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Focus: Northern Ireland

Hi-tech expertise, industrial ingenuity and customer-focused innovation give Northern Ireland a competitive edge

In a global knowledge-based economy, Northern Ireland does not compete on the basis of labour or cost, but rather through the skills, creativity and innovation of its people. Young, well-educated, inventive self-starters with a global outlook, they provide Northern Ireland?s competitive edge in today?s dynamic knowledge economy.

Northern Ireland provides high-quality science parks, incubator facilities and a range of purpose-built accommodation for sectors such as contact centers, shared services and telemarketing operations

Recognising that customer-focused innovation is a key driver of productivity and overall competitiveness, Invest Northern Ireland positioned it at the heart of its business development strategy. We prosper and grow faster by being smarter and more productive than our competitors. Invest Northern Ireland?s objective is to strengthen the region?s competitiveness by assisting enterprising people and companies with innovative ideas that have global business potential. Innovation is an important part of the region?s business heritage. Northern Ireland researchers and entrepreneurs have invented world-class technology such as the portable cardiac defibrillator, the Wireless Access Protocol internet ?gateway? for mobile communications, the dashboard electronic tyre monitoring system, remote sensors, medical polymers and biorray diagnostics.

It is hardly surprising that this inventiveness has influenced many of the most successful international businesses to locate in Northern Ireland. They include Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, Seagate Technology, Openwave, and 3Par Inc. Most recently, Indian technology-led companies, including HCL-BPO, Firstsource, Polaris Software Labs and Tech Mahindra, have sought to harness the potential of its people through substantial investments in the region, creating thousands of quality jobs.

Another sector benefiting substantially from the availability of quality people and 100% broadband communications is the financial services sector. Recently, Bank of Ireland Securities Services announced the establishment of a centre of excellence servicing its funds administration business. This investment will create 149 jobs for experienced accountants and skilled graduates over the next five years.

Northern Ireland has developing clusters of indigenous companies with significant expertise in ICT, particularly mobile communications; digital audio technology; life sciences; advanced electronics and financial services. And in more traditional sectors, such as engineering, Northern Ireland has a global reputation for excellence. For example, Northern Ireland is the global market leader in recycling, screening, quarrying and washing machinery. This is a sector involving global players, such as Terex, Sandvik and Metso Minerals, and local companies including CDE Ireland, which have an outstanding commitment to innovation.

R&D spend is growing in Northern Ireland, rising to £302m last year, the majority coming from the private sector and higher education. In line with this, Invest Northern Ireland?s own strategy is focused on support for innovation, entrepreneurship and international exchanges.

One of Northern Ireland?s greatest strengths is the research capability in its world-class universities and the relationships which they have with local and international companies in strategically important sectors such as information and communications technology, electronics and life sciences, including nanotechnology, bioengineering, medical polymers, cardiovascular research and oncology.

Excellent examples of this strength are Queen?s University?s Electronics Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) institute in Belfast and the University of Ulster?s School of Telecommunications Engineering in Coleraine. ECIT is now a globally recognised center of excellence in fields such as electronics, digital communications, software and IT. Its areas of expertise include high-frequency circuits, speech, image and video systems, security, and system-onchip (SoC) architecture and design. Its partners include Intel, Xilinx, Toshiba, Panasonic, Bell Labs, TDK and SAP.

An acknowledged centre of expertise in nextgeneration telecommunications engineering, the University of Ulster has been chosen by the UK government to lead a major collaborative initiative on Next Generation Networks and Services. One of the tasks that Invest NI is addressing is the creation of flexible and responsive mechanisms to manage and sustain the commercialisation of the research in our universities, in other words, to turn leading-edge research into revenue.

These are the steps the organisation has already taken to realise these goals:

  • Eighteen Centres of R&D Excellence have been established, specifically in Life Sciences, including the areas of proteomics, functional genomics and speciality pharmaceuticals. Almost £300m has been invested in our Centres of Excellence programme, creating 18 centres overall and representing the largest funding of commercially-focused R&D in Northern Ireland.
  • The Proof of Concept fund supports highly innovative technologies from the universities that can lead to spin-out companies, technology transfer or licensing deals.
  • A suite of R&D programs has been developed to aid new product development and the commercialisation of research by both foreign-owned and indigenous companies.
  • Building networks between academia and industry. The Higher Education Innovation Fund is a joint Invest NI/Department of Employment and Learning initiative that encourages higher education institutions to increase their ability to respond to the needs of business and promote innovation. The direct recipients of the funding are the two local universities.

Another Northern Ireland advantage is size. It has a small business community and this makes contact between government, business and academia much easier. The region is also closely integrated within the UK and Europe, which makes it remarkably easy for companies to access key markets including the European Union.

For more information, contact Invest Northern Ireland at: Website:

Added the 15 September 2008 in category Innovation UK Vol4-1

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