Northern Ireland's SMEs urged to embrace innovation

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster is calling for Northern Ireland's businesses to take advantage of up to £4,000 of EU funding aimed directly at developing innovative projects.

Invest Northern Ireland's Innovation Voucher programme invites businesses to apply for the funding to collaborate with one of 41 universities, colleges and other public sector research organisations throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, to help develop new products and processes.

Foster is urging SMEs to take advantage of the project and to embrace innovation to develop new products and processes and in turn boost business performance.

She said: "Innovation can be anything from developing new processes to improve productivity to refining a product to make it more cost effective to produce. There is a direct link between innovation and increased competitiveness."

"The uptake of Invest NI's Innovation Voucher scheme to date has demonstrated how important its support is to helping businesses realise the value to be gained from investing in new products and processes."

Designed to improve the country's competitiveness, the scheme has attracted over 1,000 businesses since it began in 2008, with more than half of these projects now complete.

Part of the European Union's Regional Development Fund, Invest Northern Ireland's aim is to support new and existing businesses to compete internationally and attract new investment into the country, with the aim of boosting the local economy.

Invest NI recently confirmed an additional £3.7 million in funding will be pumped into the scheme over the next three years.

Businesses are able to apply for up to three vouchers for different projects, provided that previous projects have been completed.

Invest NI said that vouchers would primarily be awarded to projects where private sector funding or other Invest NI funding was unavailable.

Limited companies, sole traders and partnerships are being invited to apply for the next release of Innovation Vouchers between 1-31 October 2012 and February next year.