Invest NI delivers innovation boost to local small businesses

Invest Northern Ireland has delivered a boost to the growth and export ambitions of 60 local small businesses, which are to be the first to benefit from a £900,000 initiative launched earlier this year.

The companies have successfully applied for Innovation Vouchers, worth up to £4,000 (€5,000), which they can redeem against the cost of accessing practical advice and guidance from research centres of excellence, or “knowledge providers”. The knowledge available can be applied to areas such as product development, process streamlining and business technology auditing.

One of the first companies to receive an Innovation Voucher is Belfast-based A&K Landscape Retail Ltd. A designer and subcontract manufacturer of innovative outdoor planter products, the company will research the potential wider environmental benefits of its product range.

Presenting the voucher, Invest NI’s Managing Director of Innovation and Capability Development, Tracy Meharg said: “If small Northern Ireland companies are to realise their full potential it is crucial that they recognise the value that investing in innovation can add to their business.

“Innovation does not have to be high-tech R&D. A simple, sometimes inexpensive, change to a product or process can open up opportunities for small businesses which may not otherwise have been available to them. A&K Landscape is seeking to exploit the rapidly growing carbon offsetting market and in doing so could generate sales which far outweigh the cost of researching the project.”

Ms Meharg continued: “With a wide spectrum of universities, further education colleges and publicly funded research bodies involved, both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, there is a wealth of technical expertise available to help companies develop their projects.”

Ally Gallagher of A&K Landscape commented: “We are a small company with global ambitions and have already achieved some international success with our innovative outdoor planter products. We recognise, however, that we are more likely to achieve our long term goals by continuously seeking out new product ideas and applications.

“Environmental concerns are presenting a growing commercial opportunity as people become increasingly aware of the impact caused by their lifestyle. This project will seek to establish if our outdoor planters can offset the carbon output generated by, for example, car exhausts and beer garden patio heaters in highly populated city centre areas. This would give our product a powerful new marketing angle and help us further exploit both local and international markets.”

The Innovation Voucher initiative is currently closed for applications but will re-open on 1 September, closing again on 30 September. A further call for applications is planned for November.