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The First MATRIX Report

In February 2007 MATRIX was asked to offer focused advice on the future policies necessary for Northern Ireland to ensure economic growth and wealth creation through greater commercial exploitation of its science and technology capabilities.

With DETI support, the panel embarked on an ambitious programme – working with Northern Ireland’s leading high technology businesses and senior academics as well as consulting with the wider stakeholder community.

An eight volume report was produced with a suite of recommendations at both the macro and microeconomic levels which had the scope to break new ground in enhancing science and technology exploitation policy for Northern Ireland. The panel concluded that the overarching challenge for Northern Ireland was to effect a permanent cultural change so that the responsibility for leading the innovation agenda lies not with government or academia but with business.

They found that in order for Northern Ireland to compete effectively, market-led, cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary innovation must become at least as important over the coming decade as technology based or supply push innovation was in the last.

The report highlights the need to create and maintain a new working environment for business, government and academia where they can combine their resources in a market led approach to innovation. Within these innovation communities the risk and the tension between technology push and market pull can be better managed to achieve greater economic benefit.

Imperatives for the future Northern Ireland economy

MATRIX has identified 4 imperatives for Northern Ireland if it is to rise to the challenge of the 21st century:

To compete more effectively as a modern knowledge and technology based economy Northern Ireland must develop a more innovative culture of collaboration across industry, government, and academia. Within this new environment business must take on an increased leadership role in the innovation agenda, with Government playing a support and facilitation role, and with academia working to inspire new heights of innovation through high-quality R&D, knowledge creation and workforce preparation.
Individual sectors have – through the MATRIX’ Horizon Panels – identified that an exclusively single sector based approach of ‘old economy’ thinking will no longer suffice in the competitive Global Market. Interdisciplinary and cross- sectoral approaches need to be developed and adopted – it is evident that it will be in the spaces between sectors and technologies where the true added value, differentiated and unique to Northern Ireland technology-to-market opportunities will be found and exploited.
Skills are the bedrock of the modern innovation-based and knowledge economy, right through from the schools system, to Further and Higher Education and on into Life Long Learning. Increasingly a highly developed skills base will be a key source of competitive advantage in the Global Economy. Therefore Northern Ireland must set out to align the continuum of its skills and training regime to the future focused needs and requirements of Northern Ireland’s higher value added goods, services and industries.

Near to medium term market opportunities

A clear and evidence based overview of future Technology to Market possibilities has emerged from the MATRIX Horizon Technology and Market Foresight programme.

This process identified an immediate series of specific near and medium term market focused opportunities for the 5 key technology sectors considered to be of highest economic significance in the Regional Innovation Strategy for Northern Ireland, taking account of the UK’s Technology Strategy Board priorities, the EU Lisbon Agenda and in relation to the findings of previous Northern Ireland foresight exercises. The sectors identified are:

Market opportunities in

  • leading differentiated / functional foods
  • innovative process and packaging
  • enhancing customer knowledge
  • leveraging computational science
  • multifunctional land usage
  • releasing embedded energy
Market opportunities in:

  • environmentally optimal products
  • design for passenger safety & security
  • use of lighter, stronger and more affordable materials
  • efficient supply of more complex, customised and innovative solutions combining products and services
Market opportunities in:

  • application of biomaterials
  • nano-structured materials and multifunctional materials (including catalysis)
  • composites
Market opportunities in:

  • packaged product software
  • near-shoring aimed at large providers of Financial Services, telecommunications, human resources and ICT
  • research into high performance embedded systems targeted initially at the financial services and telecommunications
Market opportunities in:

  • precision diagnostics and medicines
  • Home-based Care

Future markets identified

MATRIX concluded that the real opportunities for the future knowledge economy lie not so much within key technology sectors as in the overlaps and spaces between them. Consequently, Northern Ireland has the opportunity to secure strategic market advantage and to compete internationally in a range of future focused, multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral technology exploitation areas.

In order to compete and win in strategic areas of the global market Northern Ireland needs an ongoing process of foresight and horizon scanning to inform policy development and to assist the wider business and academic communities to seize specific market opportunities as they arise.

Based on global trends and drawing on the collective expertise of panel members, MATRIX mapped out four distinct future world market opportunities in which Northern Ireland can realistically hope to secure a distinct role to play.


Characterised by environmental issues, total lifecycle manufacturing and the challenges of (but also the opportunities presented by) climate change and traceability.

