The Irish Governments Innovation TaskForce Report was published last week. I had a read through the summary yesterday as I just do not have the time to read through the full 132 pages of the report. Now overall I am quite pleased with the report. It contains some good suggestions, seems to identify most of the issues that need attention and contains very little “stoopid stuff”. Not surprisingly the Task Force contained a good few quality people from the private sector to keep the bureaucrats in check and to give them the occasional good kicking.
Anyway I have a few comments on the content of the report:
- The buzzword is obviously “INNOVATION” and rightly so. a lot of the current economic, financial and governmental thinking in this country (and globally) is rotten and failed. We need something fresh to lift us out of the doldrums of this recessions. However it is important to realise that innovation can *not* be created, structured or manufactured. Innovation can only be stimulated by creating the right environment and putting an infra-structure and system in place that enables innovation and that rewards it.
- The report clearly identifies the need to stimulate and encourage companies and ventures that are “Irish headquartered and owned”. For the last few decades there has been an overdependence on FDI which more often than not led to foreign-owned companies setting up business in Ireland purely because of tax breaks, cheap labour and/or grants. The second any of these factors disappeared these companies would move to cheaper countries with lower costs. The move by Dell to Lodz, Poland is a prime example of this. Our EU membership as well as the constant expansion of the EU into “cheaper countries” will only facilitate this. Companies that are Irish owned will not be as quick to make this move and are more likely to knuckle down and fight their way through a recession.
- It also clearly identifies the need for more and “better” risk capital. While I agree with this I would include the caveat that we need more early stage investment rather than “series B” level investment. Relatively small amounts of funding ( +/- 50k) combined with a simple and short application process will do wonders for stimulating growth of ideas into a viable start-up. Once these viable start-ups are in place funding will “show up” there are enough private and institutional investors constantly prowling for a good opportunity. Also past the seed/angel funding stage it is more important for the government to provide a good infra-structure and access to knowledge than to provide further funding.
- The report suggests that Ireland should “brand itself as an innovation hub”. Now while I agree that establishing an “innovation hub” would be a good thing I also think that the branding should come *after* the establishing a suitable environment and infra-structure rather than prior. Branding is mostly “smoke and mirrors” and we need actual tangible assets to create an “innovation hub”.
- It suggest using public procurement to stimulate the development of “innovative solutions”. There are two sides to this; While this is a great way to use public spending as a direct stimulus it also has the drawback that innovation is inherently “dangerous” & risky. Innovation lacks stability. Using public funds to procure services or goods that require a certain level of performance and accountability excludes it as a means of stimulating innovation. By all means put a directive in place that more public procurement funds have to go to SME’s but I don’t think that there is a fit with innovation here.
- “a sea change in attitudes – in public and private sectors – towards innovation and entrepreneurship, to recognise that they involve risk, and occasionally result in failure” This is a really good point and one that is often overlooked. While in some other countries it is accepted that the road to success is sometimes paved with failures in Ireland the consensus is still quite often that a failed venture is a personal failure. Nothing is less true. The saying “there is no such thing as failure, there is only the failure to get back up” still goes in my opinion. Learn from your mistakes and use them to improve your next venture! The suggestion in the report that Ireland’s’ personal bankruptcy legislation needs to be reformed is only a small step in that process.
- A substantial part of the report deals with Intellectual Property. This is indeed a “hot” area and in my experience there is a huge under-used resource there. Most 3rd level educational institutes have a wealth of IP resulting out of academic research that is just gathering dust. The institutes themselves are quite often to rigid and protective to release this IP and VC for instance have no interest in identify in it as an opportunity. Smart teams of entrepreneurs should access (and are in some cases) this IP and use it as a basis for a venture. Again; you do not need to “own” the idea that a venture is based on. Just be the best and first to market it.
- “we strongly support placement schemes in companies for both graduates and undergraduates”: Another very valid point. I am actually working with a number of educational institutes to get graduates & undergraduates involved in some of the start-ups that are going through the Greenhouse Incubator process. This has benefits for both parties; the start-ups have access to knowledge (and manpower) needed to get their venture of the ground and the graduates gain valid real life experience (and possibly a job if the venture is succesful). To many graduates exit our educational institutes without the slightest bit of knowledge of the “working environment”.
- The need for broadband is mentioned again. This crops up again and again but we still do not have it. Why?
- My last comment is that while this is a good report it is mainly filled with “what’s & when’s”. How about creating a document that deals with the “how”? Let’s work out a time-line and a set of actionables? How are we going to achieve is the next pressing issue. It’s time to end the workgroups, committees and task-forces and start transiting to action and deeds.