Author Archives Jim

About Jim

James is a director with JCR Network Services Ltd, which provides sales, marketing and business development expertise to local SMEs in Ireland and the UK. Many businesses have developed their growth strategies through our focussed actions. We specialise in helping the agri-food , emerging technology, manufacturing and services sectors.

A new £4 million innovation grant for SMEs opens for applications

Posted by Jim on November 12, 2021  /   Posted in Blog

Invest Northern Ireland (Invest NI) has launched the Economic Recovery Innovation Grant (ERIG) to support small and medium-sized businesses to develop and implement innovative projects.

ERIG will provide up to £5,000 to help businesses develop new, or improve existing products, services or processes through innovation. The grant will support eligible costs, including:

  • testing and developing new products or processes
  • equipment
  • skills development
  • marketing
  • consultancy

ERIG is open to any business that can demonstrate it meets all the eligibility criteria outlined in the scheme guidance (PDF, 268K).

How to apply

Before you start the application process, you should familiarise yourself with the Frequently Asked Questions.

You should then complete the Eligibility Checker to find out if you are eligible to apply.

If you’re eligible, but not in possession of Silver Level Innovator recognition (dated 1 April 2021 or later), you must also complete an Innovate NI self-assessment. The assessment is quick and easy to complete. Businesses assessed as Silver Level Innovators will be eligible to apply for ERIG.

It may take up to four working weeks for Innovate NI to assess your application and issue an Innovation Recognition Level, if appropriate. All eligible Silver Level Innovators will receive an email from Innovate NI which will provide access to the online application for ERIG.

Deadline for applications

Applications close at 17:00 on Monday 31 January 2022.

However, grants will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. If the available budget is fully allocated before this date, Invest NI reserves the right to close applications early.

You should apply as early as possible, as the ERIG application and assessment process may take eight working weeks to complete.

Full details on the scheme, eligibility criteria and how to apply are available on the Invest NI website.

ERIG is managed and administered by Invest NI and part-funded by the Department for the Economy Economic Recovery Action Plan.

First published 9 November 2021

Food eirEEN Meet the Buyer & Matchmaking Event

Posted by Jim on May 19, 2021  /   Posted in Blog

Virtual Face to face meetings – the new way to successful business!Hero Image

Enterprise Europe Network, in conjunction with the Local Enterprise Offices

in Ireland, is hosting Food eirEEN, a virtual food “Meet the Buyer” event which

offers participants a unique opportunity to engage in face-to-face virtual sales

meetings with senior food buyers from throughout Ireland and the EU.

It is expected that in excess of 25 food buyers, and 100 supplier companies, will

attend the event, and we would be delighted if you could join us for what promises

to be an unrivaled opportunity to grow your business.

Participation at Food eirEEN is FREE of charge! Register before 2nd June!

Why participate?

Participation at Food eirEEN will allow you to:

  • Grow your sales
  • Initiate contacts for commercial, technology or research & development co-operation
  • Develop your business network
  • Share your experience, knowledge and expertise with participating companies
  • Present, discuss and develop new project ideas
  • Keep an eye on market trends and identify technology innovations

Who is this event for?

Innovative and growth oriented food businesses from the following sectors:

  • Bakery
  • Beverages
  • Chilled
  • Confectionery
  • Dairy
  • Food Ingredients
  • Frozen
  • Fruit and Vegetables
  • Grocery
  • Meat
  • Savoury / Snacks
  • Seafood

Where will the event take place?

Over 500 virtual meetings will be held over the course of the day.

Around 25 buyers, including retail, food service, ingredients, distribution and hospitality, from Ireland and various countries will be attending for what promises to be an action packed day, where you are guaranteed to make new business connections.

Use Marketplace to maximise your chance of finding a business partner

When registering for Food eirEEN you may find that, by adding additional information about your product on the Marketplace section of the website, you will enhance your chances of finding a suitable partner.

The Marketplace enables participants to list their offer, request items and to search for suitable business partners.

To enter your items onto the Marketplace, when registering for the event simply go to Marketplace Opportunities, click Product and follow the instructions onscreen.

Minister of State Smyth welcomes new competency framework for public procurement in Ireland

Posted by Jim on May 05, 2021  /   Posted in Blog

From Department of Public Expenditure and Reform

Published on 

Last updated on 

The Minister with Special Responsibility for Public Procurement and the Government’s Chief Procurement Officer have welcomed the publication of ProcurCompEU, a new European framework to support the professionalisation of public procurement. The framework has now been recommended for all Irish public bodies in order to increase professionalisation across the sector.

As a sign of its support for ProcurCompEU and its commitment to professionalisation, the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) are partaking in a pilot project with the OECD that will review the adoption of, and alignment to, the framework by the OGP.

Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform with Special Responsibility for Public Procurement, Open Government, and eGovernment, Ossian Smyth TD, said:

“Public procurement forms an important element of the Programme for Government, supporting our ambitions to improve environmental outcomes, provide opportunities for business, and achieve value for money for the public. Increasing professionalisation in the practice of procurement is critical to ensuring successful outcomes across these goals.”

Endorsing ProcurCompEU, Paul Quinn, Chief Procurement Officer said:

“Investing in the development of specialist, expert procurement professionals is a critical element of the programme of reforming public procurement in Ireland. The OGP recognises this and, for example, already promotes the professional development of public servants working in delivery roles that involve procurement through our Commercial Skills Academy.

“This new framework, developed in partnership across the European Union, offers a structure to support our ongoing commitment to developing our people. We are pleased to partner with the OECD in a pilot application of the framework and I look forward to this becoming the model for assisting procurement professionals in their development across the whole of the public service.”

ProcurCompEU is an initiative of the European Commission, part of a public procurement package which sets out priorities for EU procurement policy. Professionalisation policies form a key element of this package, ensuring buyers have the necessary skills, knowledge and integrity. ProcurCompEU will help both public bodies and individuals assess their competences and knowledge of public procurement, identify skills gaps, and design targeted learning and development tools.

ProcurCompEU is a competency based tool which assists organisations with training and career development in line with the overall strategic plan of the organisation. ProcurCompEU defines 30 key competences in a ‘competency matrix’ to provide a common reference for public procurement professionals in the EU and beyond. ProcurCompEU also contains a self-assessment tool and a generic training curriculum.

The framework is primarily targeted at public procurement practitioners and managers, and can be flexibly applied by all types of public bodies regardless of size or area of operation. It does not aim to provide a one size-fit all approach and can be adapted to the context in which procurement practitioners operate

What is Co-Innovate?

Posted by Jim on February 08, 2021  /   Posted in Blog

In an ever-changing and increasingly competitive marketplace, innovation is vital for business growth and success.

Co-Innovate is here to offer project funding and capability development to help give your innovation wings. Learn more about the benefits of innovation and how to implement it right across your business, find partners who can support your plans, identify opportunities for growth, and create a vision to make it happen.

Supported by €16.6 million from the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), Co-Innovate will help you harness innovation to:

  • Work smarter
  • Create beneficial ideas
  • Add value to your business
  • Find partners for collaboration
  • Stand out from the competition

InterTradeIreland online Meet the Buyer Event 2021 with NI Water

Posted by Jim on January 26, 2021  /   Posted in Blog

InterTradeIreland, in partnership with Northern Ireland Water, want to ensure suppliers continue to connect and stay informed about upcoming NI Water opportunities. We have therefore teamed up once again to virtually deliver our very popular Meet the Buyer event on 24th March 2021.

With a staggering £124+million worth of NI Water contracts due to be tendered in 2021, this event is your opportunity to make game-changing connections with key NI Water budget holders and sub-contractors.

Just like our physical events, this FREE online event will enable new and existing suppliers to:

  • Hear from the NI Water CEO about the organisational spending plans over the next 5 years; amounting to nearly £375million.
  • Have individual one to one meetings with the key budget holders from across all NI Water business units:
  1. Mechanical & Electrical
  2. Leakage Networks,
  3. Maintenance
  4. Waste Management
  5. Chemicals
  6. Analytical Services
  7. Fleet
  8. Facilities Management
  9. Professional Services / HR
  10. Customer Services
  11. ICT
  • Discuss sub-contracting opportunities with key NI Water contractors; including: Meridian; McAllister Group; Lowry; CTS; Grahams & BSG
  • Discuss upcoming business development activities with Ervia, who has procurement responsibility for three utilities in Ireland (Irish Water, Gas Networks Ireland and Aurora Telecoms)
  • Get advice and guidance from InterTradeIreland & Invest NI on programmes and supports.

Registrations will open on Tuesday 23rd February, so for now, keep this date in your diary!


IntertradeIreland Brexit Advisory Services

Posted by Jim on January 06, 2021  /   Posted in Blog
2020 has been a period of great uncertainty for firms, with discussions around Brexit, combined with the impact of Covid-19, creating uniquely challenging circumstances.

Brexit has happened and a Trade and Cooperation Agreement has been reached by the EU and the UK. For cross-border trade, the NI Protocol means no customs arrangements or additional paperwork on trade in goods. Businesses will still need to examine supply chains and know about the changes to trade in goods with GB, as well as adapting to new rules around trading in services, and InterTradeIreland can help firms understand the implications of the new trading relationship.

