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Irish Food Companies Encouraged to Capitalise on Publicly-funded Research

Research, development and innovation have a key role to play in the sustainable development and competitiveness of the Irish food sector. Building and improving connections between companies and the universities and research institutions that are carrying out publicly-funded research can facilitate this – that’s the issue being discussed at a Teagasc symposium on technology transfer held in Dublin today, Tuesday, 24 November.

Members from the food industry, the technology transfer community, academics, and governmental organisations are being brought together at this unique symposium, designed to highlight the importance of science-based innovation for the growth of the food sector and emphasise the value of connecting these different communities. Best practice from the international stage will be presented to participants with talks by representatives from the OECD, tech transfer offices in the United States, UK and Swedish universities and public-private enterprises in Belgium.

Lesley Millar-Nicholson, Director of the Office of Technology Management at the University of Illinois, said: “This symposium brings together many actors and players from the innovation ecosystem and offers a unique opportunity for a constructive dialogue on the innovation needs of the Irish food industry. I am honoured to have been invited to speak about the U.S. university perspective and models for commercialising research.”

There is a strong emphasis placed within Food Wise 2025 on the importance of fostering a culture of innovation within the Irish Agri-food sector. Sustainability, smart purchasing and ‘hyper-convenience’, authenticity, and health and well-being are just a few of the trends in recent years which have seen a rise in consumer demand for new food products and processes. This has increased the competitive pressures placed on the food industry, but it also offers potentially lucrative growth opportunities for this sector. The pressure is on for the food industry to innovate; to generate new knowledge and ideas and to grow high-value exports. Food companies are being encouraged to look to knowledge sources outside of their firms to innovate – in particular, they are encouraged to look to publicly-funded food research.

Professor James Cunningham, keynote speaker from Newcastle Business School, said: “Public R&D underpins firm-level sustainable competitiveness and success. It’s essential that firms engage with public R&D”. Successful partnerships between industry and publicly-funded researchers will require a supportive environment, appropriate infrastructure and frameworks, and an open dialogue. Today’s symposium hosted by Teagasc aims to highlight the opportunities and challenges of science-based innovation in the growth of the food sector.

Speaking at the symposium, Declan Troy, Director of Technology Transfer in Teagasc said: “Ireland’s food industry is one of our most important export sectors. To remain competitive globally firms must continually become more innovative. Outputs from Ireland’s public research programmes can act as a major catalyst for developing new products and new markets but only if carefully exploited by the food industry through a variety of effective technology transfer mechanisms. Teagasc implements a novel approach through its Food Gateways Programme to enable food companies capitalise from publicly-funded research and thus contribute to Ireland’s economic growth”.

The technology transfer symposium is part of the Teagasc Gateways events series, which are focused on brokering relationships between researchers and research output and industry, to stimulate innovation and, of course, commercialisation. International best practice in technology transfer will be showcased at the symposium and the challenges of effective and efficient technology transfer will be addressed. These learnings will be applied specifically to the Irish food sector in a panel discussion involving representatives of the international tech transfer community, the Irish food industry, the research community, and funders of public research.