The Cross-Border Innovation Alliance

The Cross-Border Innovation Alliance collaborations between higher education institutions, small and medium sized enterprises and innovation support organisations on the island of Ireland is aimed at establishing how SMEs can access research and training from universities to benefit their bottom line.

The alliance builds upon over thirty years of close collaboration between economic development agencies in Ireland aimed at building up economies that had suffered through years of conflict in the Northern Ireland troubles.

Alliance members


For more information on the alliance outcomes, please also download our one-paged alliance overview.

Development of the Alliance

The Cross Border Alliance between Ireland and the UK continues to develop with the addition of a further partner from the Republic of Ireland. County Meath is an area with a strong manufacturing base and the population has access to six 3rd level institutions within a close commuting distance with well-established links between HEI’s and the business community.

The key action pursued as a result of the Cross Border TIAs deliberations has been to make a case to the Governments of the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland that there should be a mainstream innovation development programme for SMEs with innovation potential throughout the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland INTERREG region (and not just focused on Belfast and Dublin) and that it should harness the expertise and resources of the HEIs in the region, local development stakeholders and central government agencies working together in a collaborative delivery framework. As a result of this initiative NMEA has represented a cross border partnership of local enterprise agencies in an alliance of support agencies and HEIs championed by the intergovernmental body, Intertrade Ireland (a member of the Cross Border TIA). That partnership has developed a large scale SME innovation support programme proposal for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Its ultimate objective is to initiate innovation in 1,100 SMEs and to generate 20 substantial Horizon 2020 projects by 2021. It is proposed that this initiative will be extended to include the west of Scotland. NMEA, Louth LEO and Meath LEO would all play a significant role in the delivery of this seminal intervention. The proposal is currently being appraised by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). Its decision is expected in June 2016.

Success Factors

From the outset a decision was taken to convene and maintain a high level alliance comprising of members who could either take, or influence funding decisions. With this macro impact as the template The Cross Border Innovation Alliance agreed at its first working meeting to concentrate its efforts on six ‘actionable’ actions, one of which was the drawing up of an ambitious comprehensive programme with Intertrade Ireland which could be extended across a much wider territory than Newry Mourne Down Louth & Meath.


The Newry, Mourne, Down, Louth and Meath area lack the presence of multiple world class HIE research and innovation resources. They largely reside in HEIs outside the region.

Probably the most pressing challenge that the Alliance has had to address has been assessing the implications of a UK exit from the EU on the future of the UK/IRL border region and how our Territorial Innovation Alliance (TIA) partners should respond. The TIA has provided a strategic framework for the UK/IRL border region to tackle what has been described as the biggest threat to economic prosperity and political stability on the island in 40 years if not since the Second World War.

Main Outcomes and Impact

As a result of a series of meetings of the Cross Border Alliance, a Working Group was formed by Intertrade Ireland in which NMEA and Louth LEO represented the TIA and the wider enterprise development agency network. This working group took the actions proposed by the TIA and crafted them in conjunction with other actions which might be appropriate and they created a comprehensive multi-annual programme which would yield more SME innovation, more HEI/SME collaborative ventures and more Horizon 2020 projects. The working group was later joined by the Scottish Enterprise & Highlands and Islands Enterprise and made a successful bid for large scale funding from the 2015 – 2022 NI/IRL Interreg Programme. This new initiative, called Co-Innovate, will enable support to be provided to encourage SME/HEI innovation projects across more than one third of the island of Ireland (i.e. Northern Ireland and the 6 border counties in the Irish Republic).

The Alliance is led by:


Key Success Factors

  • The Alliance comprises of high level actors who can either take, or influence funding decisions
  • Alliance members represent HEIs, SMEs and government agencies from across the cross-border region
  • The UK’s ‘Brexit’ from the EU has served to focus alliance members on actions they can initiate which will help to lessen the economic shock in the cross-border region.

Key Challenges

  • The peripheral geographical location of the region
  • The UK’s ‘Brexit’ from the EU
  • Given the high level of participants in the Alliance there were often logistical issues with meetings


  • For SMEs: the tools and information required to become ‘Horizon 20/20 knowledgable’. The opportunity to be included in a database of ‘Horizon 20/20 knowledgable’ companies across the jurisdictions covered by this initiative; this may lead to opportunities to participate in collaborative projects with other SMEs which are on the database.
  • For HEIs:their inclusion within the Cross-Border Alliance gives HEI representatives the opportunity to directly interact with SMEs in a neutral environment, to discover ‘what makes them tick’. The alliance meetings offer a chance to network and influence representatives from organisations which HEI staff possibly wouldn’t normally meet.
  • For other organisations: increased co-operation of all the relevant support agencies in the area also ensured high level of information exchange and the option to increase the opportunities to work together on a variety of actions outside the Alliance agenda. There is an increased awareness of the innovation potential within the area.