Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Invest NI vouching for innovation as £2.7m funding scheme unveiled

Small businesses will be given a chance to get a share of £2.7m in funding after the Government launched its latest Innovation Vouchers Programme.

The £4,000 vouchers can be redeemed against the cost of specialist expertise from universities, colleges and publicly funded research institutes.

Applications are open until November 30 with information available at www.innovationvouchers.com

A number of companies received an innovation voucher from Invest NI earlier this year as part of a pilot scheme, including fruit processor Orchard County Foods in Craigavon.

Working with the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) at Loughry, to investigate ways of lengthening the shelf of its fruit snack products, the company developed a new product which is expected to increase annual sales by £1m and will also create an additional nine jobs taking its workforce to 50.

Launching the new voucher scheme Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said the success of Orchard County Foods clearly demonstrates the importance of continuously developing new and existing products and services.

"The £4,000 voucher can help businesses to fully utilise technical and scientific expertise, and make a huge difference to their competitiveness in export markets.

"This increased funding for Invest NI's Innovation Voucher Programme, covering the next three years, will enable more small businesses than ever before to access specialist expertise that they may not possess in-house," the Minister said.

"This could be crucial in facilitating potentially lucrative advances in the further development of their product and service offerings. Small enterprises are the cornerstone of our economy so it is essential that we help as many as possible to fully utilise innovation in order to capitalise on new business opportunities."

During Invest NI's pilot scheme 250 vouchers were awarded to small businesses across Northern Ireland, with over £350,000 of funding delivered.

Patrick McCann, managing director of Orchard County Foods, said: "The Innovation Voucher project has already led to increased orders and we also hope the greater shelf life, and improved transportability, will help us boost sales into the UK and Republic markets."

He added: "The Innovation Voucher we received from Invest NI proved invaluable, enabling us to access expertise at CAFRE that helped us take a big step forward.

"As a result, the business has launched a new pineapple snack, marketed as a pineapple lolly, which is now available in 680 Tesco stores across the UK. We expect this to lead to an additional £1m of sales."

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