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Posted 01 July 2010

Collaborative networks essential to drive innovation in Ireland

Hundreds of influential business, industry, and academic leaders, gathered at the InterTradeIreland 2010 All-island Innovation Conference at University College Dublin to explore the potential economic opportunities which arise from building collaborative networks.

The key message to emerge from the conference was that building collaborative networks is essential to drive and facilitate innovation and to develop a dynamic and indigenous knowledge-based economy on the island of Ireland.

In a keynote address, Professor Woody Powell, a leading economic sociologist at Stanford University, California, outlined the central factors required to build robust business clusters within an economy.

Day 1: Building Robust Business Clusters – Lessons from Biotech

Professor Powell recently conducted a study on the development of the biotech industry in 11 regions of the US. Each region had the potential to form biotech clusters because they were rich in resources such as scientific knowledge, money, and business skills, but only three regions formed robust clusters, while the other eight failed.

From his findings, Professor Powell concluded that the successful clusters were marked by the presence of  local ‘anchor tenants’ who fostered the values of openness and transparency in the region and encouraged exploration, a diversity of types of organisations and a dense web of local relationships.

“Collaborative networks are the locus of innovation and explain why high-tech clusters form in some regions but not others, even when the regions have comparable resources,” said Professor Powell.

“The implication for all industrial sectors is that successful clusters require the thorough mixing of people, ideas and resources across the university, business and financial communities. Having organisational diversity and catalytic organisations which provide the relational glue to hold clusters together and facilitate the transfer of best practices are also essential.”

“The development of true collaborative networks will be instrumental in the development of a robust and innovative knowledge-based economy on the island of Ireland,” concluded Professor Powell.

Aidan Gough, Strategy and Policy Director, InterTradeIreland who also delivered a paper at the conference said: “InterTradeIreland is aiming to create an all-island innovation eco-system that can provide for a more efficient and effective use of resources to the mutual benefit of both jurisdictions. The eco-system will take advantage of each others’ strengths to create scale in both excellence and opportunity.”

“Such a system will be connected in a manner which ensures that creative ideas are nurtured quickly and effectively to successful commercialisation,” added Gough.

Speaking at the conference, Dr Pat Frain, Director, NovaUCD said: “There is a critical need to create innovation networks at all-island and international levels and to invest in their evolution in order to optimise collaboration and facilitate engagement between relevant stakeholders.”  He added, “The development and expansion of innovation networks have a major role to play in economic renewal on the island of Ireland and in particular in developing Ireland’s emergence as an innovation island.”

Speakers at the conference included some of the island’s leading business and industry leaders who discussed the theme of building collaborative networks for innovation in a knowledge economy.

Dr Hubert Henry, Director of Innovation, Bord na Móna, said, “Bord na Móna believe innovation is a 'team sport' which must involve internal and external stakeholders to be truly successful. No company or organisation is an island. It can't all be done in-house. By becoming outward looking and developing external collaborative networks an organisation can maximise the value added benefits accrued.” He added, “In a way it is a form of innovation 'eco-system' which needs to be developed and possibly, of more importance, maintained.”

According to Bernie Cullinan, CEO, Clarigen, “In a world of increasing complexity, the power of many through collaboration provides a pathway to the development and execution of higher quality ideas at lower cost.”

Dr Leonora Bishop, Manager, Strategic Investments and RD&I Policy, IDA Ireland said, “IDA Ireland has been driving our national innovation agenda through collaborative networks, high-tech clusters interacting with the latest academic thinking in order to increase our translational research capacity.” She added "This is precisely what Professor Powell has been advocating."

Other speakers were Dr Martin Curley, Director, Intel Labs Europe; Dr Peter FitzGerald, founder and MD, Randox Laboratories; Damini Kumar, European Ambassador of Creativity and Innovation and Dr John O’Dea, CEO, Crospon.

The InterTradeIreland 2010 All-island Innovation Conference was organised by NovaUCD, the Innovation and Technology Transfer Centre and UCD's Innovation Research Unit.

The conference formed part of the InterTradeIreland All-island Innovation Programme which aims to promote and encourage innovation across the island of Ireland. This Programme is organised by InterTradeIreland, Queen’s University Belfast, NovaUCD and the Centre for Innovation and Structural Change, NUI Galway.


The InterTradeIreland All-island Innovation Programme aims to promote and encourage innovation across the island of Ireland. Best international practice in an area of innovation is shared with business leaders, students, academics, knowledge transfer professionals and policy makers in each region via innovation lectures, seminars and master classes. The All-island Innovation Programme is complemented by a Community of Researchers working on innovation across the island. The aim of this community is to study innovation in several academic disciplines and to progress the development of an all-island knowledge economy via aligning best practice in innovation research with policy-making and its implementation.


Professor Woody Powell is an economic sociologist who holds appointments in several Schools, including Education, Business and Engineering at Stanford University, California. He joined the Stanford faculty in July 1999, after previously teaching at the University of Arizona, MIT, and Yale. His primary interests are in how ideas and practices emerge and spread. To study this, he examines how knowledge is transferred across units and organisations and the role that networks have in facilitating or hindering innovation. 

NovaUCD is University College Dublin’s Innovation and Technology Transfer Centre.  NovaUCD is responsible for the commercialisation of intellectual property arising from UCD research and for the development of co-operation with the industry and business communities. NovaUCD has been funded through a unique public-private partnership that includes AIB Bank, Arthur Cox, Deloitte, Enterprise Ireland, Ericsson, Goodbody Stockbrokers, UCD and Xilinx.


UCD’s Innovation Research Unit provides an excellent interdisciplinary research environment for investigating the governance of complex innovation systems on the international, national, regional and sectoral level. IRU's emphasis is on applying new methods to innovation research such as agent-based simulation and social network analysis complementing quantitative and qualitative research in the social sciences.


(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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