In the latest episode of the ThinkBusiness Podcast, John Kennedy talks to Dr Rich Ferrie, director of UCC Innovation about Cork’s entrepreneurial spirit and the launch of UCC Consulting.
In recent months ThinkBusiness launched a new way of sharing business stories and know-how through podcasting with the first, second, third and fourth editions of The ThinkBusiness Podcast with 19 episodes so far featuring a wonderful mix of entrepreneurs and business leaders shaping the future. Now onto our 20th episode we plan to roll-out each episode individually each week. Our podcast series is available here on ThinkBusiness every month but also on our channels and via mobile apps on Spotify, SoundCloud, Stitcher and Apple.
This week we talk to Liverpool native Dr Rich Ferrie who oversees Gateway UCC, which has 55 spin-out and start-up companies that employ 330 people full-time, attracting private and public packages of more than €38m.
“I think the mystery ingredient about Cork is the ‘never say die’ attitude, the indefatigable nature of Corkonians and always wanting to rise to a challenge and never be beaten”
He also oversees the UCC IGNITE accelerator which has worked with 100 start-ups and more than 120 founders who have launched companies such as Ana Bio Technologies, ApisProtect, Eurocomply, LegitFit, OnTheQt, PunditArena, Supply.ie, Talivest, TrustAp and Vconnecta.
He is about to launch a new departure for the university, UCC Consulting, which will see the university play an even greater role in helping businesses and drive Ireland’s rich innovative ecosystem from the Cork region.
Cork is an inspiring place
Dr Ferrie began his academic career in genetics research before realising that there had to be a better way to exploit science in a more commercial way. This led to him heading up Technology Transfer at Manchester University. As part of his role he became a consultant for Enterprise Ireland which brought University College Cork onto his radar.
“When I came down to meet people here I was really inspired by what a special place it is and what a great place it is to do business as well as science. So that’s why I am here and I’ve been here for about 18 months now.”
Cork is one of the jewels in Ireland’s technology ecosystem and has been home to companies like Apple and Dell EMC for decades. Not only that it has been a vibrant source of entrepreneurial talent, the hallmark of which has been the global outlook of individuals like Pat Phelan (Sisu, Cubic Telecom and Trustev), Liam Casey (PCH International) and Teamwork founders Daniel Mackey and Peter Coppinger, to name a few.
Ferrie said he is keen to foster and encourage this spirit of innovation and enterprise. As director of UCC Innovation, his ambition is to create a “full service” innovation activity within the university, ranging from start-ups and spin-outs to building the future through UCC Consulting as well as actively helping companies in the context of Covid-19 and putting the economy back on its feet.
“I think the mystery ingredient about Cork is the ‘never say die’ attitude, the indefatigable nature of Corkonians and always wanting to rise to a challenge and never be beaten. People really do stick to it. And what I would say about the entrepreneurs in both the Ignite programme and the spin-out programme is that they are really, really committed to being entrepreneurial.”
The hallmarks of UCC Innovation’s prowess in bringing research into the business world can be seen in the emergence of Epi-Restore, a cutting edge technology developed in collaboration with APC Microbiome that can have potential applications in Crohn’s disease or other conditions that affect the gut. In recent months university spinout Keelvar, headed by former AI lecturer Alan Holland, raised €16m to optimise the $100bn per annum supply chain industry.
“I would say the academics at UCC – in the context of their research and academic careers – really show great entrepreneurialism. They’re essentially sole traders and have to rely on their own skills and survive in the dog-eat-dog world of competing for research funding and getting to the next level, academically.”
He said the activities at UCC Innovation would be divided into two camps: supporting existing businesses and growing new businesses. This often involves a balancing act between supporting their existing research but also understanding business disciplines like cashflow or the business of licensing intellectual property.
The Covid-19 pandemic threw up a myriad of opportunities for research at the university to address issues such as remote healthcare and more.
“We’re engaging with entrepreneurial students and entrepreneurial academics, capturing their ideas and then giving them the support they need to grow exciting businesses from here in Cork. And now we are overlaying that with the consultancy piece to help existing companies. That is a really important and often overlooked aspect of what we do, making sure there is a healthy dialogue between our academics and external companies.
“We are taking the view now that if companies wish to get in touch with the university about particular issues they would like to solve, we’ll give them a soft landing and connect them with our academic colleagues who have really relevant expertise and skills.”
A shrewd observer of life, Dr Ferrie has noticed similarities between his own background as a northerner in England and the intense rivalry Cork people feel for Dublin. “Growing up in Liverpool and spending a lot of my working life in Manchester there was always a lot of antipathy towards the southeast of England.”
This, he explained, was because a lot of the research budgets often went to universities located in Cambridge and Oxford. “Certainly, in Manchester we were always very, very keen to try and redress that balance and fight on a level playing field.”
He said that as a result he gets the competitive nature of Cork people and buys into the Republic of Cork spirit. “It seems to be very, very similar. But I think just to relate that to not just an attitude thing, but to an entrepreneurial thing, whether Cork is unique or whether it is a reflection of Ireland in general, I think people are genuinely entrepreneurial and very, very sharp to spot an opportunity.”
Written by John Kennedy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Published: 10 July, 2020