Northern Ireland Opportunities

Here there is a real opportunity for Northern Ireland to develop a branded unique selling
point as a ‘Clean Region’ across the full range of sectors (e.g. Clean Food, Clean Health,
Clean Energy, Clean Manufacturing, and Clean Environment).


Characterised by an ageing population, increased prevalence of chronic illnesses and a growing market for health promotion and disease prevention.

Northern Ireland Opportunities

Personalised Medicine, Home Based Care including Connected Health (using ICT), Nutraceuticals & Functional Foods and Management of Health systems.


Characterised by globalisation, growth in ICT, wireless, travel and the need for security solutions, distance learning, new business models, financial services and traceability

Northern Ireland Opportunities

There is potential for Northern Ireland to use the concept of the Connected Future as a
means of differentiation in strategic sectors and an opportunity for Northern Ireland to be a test bed for future connected technologies, particularly Connected Health.


Characterised by issues such as climate change, financial and data management concerns, personal safety concerns, security of resources and safe use of ICT.

Northern Ireland Opportunities

Areas for Northern Ireland’s future focus could include Secure Energy; Secure Environment;
Secure Food Supply; and Personal Security.

Key recommendations

The MATRIX Panel developed a series of recommendations on key elements of the innovation ecosystem in Northern Ireland to address the challenge outlined above. The panel  arrived at an overarching recommendation to deliver growth in the Northern Ireland economy based on an enhanced capability to innovate. This can be summed up as follows: Connect science to exploitation through market focussed technology innovation communities that are targeted at Northern Ireland specific roadmaps.

This model builds on the existing fundamental capabilities within the science and technology base in Northern Ireland but seeks to achieve a greater level of connectedness through multidisciplinary industry-led communities and enhanced routes to market for science and technology. To deliver this model the MATRIX panel made these key recommendations:

Industry led communities should be formed engaging business, academia and government to address global market opportunities by exploiting the science and technology capabilities in Northern Ireland.

These communities should build on existing innovation activities by coordinating and aggregating their innovation resources and by bringing together existing Northern Ireland, UK and EU innovation support programmes to create sustained funding and ‘flagship’ projects. The communities should aim to attract international commitment and gain recognition nationally (within 2 year), continentally (5 years) and globally (ten years). Such ‘flagship’ projects must ultimately seek to attract resources from other markets if they are to succeed and will then enhance the development of the Northern Ireland knowledge economy still further.

The Industry led Communities should create Northern Ireland roadmaps (driven by industry). These should demonstrate and create outputs for all members of the Industry-led communities – thereby driving more effective knowledge and technology exchange among community partners.

These roadmaps should aim to facilitate better exchange of information, assist with technology brokerage and allow members to aggregate existing resources and support programmes for maximum effect, especially to increase the absorptive capacity of new ideas.

A world class Intellectual Property Business Infrastructure must be created in Northern Ireland. In this there must be a more comprehensive understanding among the business and academic community of the intrinsic value of IP and how to exploit it and Northern Ireland should also nurture more leading capability within the region’s R&d and business community to develop fundamental IP.

There needs to be increased awareness in Northern Ireland of the potential to exploit the value of IP while avoiding any counter productive tendency towards over protection. Firms need improved capability to recognise the inherent value in their own business (in their people, processes, products, techniques, etc). It is evident that Northern Ireland needs to attract and retain top class researchers (international calibre) to develop deep IP capability which can be used to grow indigenous capability.

The ability to adapt or repurpose IP is also a critical ingredient of an effective IP Business Infrastructure.

Northern Ireland must have a flexible and responsive skills system that leads Europe in terms of its ability to meet changing demands and is superior to all identified competitors.

Skills are the heartbeat of the economy and the quality and depth within the Northern Ireland skills base is key to the region becoming globally competitive. All key technology sectors in Northern Ireland recognise that the current skills balance in the workforce is not sufficient for the economy’s needs. The entire supply chain of skills must be addressed from primary schools, secondary, third level and within the workforce. The review of STEM within Northern Ireland positions the science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects as the foundation of the future skills system needed for a knowledge economy. However, it must be clearly recognised that as a small region, flexibility in education is essential for Northern Ireland to be able to align the skills supply chain to market need, a need that is changing fast. Such flexibility and responsiveness can then become a source of competitive advantage for a small region such as Northern Ireland.

The Regulatory Regime must be transformed to allow Northern Ireland to take and manage a higher level of risk within a broad innovation portfolio, and the model for this must be developed and shared across industry, government and academia.

