The microelectronics industry in Ireland goes back to early 1976 when Analog Devices started in Limerick with a 3” wafer fab and a design team making CMOS Digital to Analog Converters.
Another significant milestone was Intel coming to Leixlip, outside Dublin, in 1989.
Over the years industry growth has been fuelled by a focus in electronic engineering at several universities and semiconductor research at the National Microelectronics Research Centre (NMRC) which was set up as part of UCC in 1981. In more recent years, the NMRC evolved into the Tyndall National Institute with a broader scope of research activities in addition to semiconductors, with over 450 full-time researchers today.
Over the last 35 years the availability of experienced engineers and skilled graduates has enabled a constant stream of new businesses to start up, and multi-national semiconductor companies to start design teams in Ireland.
The start-ups get significant VC support, with about €70M invested during 2009 and 2010 for example. To put this number in context it is about 15% of the total VC money invested in Ireland and about 10% of the amount invested globally in microelectronics start-ups during that period.
This sector has good recognition globally, with the Electronic Engineering Times, a well known global publication in our industry, including 4 Irish companies in their list of the Top 60 Microelectronics Start-Ups in 2010.
The Irish Government offers very strong support to industry, in particular with an attractive corporation tax rate, and specific extra tax credits to support R&D activity performed in Ireland. The idea is that if companies are performing R&D in Ireland, this will lead to other activities being performed here and also lead to increased jobs and exports, adding value to activities in Ireland to improve our overall competitiveness and value proposition versus other countries and regions.
Education is very important to the microelectronics industry, with a steady stream of highly trained graduates in electronics engineering coming through to fuel growth in R&D jobs. Numbers of graduates actually went down for a period during the past decade due to negative sentiments toward our sector after the .com bust, but during the past few years this trend has reversed with both quantity and quality, as measured by exam results, recovering. Generally the Irish government is also encouraging increased focus on science and engineering through the 3rd level sector, which is beneficial.
Research is also critical to the microelectronics sector, with multiple research funds in place from the Irish government and the EU. However, in MIDAS, we would like to see a greater percentage of the research money being directed towards applied research that has a higher chance of commercialization. There is too much focus on fundamental science research today. This is important to do, but not at the expense of squeezing out the commercialization opportunities that companies can take advantage of in their products to grow revenues and employment. This is a critical spawning ground in terms of where the next wave of start-ups is going to come from.
With the support of Enterprise Ireland and the Industrial Development Authority, Microelectronics Competence Centre Ireland (MCCI) was formed in 2010, to perform applied research on projects which have all been specified and actively supported by Industry. This is a great success so far, with far more projects being requested and a wider industry involvement than was anticipated in even the most aggressive plans.
We are working to set up a virtual microelectronics incubator which will have the infrastructure to support future start-ups in our industry. We hope to have this in place within the next year.
We are working with the 3rd level education sector to ensure the continued supply of quality engineers into our industry and ensure the content of the engineering courses continues to evolve to support our needs.
We also want to position MIDAS as a more effective representative body for our industry and be able to work with the various state agencies to facilitate the growth of our industry in Ireland.