Innovation Taskforce Report Released

The Taoiseach has launched the report of the report of the Taskforce on Innovation (here‘s a link to a page featuring the report, a summary and a video featuring lots of people telling us how cool innovation is).

I was critical of the composition of the taskforce when it was appointed but, rather than fire off knee-jerk criticisms, I’d like to take some time to read it before commenting further. However, as always, cogent opinions from our commenters are very welcome.

30 replies on “Innovation Taskforce Report Released”

@Karl Whelan:
I heard Mr Conor Lenihan TD, Minister of State with special responsibility for Science, Technology, Innovation and Natural Resources, interviewed on the wireless at lunchtime. Three nuggets of information emerged from the waffle:

(a) he would like to be a cabinet minister
(b) there will be no new money to implement the taskforce’s recommendations
(c) there may be extra points for Maths in the Leaving Cert.

Those are the only points of which the news has come to Harvard; only one of them seems to be related to what the taskforce said. I presume it relates to the taskforce’s point (from the summary) that “we” should “Ensure that our education system promotes education and creativity”, half of which seems to be rather a modest objective.


The manner in which recommendations are categorised by ‘indicative exchequer cost’ would seem to leave something to be desired. Surely its ‘the economy’ we are trying to revive first and foremost.

The Taoiseach said it’s an important “marketing” message for ministers to carry abroad for St. Patrick’s Day.

IBEC and the US chamber of course endorsed the plan.

Former ESRI economist Danny McCoy said such a policy was successfully pursued by Finland in the early 1990s.

Of course we have all heard of Nokia but that company was selling toilet paper in Ireland before venturing into mobile phones. Nokia had acquired Jeyes Ireland. Anyone remember Jeyes Fluid?? (when I was young, I was intrigued how it was black coloured in the bottle and then on use turned a blue/white).

“vision” “ambitious” “inflection point” “innovation ecosystem” are some of the buzz terms used.

The report says ” we recommend that Ireland should nurture a national portfolio of Business Angel funds. Until this has been achieved, we suggest that temporary State intervention in the form of a new Seed Capital scheme is required. We also identify a set of tax initiatives to incentivise startup and angel funding activity.”

A Key aspect is using Silicon Valley as a template:

“It is instructive to consider the example of Silicon Valley. The Silicon Valley area has a population of approximately 2.5 million and an employment pool of 1.4 million (by way of comparison, total employment in Ireland is approximately 2.1 million out of a population of 4.5 million). It is estimated that 320,000 people are employed in 5,500 high technology firms.

Were Ireland to achieve levels of employment in high-tech firms comparable with Silicon Valley, the numbers would increase substantially. More realistically, Ireland might aspire to be a leader in Europe and aim to have 15% of employment concentrated in high-tech firms. This would result in almost 346,000 people being employed in high-tech firms by 2020 – a net increase of 215,000 jobs over the period.”

Silicon Valley has a market of more than 300m!

This is why the likes of Facebook can get traction. but after 7 years, the survival rate for a high-tech company is 25% – – not an issue covered in the report.

Where is the initial marker for Irish spin-outs from universities?

There is no detail on survival rates or markets.

As Cowen signalled, it’s a good aspirational marketing document for St. Patrick’s Day.

More here:


Revision of Bankruptcy Law is addressed here – and this is welcome – as ‘smart economy’ not possible without it [bracket all the other variables for the mo].

Irish Broadband is a joke – I cannot explain it to the Scandinavians – who take high-speed broadband as a fact of life. & look at Korea. Eircom anyone?

This, of course, is a Report. Actions are something else entirely – but on these two – the report is on the ball – first is quickly fixable (fe*k the vested interests) – 2nd is another nightmare and the need for dictatorial transformation – similar to DDDA land – the prospect of paying 2000% for something that we once owned for 100%! Policy Madness from the fundamentalist free-mawrket_eers coming home to roost.


On a more critical note ……….

“It recognises the interdependence of four types of capital accumulation:

•human or knowledge capital
•physical capital
•natural or environmental capital
•social capital ”

There isn’t an academic in the known universe who has figured out the dynamics of this set of inter-relationships. There isn’t a lay-man or lay-woman either.

