Innovating to make Dublin the IoT capital of Europe.

Three Business Customer
On: 28 May 2020
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DCU Alpha Innovation Campus is a community of like-minded, innovative companies that has co-located alongside DCU to benefit from its research and talent network with a particular focus on the Internet of Things (IoT). Executive Director Ronan Furlong talks about its ambitions and achievements to date.

After a decade of great work by the IDA, foreign direct investment has made Dublin an Internet capital of Europe with many US tech multinationals locating their regional headquarters here. This in turn has spawned an indigenous digital ecosystem in Ireland, largely based around SaaS, the app economy and social media, what I call ‘the internet of screens’.

At the DCU Alpha Innovation Campus, we took a decision early on to do something different, to target ‘a market in the gap’, an underserved IoT sector in Dublin, which was focused on bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds . The flavour of our tenant companies is very much in the space of connected hardware, sensor technology, wearable devices, and data analytics – the internet of things as opposed to the internet of screens.

Physical space to make and test things.

To be an advanced economy, in my view, you need a manufacturing capability; you need to grow firms like Bosch, GE and Ford but with a 21st century slant that makes their devices or ‘things’ interconnected and smart. What all the companies that work out of the campus have in common is that they make or manage things in the physical world – devices, wearables, vehicles and buildings. Our job, as an innovation centre, is to facilitate them in what they do.

In 2014, we took over a site that had previously served at various times as an industrial research centre for a number of state agencies, including Enterprise Ireland, the Sustainable Energy Authority and the National Standards Authority of Ireland.

Comprised of 12 different buildings spread out across 200,000 sq. ft., the physical space caters well for our tenant companies. As well as office buildings, we have laboratories and industrial workshops – places where companies like Novaerus, Taoglas and Dolmen Design can prototype their connected hardware innovations, using  3D printers, CNC machines, anechoic chambers etc., without annoying the neighbours.

Over the last number of years, we have been actively developing the site and curating the tenant roster, to support IoT-related innovation and to explore synergies between companies and researchers with expertise around this new wave of connectivity in the physical world.

Encouraging collaboration and partnership.

What we offer is an opportunity for like-minded companies to cluster and work together across various technology spheres and intersections. Our ambition to be the epicentre of ‘internet of things’ development in Ireland, is definitely helped by intra-company collaboration, where people can have a coffee and kick ideas around.

We try and stir the pot and broker conversations, taking companies out of their silos, encouraging them to work collectively to develop fuller stack solutions that address particular industry challenges.

All sorts of synergies develop between tenants. Two next generation IoT companies with facilities in DCU Alpha were recently involved in an acquisition. Taoglas, a leading provider of IoT antenna and RF solutions, has bought Firmwave, an IoT product design and engineering company, highlighting how effective on-campus relationships can be.

Other dynamics are even more surprising. It’s rare for two start-ups in the same hyper-optimised or niche sector to end up in the same country, let alone the same campus, but that’s what happened with FIRE1 and Endotronix. These are two companies from Ireland and the US respectively, that lead the world in implantable sensors for cardiovascular disease. They happily co-exist on the campus and give each other credibility around the work they are each doing.

Another success story is Touchtech Payments, a DCU student start-up that developed biometric technology for credit card payment verification. They were bought last year by Stripe. Novaerus has also been making the news with air purification solutions used to combat Covid-19, leveraging innovative technology that was prototyped and developed on the campus. The company is one of the many DCU Alpha based firms that the Three IoT team have worked with, enabling consumers to use an app to monitor air quality via its devices in real time.

Where academia meets industry.

While commercial success is important to DCU Alpha, cashflow and rent are not the main drivers for a University-backed innovation campus. We are interested in the ties between industry and academia and one of our main metrics for success is the extent to which we can get companies to engage with DCU’s research and talent network. It takes many forms, from one-off projects to longer-term research programmes such as Horizon 2020 or DTIF grants. We want the university to be a valued resource for these companies, whether it’s providing a talent pipeline or trying to connect them into relevant parts of our research ecosystem.

When a company comes into DCU Alpha, someone like Prof. Noel O’Connor is typically the first port of call. As well being a Full Professor in the School of Electronic Engineering at DCU, he is also CEO of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, Ireland’s largest Science Foundation Ireland-funded research centre. He will engage with tenants and broker connections with the Irish research community, as well as offering advice and assistance in terms of technology development or applying for complex Government and EU funding programmes.

Our ambition is for DCU Alpha to play a part in making Dublin an IoT capital of Europe, a mission that is already underway thanks to the innovative and collaborative work of our Tenants, their partners and academic colleagues across the University.

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