We speak to Mark Christal, Manager of the Regions and Entrepreneurship Division in Enterprise Ireland (EI), about how EI supports regional development and enhances the STEM sector in Ireland
“The link between enterprise and the third level sector is incredibly important,” says Mark Christal. “Building this link has been a key focus for Enterprise Ireland for a number of years. The objective is to support companies that have the potential to grow and scale. To do that, we need to be proactively working and making sure those links between indigenous enterprises, and the third level sector, are strong.”
In 2018, Enterprise Ireland gave over €30 million to the Higher Education sector, in Innovation Partnerships and Innovation Vouchers, to ultimately support the innovative capability of Irish companies. EI recognises that Ireland needs to have a vibrant, active and connected education sector that has an enterprise focus. Ireland needs to produce graduates who have the skills to work in STEM-focussed companies and drive them into the future.
“Small to medium enterprises (SMEs) have to compete against larger multinationals to attract and retain talent,” says Mark. “It’s an even bigger challenge when you talk about the regional dispersion of our companies, as they need to attract skills into those regional locations outside major cities.
“We launched our Regional Plan in June this year, which recognises that while we need to see the cities continue to grow, we also need to see a balance across regional development. Currently 64pc of the jobs in the companies that EI support are outside Dublin. But we know that we need to have a stronger, more resilient enterprise base, balanced across Ireland. We need to see companies in rural Ireland, and in more regional parts of the country, continue to grow and scale.”
Mark Christal cites Inishowen Engineering in Co Donegal as a great example of an innovative regional company. They are in a very rural part of Ireland but they’re important employers, employing 114 people.
“They make a huge contribution to that part of the country. Having a third level infrastructure which is accessible to those kinds of companies, whether they’re based in the major cities or whether they’re in more regional locations, is really important and a big part of our agenda.”