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How embracing R&D can lead you to continued success

Kevin McCann, Invest Northern Ireland's director for research and development, explains why investing in the future is crucial - not just for business growth but for survival

Published 15/11/2016

While the likes of Apple may seem worlds away from a business operating in Northern Ireland, the same rules apply to all
While the likes of Apple may seem worlds away from a business operating in Northern Ireland, the same rules apply to all

If you look at some of the most successful companies in the world today - Apple, Toyota, Dyson - it's not hard to see what they all have in common. They are dynamic, innovative and constantly reinventing their products. They are prime examples of companies that were built on research and development, and, equally as important, are sustained by R&D.

While the likes of Apple and Toyota may seem worlds away from the small and medium businesses operating now in Northern Ireland, the same rules apply to all.

Investing in R&D leads to long-term benefits that can include not only increased sales but also increased efficiency and productivity.

Yet even with much tangible evidence of the benefits of R&D, many businesses, particularly small businesses, are reluctant to invest.

Understandably, one of the biggest stumbling blocks is the perceived cost involved.

But there are many sources of support, both financial and advisory. For first-time investors in R&D, Invest NI can provide up to £50,000 of assistance towards the costs of developing, building and testing a prototype and handling intellectual property.

Invest NI support is also available to businesses that want to undertake further R&D projects which will improve or develop new products or processes through new scientific or technical knowledge.

There is also a wealth of funding available UK wide, such as Innovate UK and EU wide, such as Horizon 2020, particularly for companies that are interested in partnering with other businesses or academic institutions to carry out research.

Even with Brexit looming, businesses can continue to apply for EU-related sources of finance - including Horizon 2020 which has a budget of over €70bn - as long as the UK remains a member of the EU (that is, until Article 50 negotiations are complete).

In fact, the UK Government has said it will underwrite the funding for projects even if they continue beyond the UK's departure from the EU.

In addition to grants, businesses can also benefit from R&D tax credits which can significantly reduce the cost of carrying out R&D projects and UK Patent Box which can reduce corporation tax to 10%.

Many businesses in Northern Ireland have taken advantage of the support available and have built their success on investment in R&D.

Take DisplayNote Technologies, a small company that has R&D at its core.

Its area of expertise is creating collaborative software, and it has secured significant sales of its products with major corporations worldwide including NEC Display Solutions Ltd (Japan), DSI (Technology Core) (Australia) and TouchIT Technologies INC (United States).

Its successful Montage product - which facilitates wireless presentation, communication and collaboration - was developed with an Invest NI grant for research and development.

And a £67,000 R&D project by Amphora Technologies has created a unique and non-destructive instrument to test the durability of reinforced concrete on-site.

The company is now finalising distribution agreements out in China.

Similarly, software company Hyperoo took its back-up product to a higher level with an investment of £49,000. The result of the investment is first-year sales of £85,000.

As long as customers continue to seek out new products and new technologies, businesses need to embrace R&D and move forward. Otherwise they risk being left behind.

  • Invest NI's R&D support is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) under the EU Investment for Growth and Jobs Programme 2014-2020

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