University of Limerick puts on the green jersey

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The new Analog building which is home to the Bernal Institute at the University of Limerick
The new Analog building which is home to the Bernal Institute at the University of Limerick

LIMERICK is a “very positive” place for companies looking at setting up an operation due to the deep collaboration between education and industry.

That is the view of Dr Mary Shire, vice president Research and Enterprise at University of Limerick, who says there is a collective will to “put on the green jersey” and try to win inward investment for Limerick.

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Dr Shire was speaking in the context of UL’s strong ties with industry, with over 200 active research collaborations across multiple sectors and leading six multi-partner national research centres.

The University also works with companies to help them solve problems, develop new technologies, products or services and to utilise the significant pool of high-level equipment available on campus.

“Excellence and relevance goes way back to the time of our founder Dr Ed Walsh, so I think we have a historic approach to not being a closed off entity, but actually being embedded in the community that we serve.

“We have really excelled – our research profile has increased very significantly and when I took the role in 2011, our research funding was about €14m. Last year it was €53m and a very significant portion of that is a result of the Science Foundation Ireland centres and there you have to bring in this industry collaboration, it is actually a requirement, because a significant percentage of the funding must come direct from industry.”

Dr Shire believes that having “a vibrant startup ecosystem in the region is critical for balanced development so we are not overly reliant on large multinationals that can come and go and we need to grow our own indigenous multinational.”

She cites the Nexus Innovation Centre where many of the companies have been founded by UL graduates, with more anticipated in the future. Dr Shire also cites Becton Dickinson’s (BD) decision to site their research and development centre of excellence in Limerick.

“To keep up with what is happening, you have to be able to build critical mass, and you can only do that in partnership with companies – because European funding is in exactly the same direction, in that it is very much aligned with industry,” she explains.

“Our programmes at UL are informed by industry to deliver industry-ready graduates through flexible programmes in areas we need to attract and retain companies in the Mid-West region.

“So for companies, there is more of an appetite. Up-skilling is critical, so they want to be taking in more highly skilled people at different levels now and the universities are able to deliver that,” Dr Shire added.

The Bernal Institute at UL also signed a deal recently with Netherlands-based firm SkyNRG to explore the development of sustainable aviation fuel in Ireland.

UL is itself home to two J&J companies and the EMEA Headquarters for Agile Software. Dr Shire believes the key differentiator in terms of value proposition for the IDA bringing companies to the region is “how well Limerick key actors are working together to market the region and make it a can-do place to do business.

“The IDA recently brought in other companies to look at Limerick, so the word spread through positive experiences and they felt that Limerick was a very positive place to come to.”