• Unprecedented levels of flexibility • Accelerating IT enhancements to enable new workplace practices • Balanced regional development and; • Looking beyond borders to accelerate internationalisation… the outcomes of the COVID crisis…Shannon Chamber Webinar hears

Enterprise Ireland’s priorities, both nationally and internationally, how companies are coping with and managing through the COVID crisis, future-of-work trends, the flexibility and innovative traits of the Irish workforce and Ireland’s unparalleled success in securing international research funding were just some of the topics covered in a well-paced, hour-long webinar hosted by Shannon Chamber on Wednesday, 3 June.

The webinar saw Enterprise Ireland’s CEO, Julie Sinnamon being interviewed by Shannon Chamber CEO Helen Downes, with guest interviewer and contributor Colin MacDonald, CEO of Fine Grain Property, event sponsor and owner of Westpark Shannon, part of the 1 million sq. ft. property portfolio the company owns in 15 locations in Ireland, where 7,000 people are employed, many of whom are Enterprise Ireland clients.

Heading up an organisation that has 40 offices globally and with client companies accounting for €23.8bn of Irish exports and employing 221,895 people, the highest level of employment in the agency’s history (65% of which are outside Dublin), Ms Sinnamon is fully attuned to the impact the COVID crisis is having on companies, the innovative responses that many are initiating and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

“Short-term liquidity, supply chain closure and getting product to market were just some of the issues companies faced at the outset of COVID. However, many of these have been resolved and we are now witnessing a high level of innovation with companies digging deep and, in some instances, diversifying to produce COVID-related products,” stated Ms Sinnamon.  

“Remote working, so alien at the outset, is now an acceptable working arrangement and many companies may not go back to where they were given that they are making changes they would never have envisaged and finding that it works for them. They now understand that their staff don’t need to be in the office all the time and that the level of engagements and transparency is as high when working remotely.”

This sentiment was endorsed by Fine Grain’s CEO Colin MacDonald who has found that an increasing number of companies are now more open to flexible arrangements.

“Dealing with COVID has accelerated the pace of change in people’s relationship with work. We can expect to see higher levels of flexibility regarding how and where we work in the future. This is not unique to Ireland; it’s a global trend arising partly from people’s familiarity and relationship with technology and their newfound ability to work remotely,” he stated.

“Ireland has successfully created industry centres of excellence in locations outside Dublin, where multinationals, domestic employers, and educational institutions provide a superb ecosystem for talent to drive growth. These locations allow employees to be closer to home and family, with reduced commuting, less expensive housing, and ultimately greater work-life balance. The growing impact of technology and acceptance of flexible work arrangements will further augment these advantages.” he added.

As outlined by Ms Sinnamon, companies are thinking differently now. “We are seeing some great innovations as a result of companies capitalising on new opportunities in niche areas and through working with their buyers who have unique insights into market trends. That’s why we encourage client companies to keep the lines of communication with their buyers open and to focus on digitalisation as a means of fostering those connections.”

Encouraging companies to avail of the wide range of supports available from Enterprise Ireland, the Local Enterprise Offices, local authorities and banks to support companies manage through and emerge from the crisis, Ms Sinnamon pointed to the COVID-19 Business Financial Planning grant as a good starting point.

“With 400 applications already approved via that grant scheme, this is good starting point for companies as it gives them access to a financial consultant for approximately five days to develop a recovery plan.

“Other schemes such as the Lean Business Continuity Voucher, for which we have over 200 applications, and the Sustaining Enterprise Fund, 40 applications to date, are available to help companies maintain business continuity and liquidity and to strengthen their ability to grow.”

Turning her attention to internationalisation and the benefits of partaking in pan-European collaborative research projects funded through Horizon 2020, Ms Sinnamon said that the innovativeness of the Irish workforce has already enabled Ireland to secure over €900 million in Horizon 2020 funding, which equates to a 15.3% application success rate versus the EU average success rate of 11.9%.

“And when looking specifically at Enterprise Ireland clients the success rate climbs to 40%. Furthermore, while funding is an important aspect, the feedback is that the access to an international network is equally beneficial for companies’ growth and development,” she added.

Keen to identify additional networking opportunities for Irish companies, Ms Sinnamon extended an invitation to Shannon Chamber to utilise its resources and international network to work collaboratively to develop additional beneficial international synergies for Chamber members via Horizon 2020.

Commenting on the outcome of the webinar, Shannon Chamber CEO Helen Downes stated: “The webinar may only have lasted one hour but the positivity and innovative disposition that emanated from it, from both Enterprise Ireland’s Julie Sinnamon and Fine Grain Property’s Colin MacDonald, was exhilarating. The  fact that COVID-19 has triggered innovation and that the Irish have an ability to look at issues and design a solution around them, will, no doubt, lead to increased levels of innovation and exports via innovation enabling companies to get through and emerge from the economic situation we now find ourselves in.”

The Webinar ‘In Conversation with Julie Sinnamon, CEO, Enterprise Ireland’, sponsored by Fine Grain Property and supported by IQEQ and Clare County Council, was one in a series of webinars being hosted by Shannon Chamber. Full details can be found at www.shannonchamber.ie/events-training/