The Irish third level sector must have a closer than ever engagement with industry to give them the type of graduates they need, Limerick Institute of Technology President Dr. Maria Hinfelaar told the Irish Innovation Showcase at Dell Ireland’s Limerick campus on Thursday.
Reflecting on the hugely successful event, Dr Hinfelaar said that among the key learnings from the Showcase are that the third level sector needs to do all it can to make sure that there is no shortfall in terms of the skillsets that business needs graduates to have in a fast-moving economy.
“At LIT we are seeing an upsurge in students going for programmes in science, engineering and IT. We must as a third level sector actively listen to business and industry so that we are coming up with the type of graduates our economy needs. We have been very proactive in this area across a range of measures, including the Innovation Showcase, but we need to constantly reach higher in that regard as without the right type of graduates, businesses will not succeed. Aside from keeping existing companies here, having a ready supply of skilled graduates is one of the key attractions for attracting new investment as well,” said Dr Hinfelaar.
Ms Hinfelaar said that the growth of the Showcase from an event with just 40 exhibitors six years ago to one with over 120 last week, is indicative of the need for the third level sector to provide a platform for businesses to engage so that it is fully in tune with business needs today.
“We are really thrilled with the event, not just from the point of view of attendance and the feedback we have got but also because it gave us an opportunity to learn more again about the needs of business as they are today and will be tomorrow.
“We also provided key seminars for businesses on topics such as Access to Funding, Internationalisation and Innovation. Each of these sessions provided key advice to businesses from experts, including other business who have ‘been there and done that’.
“Thanks to Limerick Chamber, we also had 16 embassies present on the day giving individual workshops on key points around doing business in their countries. Given the stagnation in the Irish economy, internationalisation is more important now than ever so this was a great opportunity for exporting companies in particular to get the advice they needed about doing business in these countries, including from representatives of four of Ireland’s top five trade partners, the UK, Belgium, Germany and France, and a host of emerging partners.”
Padraig Healy, Executive Director Global Supply Chain and Site Leader, Dell Limerick, which hosted the event for the second year running, said: “Dell is delighted to once again partner with Limerick IT to host the Irish Innovation Showcase for the second year at our campus here in Limerick. We are committed to helping the local business community here in the mid-west and supporting start-ups and small business throughout Ireland.
“We hosted a series of technology clinics for attendees focused on the role that technology can play in helping new businesses to succeed as well as sessions exploring the potential Cloud has to offer them. It was a most interesting day and great to witness so much activity in the business community in the mid-west region.”
One start-up exhibitor company, Niche Protein, a spin-out from Shannon ABC – a research centre joint venture between LIT and Tralee IT - also walked away with €15,000 in equity funding and €10,000 in consultancy services in a Dragon’s Den style ‘Pitchcrawl’ competition.
The Irish Innovation Showcase was supported by a range of businesses and agencies in addition to Dell. These include AIB, as well as Enterprise Ireland, Limerick City Enterprise Board, Limerick Chamber of Commerce, Shannon Chamber of Commerce, Plato Mid West, Shannon Development and Supply Network Shannon.
Meanwhile, a leading Angel investment syndicate told the event that Irish businesses have a clear skills deficit when it comes to selling their products but not their companies, which they do too early.
In one of the key-note addresses, on ‘Access to Funding’, at the event, which was hosted today at Dell Ireland’s Limerick campus, Aidan O’Driscoll, a Director of Angel investment syndicate Irrus Investments, said that while we are good as a race of people at communicating, we are not necessarily good ‘sales people’.
Mr O’Driscoll said there is a gaping need, in particular, for a ‘Sales’ degree course to assist Irish companies, especially when it comes to the export markets.
“A real weakness we see as investors is in the area of sales. I don’t believe there is a single sales degree course in Ireland and there should be. That’s an indictment. The Irish are excellent communicators but there’s a difference between being a good communicator and being able to sell your products and services.
“Companies really need to have strong sales techniques as one of their key skillsets but unfortunately it is far too often not in their DNA. If you were to put expert sales techniques with the communication skills we seem to naturally have, then you would have the finished ‘sales’ product.”
He continued: “We teach people how to do marketing and PR but we don’t teach them specifically how to sell. The exception to this is when it comes to selling our actually companies. But we are too eager to do that in Ireland.
“As soon as we have a breakthrough with a business here, more often than not we sell the company. What we should be doing is looking at how we can take the company to the next level and into other markets.”