Going forward into 2021, our continued focus will be on supporting businesses move forward and look to the future. We will aim to help firms harness new technologies, embrace digitalisation, explore potential opportunities in areas such as low carbon and advanced manufacturing and adapt to the ever-changing environment through a broad range of innovative cross-border supports.

As well as InterTradeIreland, our colleagues in Enterprise Ireland, Local Enterprise Offices and Invest NI have a wide range of assistance available. 

In addition to our full range of programmes, InterTradeIreland offer Brexit and Covid-19 financial supports for tailored professional advice to help firms navigate through the uncertainty .

For information on our Covid-19 support, please click here.

For information on our Brexit support, please click here.

If you have any questions on Brexit please contact our dedicated Brexit Advisory Service by emailing

Best wishes


Preparing for the EU Exit: Trading Services

Posted by Jim on October 15, 2020  /   Posted in Blog

Leaving the EU Single Market means that there will be changes in how cross border trade in services will be conducted.

by David Roberts 14th October 2020 InvestNI

The issues for services trade have not had as much focus as goods trade. In this feature, we highlight some of the common issues which services businesses need to consider and act upon in the weeks ahead.

What is changing?

Services trade sits outside of the NI Protocol, so from 1 Jan 2021 arrangements for Northern Ireland services firms will largely mirror those for similar businesses in the rest of the UK. Arrangements for services trade form part of the ongoing UK/EU negotiations on a new Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

Whatever the outcome of these negotiations, services firms will have less access to the EU Single Market under an FTA than they do currently. How much will change for an individual business will vary depending on which sector a firm is in and how the service is provided to the customer.

Assess the potential impact on your business

It is a complex picture so it is important to assess the potential impact on your business and identify what adjustments may be required.

Some of the key areas to consider are:

  • Market Access: will you still be able to service your existing customers in the way that you do currently e.g. remotely from Northern Ireland? For some services, an establishment or representation within the EU is required when a service is being provided by a non EU business. You may need to change or update your business model.
  • Cross border business trips: do you deliver a service with a temporary presence in an EU Member State? Visas and other approvals in advance of travel may be required, creating an additional cost and a need to forward plan.
  • Recognition: are your qualifications, accreditations or authorisations still accepted to enable you to deliver the service within the EU? There may be a need to re-qualify or re-certify, if not in advance of 1 Jan 2021 then potentially in the medium term.
  • Data: does your business handle data from a business or organisation in the EU? There are new contractual measures to be put in place to enable data flows to continue whether a data agreement is achieved between the UK and the EU or not. You should review the Data Protection at the End of the Transition Period guidance from the Information Commissioners Office.

    What can I do now?

    A good starting point is to review the guidance published by the EU – EU Readiness Notices for the End of the Transition Period. This guidance sets out what rules will apply on a whole range of issues from 1 Jan 2021 in the event that an FTA is not agreed by the end of the year.

    If a deal is agreed between the EU and the UK, then there will be some provisions to facilitate trade in services and more detailed guidance will be provided at that point on issues such as mutual recognition of qualifications.

    You should also contact your relevant professional body, institute or regulator for specific advice and insights e.g. on the provision of services across the island of Ireland. Many of them have bespoke guidance available for businesses in their sector.

    What’s next?

    We will continue to update our dedicated Prepare for EU Exit pages as more information and detail on the end of the transition period emerges. You can also access information and updates on our free business resource website nibusinessinfo.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and manufacturing’s great reset

Posted by Jim on September 25, 2020  /   Posted in Blog

Manufacturers that are ahead in scaling advanced production
technologies are successfully navigating four durable shifts that
are critical to managing unprecedented disruption.


