Driving Innovation to boost business

Invest NI’s plans to support business R&D

The most recently published figures show that Northern Ireland expenditure on Research and Development in 2010 was the highest ever, with spending by businesses increasing by 6% on the previous year to £344 million, with spend by locally owned companies up 27 per cent to £109.9 million in 2010.

Businesses very clearly recognise the value of investing in new products and processes to keep ahead of the competition and strengthen their long-term position.

In the first half of this year, Invest Northern Ireland made 70 offers to businesses towards expenditure in R&D, with total planned investment of £33 million.

However, the fact remains that too much of our R&D activity remains concentrated in too few companies, and mainly larger ones at that.

Whilst many companies are showing an increased appetite for R&D, Invest Northern Ireland is encouraging more Small and Medium Sized Enterprises to become “innovation-active,” particularly in the area of market-led R&D.

For small companies which have never contemplated getting involved in R&D, or maybe have not done so within the past five years, an enhanced rate of assistance (up to maximum 75 per cent, maximum grant £50,000) will be available, whilst small and medium sized businesses which are already benefitting from Invest NI R&D support will also be eligible to apply for up to 45 per cent assistance (maximum £50,000).

Much of the focus is on promoting and encouraging prototype development and exploitation, including funding for prototype development, and identification of the most appropriate route to market. For SMEs, support is also available for intellectual property costs and to support trials and testing.

Applications will be sought on an open call basis, with three separate calls anticipated between now and the end of March 2012. A simplified and streamlined process also aims to encourage SMEs to apply and make the programme more accessible to first-time R&D applicants and enable Invest NI to deliver short, sharp interventions within faster turnaround times.

Invest NI’s established application and/or approvals process will continue to cater for large companies and for SME proposed projects requiring more than £50,000 assistance.

For many businesses, the intellectual property they hold can be one of their most valuable assets. But for many, especially smaller companies, protecting and successfully commercialising their intellectual assets can be a major challenge to manage and to finance.

To assist small local companies with this challenge Invest Northern Ireland has also recently introduced an IP starter pack which includes guides to the main types of intellectual property including patents, trademarks, copyright and design registration. Non disclosure agreements and information on licensing are also explained.

These measures are part of Invest NI’s Boosting Business initiative to support businesses to remain competitive, invest for the future and grow market share.

This article appeared in the December 2011 - January 2012 edition of agendaNi