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Photonics Ireland unveils 'action plan'

02 Sep 2015

Education minister calls for more than 100 PhD students to be trained in photonics by 2020 at Cork launch event.

The Photonics Ireland stakeholder group has launched an “action plan” outlining its vision for the future of the photonics sector in the country.

Ireland’s minister for skills, research and innovation Damien English formally unveiled the plan – outlined in this framework document - at Cork's City Hall. The city is home to the €30 million Irish Photonic Integration Centre (IPIC).

The document sets some specific targets, including a plan to train more than 100 PhD students in photonics over the next five years, to secure more funding from Europe’s Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) researcher training program, and to implement a national outreach program to raise the profile of photonics in the country.

Speaking at the opening of the Photonics Ireland 2015 conference, English said: “Photonics is one of the globe’s most important future industries and an area in which Ireland can flourish.”

He added that the country ought to be able to excel in the photonics sector through its national technology platform. “This platform is a leading example of how Irish research bodies and industry can come together to define a common strategy and identify and execute activities which will drive job creation and develop technologies that will significantly improve all our day-to-day lives,” said the minister.

Industry collaboration
That platform is co-ordinated by IPIC, one of seven centers in the country to have received significant financial backing from Science Foundation Ireland back in early 2013. The IPIC center, which is focused on innovations in optical communications and biophotonics, brings together scientists from three institutions in Cork and Dublin City University with photonics industry partners.

One example of that industrial collaboration is a partnership with California-based Compact Imaging, a start-up firm developing a miniaturized version of optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging based on tiny, battery-powered optical sensors.

The company already had a number of connections with Ireland, including a long-standing relationship with Martin Leahy’s tissue optics and micro-circulation imaging laboratory at the National University of Ireland in Galway, while more than 80 per cent of its start-up capital is said to have come from Irish investors.

Speaking in March 2015, Compact Imaging’s CEO Don Bogue said that its IPIC collaboration came at a "critical time" for the company as it looked to transfer the technology out of the laboratory.

Photonics entrepreneurship ‘bootcamp’
That technology transfer aspect appears to be a key element of the Photonics Ireland action plan. In its new “Making Light Work” strategic document, the organization states:

“By aligning start-ups, SMEs and multinationals to the relevant supports across our focus areas of technology, incubation and training, Photonics Ireland will develop a coordinated action plan [to] address the needs of companies within the Irish photonics community and develop a network of key stakeholders to connect Irish strengths to emerging market opportunities.”

Other actions identified include compilation of a “capabilities database” and an industry-focused survey that will aim to identify any gaps in the photonics research landscape that Ireland should address in order to be more competitive.

The organization also plans to increase industry collaboration by establishing an online portal to communicate “capital efficient” mechanisms for companies to access newly developed technologies.

IPIC has also set a target of launching two start-up companies every year, and to that end is hosting its first photonics “bootcamp” from November. Officially launching at this week’s conference in Cork, the idea is to provide future photonics entrepreneurs with an opportunity to explore the commercial potential of their technology or business idea with an experienced team of mentors at Dublin’s NDRC (formerly Ireland’s National Digital Research Centre) and the IPIC management team.

• For more information on joining the IPIC Photonics Bootcamp contact David McGovern at the Tyndall National Institute.

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