While I haven’t read all the document I would begin by stating that the composition of the task force included no one who is in the trenches now i.e running a startup. It is populated mostly by academics and managers within large multi-nationals – these people know nothing about entrepreneurship other than what they have read. [While Steven Collins seems to have his finger on the pulse he has already been around the block and therefore doors open for him that don’t open for every other entrepreneur ).]

The report says that “we need a transformation in the scale and nature of the Irish Venture Capital industry”. This is a key point that needs to be taken on board by the government. The biggest problem facing Irish startups is the lack of venture capital AND the shortage of suitably qualified venture capitalists. Most Irish VCs are bean-counters – very few have any innovation credentials and have no real understanding of what it is like to be an entrepreneur.

I think there’s plenty of venture capital available. What we have is a shortage of method. For turning an idea into a company. For turning a small company into a medium sized one. And for turning a medium sized one into a large one. It’s different in the IT knowledge economy as you are selling an idea for a product that you will make to an end customer, having the customer bargain with you about price and scope and then trying to do it for less than cost in the hope of getting another customer after that.

@ Karl
I just skimmed through it.

I hope that it is successful, but there seems to be a strong theme of theological reasoning in it and aspiration.

Now that we are getting spartan on ourselves, what happens to those people and institutions that dont cut the mustard?

Will be be heresy to challenge, for example:
The actual standard of the students
The veneration of the Entrepreneur
The actual outcomes of any investment

There is a danger in this being an exercise in labelling everything different but the things themselves not changing at all.
A danger of drama over action…


Apart from the fact that the doc reads a little bit like a shopping list of things that would be “Good Things”, a few specific things raise my suspicions.

The first is the line that “public procurement should be used to stimulate
the development of innovative solutions with export potential”, and the second is that “Until this has been achieved, we suggest that temporary State intervention in the form of a new Seed Capital scheme is required”.

Now, far be it from me to suggest anything untoward, but is it barely possible that this is the genesis of a scheme where certain friendly faces can see state investment in their ideas? State nominated investment committees are a scary scary thought.

Other than that, the change in attitudes that Ireland needs is not just one that tolerates failure, and by the way this will happen far more than “occasionally”, but one that tolerates and celebrates success and which ENCOURAGES wealth created through these means. Our friend Jack O’C is unlikely to be comfy with this type of attitude change.

Finally, the overall goal of 117k jobs being created by 2020 is – IMHO – unreachable unless there is significant involvement of existing large enterprise. The food sector, pharma, etc., would all have to be revolutionized to create this many new jobs so I wouldn’t be surprised to see success declared at some date in the future when 117k jobs are deemed to exist in innovative enterprises rather than being created in innovative enterprises. Sure it’s only a small difference.

I believe, based on reading the document, which I think is a solid piece of work, that the potential for 117,000+ jobs described includes FDI, and probably includes jobs attracted to Ireland because of the innovative environment, even if they are not themselves directly focused on innovation.

@Michael Hennigan

Good article thanks. There’s nothing quite like quantifiable evidence.

I must admit, when I first saw this report I was very sceptical. The triumph of aspiration over reality perhaps?

It does smell of yet another diversion (aka pseudo-event) by the government to ‘guide’ us into what to think about rather than have us spending time reflecting on things they might prefer one not to reflect on.

I am probably getting too cynical in my old age.

@Hugh Sheehey – “but is it barely possible that this is the genesis of a scheme where certain friendly faces can see state investment in their ideas”

The word ‘gouge’ comes to mind. So does the word ‘trough’.

@Aidan Connolly – “Most Irish VCs are bean-counters etc.”

My experience of running a start-up for a VC company a few years back was that they were only interested in how they could get the original entrepreneurs/investors out as quickly and as cheaply (preferably for nothing) as possible once it showed signs of taking off. Sadly, when it was sold, I took the money rather than the offer to join the new owners, bought a lovely house with the proceeds and promptly lost it in a divorce – my ex-wife had better lawyers and bean-counters than the VC company 🙁

The only final point I would make is that I hope the mortgage companies/banks find it in their hearts to ease off on the unemployed for a few years then while they are waiting for these jobs to be created. I am regularly in touch with the unemployed in various research and I don’t hear any reports of there actually being any jobs out there at the moment – so these 117,000 will be very welcome when they arrive.

a rather ironic element is that at the same time as the Taoiseach was launching the report, the School of Business (wherein I work) was having an application to appoint a lecturer in innovation and entrepeneurship denied….still, I am sure that someone somewhere will join the dots….

