”Research and development is key to a prosperous economy” Leslie Morrison, Invest Northern Ireland Chief Executive said today.

Speaking at the launch of the Northern Ireland Research and Development Challenge Fund (NITECH Growth Fund) at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast, Mr Morrison said “Northern Ireland has a strong reputation for innovative, scientific and engineering research. Indeed, the most recent statistics released for the Province indicated the highest growth rate across the UK for business R&D expenditure.

“We need new ideas, but more than that, we need the skill to convert the many good ideas that exist into commercial business opportunities. It is vital that we grasp all the opportunities we can muster particularly in the face of a continued global economic slowdown. This has drastically reduced the volume of mobile investment capital and caused deferrals of capital investment by our companies. One impact on Invest NI in 2002/03 is the reduced uptake of grants by companies under existing letters of offer. “

The NITECH Growth Fund is a £3M venture capital fund, established by Invest NI to finance the commercialisation of research and development within universities, new start or existing small to medium sized enterprises. It is intended to assist in the creation and expansion of research-led, market orientated businesses.

Indicating how the fund will integrate within the overall business support principles of Invest NI, Mr Morrison explained : “The NITECH Growth Fund will provide the opportunity to deliver additional financial resources to projects with high potential and will complement our work with existing client companies, where we have seen increased demand from businesses to assist in capability building to enhance competitiveness.

“The NITECH Growth Fund is a good example of how Invest NI will support the funding and activities of private sector venture capital funds to increase the local availability of venture capital, particularly for growing technology based companies. As such, it is a critical programme in our portfolio of support for innovation and technology and a key component of our wider strategy to encourage a vibrant and successful local venture capital industry.” Mr Morrison concluded.

Those attending the launch of the NITECH Growth Fund also heard Dr Hance Fullerton, Chairman of ANGLE Technology, the Manager of the Fund, who said: “We are delighted to have been appointed by Invest Northern Ireland to manage the NITECH Growth Fund in collaboration with Clarendon Fund Managers. The Fund’s focus is very much in line with ours as specialists in the commercialisation of world-class intellectual property and we look forward to helping Northern Ireland’s research and business communities realise the full potential of their innovative technologies.“