Leaders must be empowered, through the recognition that Northern Ireland must operate in a different way to support innovation and to accept and manage higher levels of risk (with a focus on the resultant higher levels of return to the economy). Developing a more flexible approach to risk management for public sector funding support to R&D and Innovation based firms would mark a significant step towards a more creative incentive system.

Northern Ireland needs to increase the emphasis on private sector investment in R&D & Innovation and the portfolio of firms that are suitable for investment. Venture Capital, Banking, and other financial support services for high- technology firms and related projects have to be encouraged, including through mechanisms such as tax credits, vouchers etc. Funding for R&D and Innovation activities should reflect the medium to long term nature of securing returns from R&D and Innovation based investments (up to 10 years if necessary).

Outcomes of the report

DETI Minister Arlene Foster undertook to give the report detailed consideration and to bring forward an appropriate plan for implementing its findings. She said, “What I hope and expect to get from the outworking of this MATRIX report is a blueprint for accelerating our economic growth, to give us a genuine step-change in the effectiveness and competitiveness of our economy over the medium to long term.”

Comments on the report

“This is not a case of Government speaking to Government, nor is the report an academic study. MATRIX was deliberately created to represent the voice of high-technology industry in Northern Ireland. It is of the utmost importance that we in Government listen to and act upon what our leading business people have to say.”
Arlene Foster, DETI
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The Government response to the first report

The formal Government Reponse paper, which has been agreed by Ministers across the Northern Ireland Executive, now represents a coordinated and joined-up action plan which will ensure that the Government strand of the MATRIX work will be taken forward in the most effective way.

The panel

Damien McDonnell

Quantum Innovation Centre

Professor Damien McDonnell OBE, BSc, PhD, DSc, CPhys, FinstP is a distinguished scientist who led the research and development of liquid crystal technology for the UK government.  He is an expert at developing enterprise models for managing research for profit.

Colin Elliott

Bombardier Aerospace

Colin Elliott Bombardier Aerospace

Colin is vice-president of Engineering and Business Development at Bombardier Aerospace in Belfast and manages a team of around 700 engineers. He joined Shorts (as it was then known) in 1977 as an apprentice.

Jim McLaughlin

University of Ulster

Jim McLaughlin

Professor Jim McLaughlin, OBE, a physicist and Fellow of the Institute of Physics, has developed significant initiatives within research, technology transfer, outreach and teaching since 1985.

Clare Passmore

Attune Womenswear

Clare Passmore

Clare Passmore is currently a freelance research advisor and founder of Attune Womenswear. Clare has over 20 years experience in healthcare research and development, including senior management positions in the pharmaceutical industry.

Ed Vernon


Ed Vernon OBE founded B.I.C. Systems in 1984 which became a leading technology systems integration business and was acquired by BT plc in 2004.  He is a former board member of the Software Industry Federation, Invest Northern Ireland, the IoD Northern Ireland Committee and the CBI Northern Ireland Council.

Bernie Hannigan

Public Health England

From 2008 until 2014 Professor Bernie Hannigan was Director of R&D for Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Health, Social Services & Public Safety. Previously she was at the University of Ulster in a range of posts including Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research & Innovation) and she is now an Honorary Professor.

Albert Sherrard

BioBusiness NI

Albert Sherrard was Vice President, Manufacturing Europe of Tyco Healthcare division at Tyco International. Since his retirement in 2004, he has acted as a consultant to the medical device industry in Ireland. He served as Chairman of BioBusiness Northern Ireland since October 2006. He is a Director of HeartSine and was a member of the Invest NI International Life Sciences Panel.

Gerry McCormac

Stirling University

Professor Gerry McCormac became Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Stirling in May 2010.  He has a science background and has conducted research in both Space Physics and Carbon Dating. He was Pro-Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast from 2001 to 2010, where he had responsibility for Academic and Financial Planning, Economic Development and External Affairs.

Frank Bryan


Frank Bryan is Managing Director of Bryan Powercom Ltd. specialising in computer networking, fibre-optics and electrical contracting and Chief Executive of QUBIS Ltd, company spin-out vehicle for Queen’s University Belfast.

Alan Blair

Colleges Northern Ireland

Alan Blair is the STEM & Economic Adviser to CollegesNI and, from 2007 to 2009, managed the NI Review of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) on behalf of the Department for Employment and Learning and Department of Education.

Bryan Keating


Dr. Bryan Keating is Managing Partner of CIP Partnership. He co-founded CEM Computers Ltd, and over the last 30 years, he has chaired the boards of Amacis, Andor Technology plc, Omiino, Amphion, Axis Three, SOPHIA Search Limited, Mail Distiller and James Leckey Design.

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