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Life sciences

Bridging start-ups, academia and industry gives Ireland the edge


Deirdre Glenn

Head of Life Sciences, Enterprise Ireland

A solid science base of excellent universities and researchers plus multi-nationals makes Ireland the perfect location for life science start-ups to start an export drive.

Regardless of economic ups and downs, successive Irish governments have been committed to investing in science and technology, and the country is now reaping the benefits.

That is according to Deirdre Glenn, Head of Life Sciences at Enterprise Ireland. Proof comes, she says, from a simple stastistic. The science start-ups that the organisation backs are turning over €2bn a year and €1.6bn of this comes from export markets.

Underlying this commercial success is a key differentiator in the way Ireland approaches supporting its life science start-ups. Enterprise Ireland not only develops links between these promising small companies and academia, but also to industry.

“We’re the only body that we know of that gets involved with the best scientists in their country to commercialise research in this way,” she says.

“We’ve got very close links in academia so we can help with partnerships in research but then we also have the contacts in industry. The great thing about this dual approach is we have a great insight into what researchers are working on and we also know what has a ready-made commercial market.”

Ireland’s small size is a benefit to getting things done

Ireland has a built-in advantage when it comes to exploiting science, Glenn says. Not only does it have excellent universities and a dynamic science base, its small size, contrary to what some may imagine, is very attractive to investors.

“The fact we’re actually a pretty small nation of just four and half million people or so means we don’t have a cluster but  still nobody is more than a couple of hours from each other,” she says.

“So we have a strong history of partnership and close links which makes things so much simpler. When we speak to international colleagues they’re always surprised at how simplified the structure is here in Ireland and how a group like ours is able to develop the links with academia and industry at the same time.”

Export diversity derisks Brexit

Another advantage for Ireland’s life science industry is that Enterprise Ireland is devoted to driving export sales. This has meant the start-ups it supports have close ties to markets across the globe and are less reliant on the UK than other parts of Ireland’s economy. 

“We’re obviously hoping to maintain a very strong trading relationship in the future,” she says.

“However, of all the industries in Ireland, we’re probably one of the least affected by Brexit because we have very strong ties with Europe, particularly North Europe and the Nordics, as well as North America.”

Much of this appeal with export markets and in encouraging multinationals to choose Ireland can be backed up by what is generically referred to as the Irish Advantage. Research shows the country is stable and trustworthy and also has the most flexible workers in the world, and is home to the most innovative SMEs in the EU.

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