A New Chapter for Bankruptcy
By RONALD MANN, Professor of Law at Columbia: New York Times Mar 11

“THE Obama administration introduced a plan this week to encourage defaulting homeowners to sell their houses at a loss, the latest in a long line of reform packages promising to break the logjam of underwater mortgages. But without major changes to the bankruptcy system, such measures won’t aid the American families torn apart by the economic upheavals of the last two years.”

Considering that Irish Law in this area remains in the Feudal Age (and many of us heading back to serf-dom notwithstanding) this is worth reading [if not for the graphic alone] – and relevant to any Smart Economy/Society where one expects failures before a reasonable success by entrepreneurs – not to mention those on ‘impossible mortgages’ where only “rational” choice is to walk away to zero – and be allowed to get on with life.

@Brian Lucey

You are drifting to the zeitgeist – throw a few howlers in the quad – you’ll feel better.

@ Karl Whelan,

What is your definition of innovation? If you can come up with one, I might be able to say a bit more. But we need to decide upon a definition for innovation, to have any exchange of suggestions. BOH.

@ All

I am sure that there will be Masters and Doctorates of Innovation will be running around the place fixing potholes and the like…

It will be interesting to see how innovation and entrepreneurship can be the result of learning outcomes of a one year course, or something similar!

Although in an earlier learning model, an apprentice watched, assisted, and practised, and practised until they ‘got it’. It took time, ‘time served’; but we are running out of time arent we!


@ Al,

The concept of the apprentice and the course trained professional were always coming into conflict in the building industry. I came up through a kind of course based training myself. But in the industry, it was rather more about the apprenticeship. You learned the craft through others. When they established professionals in the building industry, it never worked. It is still a real mess. I have been meaning to read Richard Sennett’s book, The Craftsman, for quite a long time. A lot of what I understood from the culture of the build-er(s) in Ireland, comes from what Sennett describes in that book. Have a listen to the BBC 4 Thinking Allowed podcast to get some idea.

I heard something Napoleon said recently. He said after fighting 60 battles, he knew nothing new he had not known from the beginning. Napoleon was different from all generals that had gone before him. Napoleon had learned of fighting wars, from reading books. He was a scholar of war. Commanders before Napoleon had learned their trade through years of campaign, before the were given charge. But still, despite his book-ish learning, I think Napoleon still understood things like a craftsman would do. Because he worked his way up through the ranks, from a newbie Corsican hopeful. Napoleon said of his battles, I might lose a man, but I will never lose a moment. The craftsman operates like that, if my experience is anything to go by. Even though Napoleon made tactical errors against an opponent, he could win strategically. I believe, that is the way someone who goes the craftsman route can operate. Even though they make mistakes, they can still win strategically. I do not think you can learn that through scholarship on its own. Few opportunities for real apprenticeship exist in the modern world anymore. I wrote an article for the Sunday Tribune, Developing ‘on the back of a cigarette box’ on August 23rd 2009 – I was describing an employer who offered the unique opportunity of an apprentice style of training – but it was also an employer who had gone out of business. BOH.

@Brian Lucey – ” the School of Business (wherein I work) was having an application to appoint a lecturer in innovation and entrepeneurship denied…”

I can’t make up my mind whether it’s heartbreaking or mind boggling.

The depression is and will be a cause of innovation. The old ways, dependant upon copious amounts of credit are gone and something will replace them. Food and commodities their raw ingredients, will increase as a % of household budgets partly because they will shrink across the board. FIRE industries will disappear as will most of massage, nail care etc that went with it. Time will blossom as money disappears. Baristas will be a rare breed.

Fundamentals will be revealed again as they were concealed by the ad campaigns distorted by credit.

Ascertain the fundamentals in life and “innovation” will happen. Credit will not!

Credit will never enable innovation. It can help development, but so does capital. Keep it safe!

