Innovation Vouchers & Siesta Sofas

Start–ups and small companies continue to find it difficult to secure funding from private institutions and that’s where an initiative like the Enterprise Ireland Innovation Vouchers programme comes into its own, by providing financial support to the tune of €5,000 towards product development. The DIT Hothouse team is experienced at advising small businesses on how to secure such funding. With a wide base of research expertise on-campus, DIT has developed an excellent track record as a partner for start-ups and small businesses across a broad range of sectors, including specialist or niche areas, for example, furniture product design. Access to Enterprise Ireland Innovation Vouchers has enabled Irish furniture companies to develop products for international markets. John Walsh, a Design Lecturer at DIT and award winning designer of furniture and products, has helped a number of indigenous Irish businesses, including Siesta Sofas, in researching and developing furniture design product ideas through innovation vouchers.

Using Enterprise Ireland Innovation Vouchers Siesta Sofas were able to develop a sofabed for Hospital & Hospice Environments

Gerard Crofts set up The Sofa Factory in 1993 and it developed into one of the most recognisable furniture brands in Ireland by the mid-2000s. Gerard contacted DIT’s School of Creative Arts with the idea of bringing to market a range of sofa beds designed for use in hospital and hospice environments, allowing families to accommodate loved ones on an overnight stay.

The company had already designed and patented a reclining mechanism allowing a sofa to be converted quickly into a multi-positional chaise or bed, for which they received positive feedback from the HSE and the NHS. Gerard was confident that the product had enormous potential in both the domestic and export markets but he required product development expertise to turn the concept into a real product. The DIT School of Creative Arts helped develop the prototype into a product that could be manufactured in volume, with consistency. It also helped Siesta Sofas make improvements, such as ease of use, so that the mechanism now converts from sofa to bed in just 10 seconds. The initial reaction to the improved product has been excellent, with many units already placed in NHS hospitals in the UK. “We are excited because we believe we have a unique product with worldwide appeal,” said Gerard Crofts. “We are very grateful to the team at DIT who worked with us to research and hone our product development. We were also delighted to be awarded an Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher to help with research costs. We were recently awarded a second innovation voucher to help develop the product and range further. It has been the perfect funding scheme for a company such as ours. We had a great idea, but it needed to be further developed.”

John Walsh was advised of the Enterprise Ireland Innovation Vouchers programme by DIT Hothouse when they first met to discuss how best to further a number of very interesting projects initiated through companies approaching the Dublin School of Creative Arts. “The DIT Hothouse team highlighted the usefulness of innovation vouchers and their suitability as a funding solution for the projects in hand,” said Walsh. “Sometimes companies approach Enterprise Ireland and may already have an innovation voucher pending before speaking with us,” Walsh explained. “They are entitled to seek R&D support from a range of different qualifying education institutions. Those who decide to work with DIT tend to do so because we offer R&D skills across such a broad range of areas from technical to creative and business. Also, the DIT Hothouse team provides a great resource in matters of funding advice and commercialisation.”

Guidelines for Applying for Innovation Vouchers

Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation Vouchers programme was developed to build links between Ireland’s public knowledge providers (i.e. higher education institutes and public research bodies) and small businesses. Innovation Vouchers worth €5,000 are available to assist a company to explore a business opportunity/problem with a registered knowledge provider.

Companies wishing to apply for innovation vouchers and seeking advice in this area should consider the following guidelines:

1. Clarify your problem set out in writing the technical challenge/problem you wish to solve.

2. Identify the required research capability and define what type of skills you think you will need to solve the problem.

3. Contact DIT Hothouse in relation to your innovation vouchers project to discuss the project and introduce you to the appropriate research group.

3. Define the Project Work with the research group to define how the technical problem can be solved, what the output will look like, and the programme of work required.

4. The Innovation Vouchers programme will require time and resources, often the largest cost being people (e.g. developers or engineers that need to be hired to complete a project).

5. A Collaborative Reseach Agreement will be put in place between the company and DIT Hothouse to cover things like access to the intellectual property (IP) that goes into or comes out of the innovation vouchers project, costs and  time-lines.