Invest NI opens applications to boost innovation of local small businesses

Invest Northern Ireland is calling on businesses to apply for the latest round of Innovation Vouchers, an initiative which has already boosted the growth and export ambitions of almost 200 businesses.

Innovation Vouchers, worth up to £4,000 (€5,000), can be redeemed by companies 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 most recent companies to receive an Innovation Voucher is Antrim-based Fast Engineering Limited. This engineering business provides a series of emergency liquid storage solutions for diverse markets including drought relief, fire fighting and environmental protection. The company researched alternative materials and manufacturing processes to produce a more cost effective, superior product aimed at markets in the Far East.

Olive Hill, Invest NI’s Director of Technology Process Development said: “For Northern Ireland businesses to realise their full potential it is vital that they recognise innovation as an investment which can add value to their business.

“A simple, sometimes inexpensive, change to a product or process can open up new opportunities for small businesses. An Innovation Voucher is helping Fast Engineering Limited to design a new product offering in order to target export markets and support further growth.

Ms Hill 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.”

Seamus Connolly of Fast Engineering Limited commented: “With Invest NI’s support we have developed a solution which can be applied to our target export markets and also across our existing product range. The developments will also assist in our future growth by forming a spring board for a series of next generation products in yet untapped markets.”

The Innovation Voucher initiative for 2010 opens from 01 April – 30 April and will be the first of four application periods for 2010/11. Applications are invited from small enterprises with fewer than 50 employees and which hold a current, valid Northern Ireland company registration number. Further applications will be invited in September 2010, November 2010 and February 2011.

Interested companies can find more information and details of how to apply at