub-20k, and it can lead to problems if the project isn’t very well aligned with the research objectives of the institution.

    Still, that’s no criticism of the innovation vouchers scheme. It’s more the issue of whether and how institutions and small businesses can work together. I think there is a lot of subtlety to be worked out to get this to really work. That’s why the uptake is fairly low. It’s not because the scheme isn’t working, or because there isn’t interest. It’s just that it isn’t that easy to set this sort of thing up and running. Still, you have to start somewhere, and the innovation voucher is as good a place as any.