Innovation: the power behind your business

In the fast-changing landscape of business, investing in Research and Development (R&D) and innovation is not merely a choice; it is a strategic necessity to achieve sustained growth and competitiveness. As the Director of Innovation and R&D at Invest Northern Ireland, I am convinced of the transformative power that innovation holds for businesses, and the pivotal role innovation plays in the growth of our economy.

Northern Ireland has a celebrated history of inventions that have left a lasting mark on the world; from John Boyd Dunlop's pneumatic tyre to Frank Pantridge's portable defibrillator to James Murray creating Milk of Magnesia. This inventive spirit is still present today, with NI companies shaping the global landscape in life & health sciences, engineering, cybersecurity and renewable energy. 

Innovation is central to a thriving economy. There is a clear link between those businesses that embrace innovation and the productivity of the company and our economy. Its why innovation is one of the key pillars in the Department for the Economy’s 10x vision, acting as the primary catalyst to boost competitiveness and fuel growth in Northern Ireland over the next decade.  

It is well known that introducing new and improved products and services is imperative if you want to meet changing customer needs and grow sales. However, there is a frequent misconception that innovation equals ‘laboratory based white coat’ R&D and as a result some businesses don’t realise they are innovating. Innovation can be applied to any part of a business and is used to create value by solving a problem. 

Innovation is everything from refining products, to changing processes to make them more efficient, to investing in more complex R&D to develop a new product or drug. Whatever form it takes, innovation is crucial to securing your business’ future. It is the cornerstone of success, ensuring your business stays ahead of the pack and can adapt to the dynamic demands of your market. This message came across loud and clear at the 'Innovate Local Northern Ireland' event we hosted in Lisburn last month. Organised in partnership with Innovate UK, the event explored the importance of innovation to growth, competitiveness and resilience.  

So now we’ve convinced you how important it is, let me outline how we can help you innovate in your business.  

Knowing where to start can sometimes be the biggest barrier to innovation and it’s important to ensure that the advice, level of funding or expertise you secure fits with your business plan and business model. If you haven’t already, visit and complete the Innovation Assessment to help you identify how innovative your business is, and get suggested help and next steps.  

We have a support programme or grant for whatever stage you are at: from £5k innovation vouchers all the way to financial support towards larger scale R&D projects. The advice and guidance we also provide is invaluable. 

A £5,000 Innovation Voucher is perfect for those new to innovating and will allow you to tap into specialist knowledge and work with a university or college to refine a product, service or process – like sports performance start up, Move TrU, which recently used an innovation voucher to work with Ulster University to design its first ever textile protype. The company is now using this protype to test new markets.  

To export globally requires you to develop products that can beat your competitors so maybe now is the time to invest in R&D to develop a new product, like Lurgan based TruCorp. It used our R&D support to bring its latest product Airsim Difficult Airway to market and tap into new sales in the US market.  

Our Project Definition support offers up to £50K towards the cost of planning and defining your R&D project and apply for an Invest NI Grant for R&D. It helps you to reduce your project’s risks and identify its costs and potential benefits. You can also use Project Definition to help scope out a collaborative R&D project or identify other sources of external funding. Collaborating on a project can be a great way to share risk and bring together the knowledge and experience of several companies to achieve a shared goal. We also work closely with our partners and will ensure we direct you to the right support for you to solve your problem. 

We can help you identify the right programme for your project, for example an Innovate UK programme or Horizon 2020, the EU programme for R&D and innovation. In fact, most Northern Ireland businesses who have gone on to access Innovate UK funding have done so with our help. There is also a team of Innovate UK staff based in our office in Belfast who can help NI companies explore and potentially access Innovate UK programmes.  

The importance of investing in innovation and R&D cannot be overstated. It is the difference between success and failure, the engine that propels global competitiveness. But it doesn’t just benefit your company. Sharing what we learn through innovation, research and development can go on to benefit others. This is innovation diffusion, or knowledge transfer. Its where the learnings of one company can be applied in a different way in a different company, or sector, creating even greater impact across our economy. So, by encouraging more companies to embed innovation in their business and take up more innovative processes and technologies, we can ultimately increase our collective knowledge and deliver benefits for all of society.     

If you have an innovation project you would like to take forward, why not call our Business Support team on 0800 181 4422 to see how we can help you make it a reality.