@Karl Whelan

I do not believer that ‘entrepreneirship’ can be fully ‘taught’. One can teach the techniques, business skill-sets, and so so forth; this is the role of university/Institute of Technology/2nd Level teaching – and professional development for the small firm actors in different sectors etc

Nor can it be addressed purely on an ‘individual level’ – as in much of microeconomics. Personality factors matter – often more than abililty levels (a prerequisite)- personality linked to background and context. In present EdSystem – critical thinking is discouraged not encouraged – follow the formula reigns supreme.

More important is the local environment, and the institutions that provide the ‘framework conditions’ for entreprenership to flourish: this is where most is needed around here – this also stressed by Craig Barrett in his interview with Matt Cooper [I linked it earlier]. Compare the institutional role of banking in Ireland and Germany for example – the badge of honour of a few bankrupticies in the background of most successful US entrepreneurs [here – fail once and emigrate] – the Korean broadband speeds – the leves of IT ignorance in Irish 1st and 2nd level with their Finnish or Korean counterpars – the refusal of the Scandinavians to allow ghettoisation to continue – and from the Freakonimics brigade, look at the levels of entrepreneurship in the Irish drug trade and criminal fraternity.

Look at the real quality of the overall Irish Training/Education System for 2-68 year olds – it is front-end loaded. On Unions and Employers – the focus is only on Pay and not on SKILLS – productivity and competitiveness come from the application of skills on adding/creating value ….. recent reports are simplistic pie in the sky …………… a brushed up version of linear Telesis/Culliton 30 yrs ago and with no real demonstration of what is required in terms of complexity – we are on the way down in the global stakes ……… and Revoluiton in Attitudes, Governance & Institutions would be required – I just don’t see the WILL at the mo …………. present case is simply massive support for the proposition that ‘minority elites will do all to protect their own interests over the interests of massive majority – and get away with it’

& Look at Corporate Governance and Company Law.

I’m off to the Rugby with Blind Biddy down the road – she loves to hear those Welsh boyos sing (-;

@ Brian O’Hanlon

Tolstoy rejected the view of history through the achievements of great men.

On the battle of Borodino, he wrote: “It was not Napoleon who directed the course of the battle, for none of his orders was carried out and during the battle he did not know what was going on.”

@ Michael Hennigan,

I wouldn’t worry too much always, that the great central figure doesn’t know what is going on. There is a major problem in the construction industry with keeping those lines of communication going. Much of the time today, the construction industry operates devoid of any leadership from a central expert. That is the dysfunctional sorry end, it has got to. But we still prefer to see the central designer/innovator as someone who is commanding the entire process and operation. I attempted to un-fold that issue, in my Sunday Tribune article Developing ‘on the back of a cigarette box’, To ask the unpopular question, what does the central architect contribute? I think there is some balance, whereby the architect or central figure should intervene, but not too much. Frederick P. Brooks is one of the more interesting people I have read. His talk when he received the Turing prize back in 2000 was good. He used as one example, the setting up of the global positioning system, GPS, where a central architect figure benefitted that operation. Brooks talks a lot about ‘budgets’. Budgets are not always along one dimension, cost, but can work along many. For instance, in the Irish banking crisis, I would argue that time represents a significant part of the budget, as well as cost. The quicker we get it sorted out, the cheaper it will be. Simply going for the ‘lowest cost option’ (Cowen, Lenehan have empasised the cost element most often) might lead us astray.

The most impressive architects I know are the ones who can work within the process of the enemy. Just like Napoleon could. The enemies in construction are things like time, cost, climate and complexity. The best architects, put themselves in the process and understand where they should not involve themselves. Many more architects however, try to impress their personalities too much. They hide behind regulations etc, and use the legislation as an offensive weapon to thump other members of the operation with. To try and prove there is still a central commander. Brunelleschi seems to be one of the last figures in the new world who could put himself within the process. An innovator, an entrepreneur, a designer. He could specify how to build, as well as design. (After Brunelleschi, designers and builders took their separate ways) The part that makes Brunelleschi a transitional figure, was that his structures removed a link with ‘climate’ that previously had existed in architecture up to that point. Climate being one of the biggest adversaries to buildings. A link, which buildings many centuries later, and society as a whole is trying to re-connect. BOH.

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