by Francisco Betti, Enno de Boer, and Yves Giraud

McKinsey and Company

Since its inception in 2018, the Global Lighthouse
Network (GLN) of advanced manufacturers has
demonstrated how leading companies can work
toward realizing the full potential of the innovations
and advances at the core of the Fourth Industrial
Revolution (4IR). Beginning with a select collection
of leading-edge organizations, we have seen how
lighthouse factories can help entire organizations
navigate their modernization journeys, inspiring and
catalyzing change among partner organizations
along the way.
That’s why GLN now comprises 54 sites, with
ten sites added in Q3 2020 (Exhibit 1). This
growth reflects the accelerating adoption of core
4IR technologies, and their infusion into daily
manufacturing and supply-chain operations, as
organizations act on a new urgency to remain
competitive—even as others have fallen behind, still
stuck in pilot purgatory.
GLN includes companies that have achieved
remarkable 4IR advancements within the four walls
of factory sites or have effectively implemented
end-to-end (E2E) digitization across the value chain.
Indeed, in both cases, 4IR technology has powered
the reimagination of manufacturing and supply
chains across industries and sectors.
Moreover, an essential aspect of lighthouses’
success lies in a dedicated focus on workforce
development and capability building through a
variety of means. Indeed, these organizations have
prioritized their people by transforming the nature of
work through intentional upskilling and/or reskilling
efforts, empowering workers to realize their
potential through new ways of working.
Recent world events, most notably the COVID-19
pandemic, have led to significant disruptions on a
scale unprecedented in recent times, affecting nearly
every aspect of global industry and calling for a
“great reset” across all sectors of the global economy:
a decisive set of actions oriented toward delivering
value not only to companies themselves but also
to society as a whole. While supply-chain shocks
have uncovered operational vulnerabilities, they
also have presented transformative opportunities
for manufacturing and supply-chain leaders. The
advances in technology and new ways of working
implemented by these trailblazing organizations have
enabled them to adapt quickly during disruption,
while remaining viable and operational.
Even before the massive disruptions imposed by the
pandemic, the gap between 4IR frontrunners and
the majority was growing rapidly. Now, four durable
shifts in manufacturing and supply chains have
emerged as particularly critical:
— Improved agility and customer centricity across
E2E manufacturing and supply chains facilitates
faster recognition of customer preferences.
This, in turn, enables quicker adjustments
to manufacturing flows at next-generation,
small-scale modular plants to allow higher
levels of customization.
— Supply-chain resilience provides a competitive
advantage, requiring connected, reconfigurable
n-tier supply ecosystems and regionalization.
— Speed and productivity are attained through
increased levels of automation and workforce
augmentation coupled with upskilling and
reskilling efforts.
— Eco-efficiency is increasingly considered a
must-have to remain in business and ensure
compliance with an increasingly complex
regulatory landscape.
The level of agility and resiliency that these shifts
require sits at the core of true 4IR innovation, with
valuable assets that serve as critical levers during
unexpected adversity. The benchmarks and
achievements heralded in previous findings about
these leading companies remain impressive .

Smarter responses to Covid-19

Posted by Jim on May 14, 2020  /   Posted in Blog

12 May 2020
Engineering capacity news posted by Andy Sandford

Made Smarter SMEs in the North West are using robotics, automation and 3D printing to cope with staff shortages and meet increased demand.
SME manufacturers supported by Made Smarter are using emerging technologies to navigate the impact on business from the coronavirus pandemic.
Businesses signed up to the North West pilot to support the Industry 4.0 revolution have adapted in a variety of ways, including switching production to make medical scrubs, ventilator parts and PPE to help the front-line fight against the disease.
Others have harnessed new capabilities to ramp up production to meet increasing demand and continue operating while staff self-isolate to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
While Made Smarter has shut its offices to do its bit to combat COVID-19, its team of expert business and technology advisers have continued to offer support and advice virtually.
Alain Dilworth, Made Smarter Programme Manager, said: “The COVID-19 outbreak has widespread repercussions for the economy, which will have most likely led to uncertainty in terms of the way businesses operate.
“It has been impressive how manufacturers have reacted and adapted to the different circumstances they find their businesses facing.
“Made Smarter has been able to continue offering help and advice over Skype and telephone.
“Our advice is fully funded, meaning you can understand the digital tools available to help boost processes and grow your enterprise without the financial barrier. On top of this, you can apply for up to 50% match-funding for technology implementation and access a digital technology intern to support you with the research, development and implementation of emerging technologies.”
Technology being put to good use
Fabricon Design uses advanced manufacturing methods to produce innovative plastics, aluminium and steel component designs for a range of sectors. It has responded to the UK’s need for vital equipment by making headbands for facial masks used by NHS staff and designed and manufactured a respiratory port for a hospital’s CPAP machine.
The business, based in Ashton-Under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, is using a new 3D printer, adopted using Made Smarter support, which made the switch between materials quicker.
Mark Bushdyhan, Director of Fabricon Design, said: “We wanted to use our internal expertise and technology to help with the call for vital equipment. We already utilise 3D printers within our operations. They are incredibly effective at prototyping designs quickly. It’s fantastic that we have been able to utilise them to print headbands which will support the protection of NHS staff. We are also looking at other options such as using our injection moulding machines which can produce over 7,000 of these components a week.”
Textiles manufacturer Tibard, based in Dukinfield, Greater Manchester, was forced to close its operations producing work wear and uniforms but reopened to start making PPE equipment and scrubs for hospitals.
With help from Made Smarter the business replaced its two-decade-old CAM cutting machine with a modern IoT-connected machine. It now has access to advanced features which minimise downtime and guarantee predictive maintenance which helps meet demand.
Ian Mitchell, Managing Director of Tibard, said: “Given the current impact on our customers, we have changed our production to focus on responding to the vital needs of the NHS and carers for protective clothing during these difficult times. It is rewarding to see our business responding to help to support our medical professionals and key workers whilst they are working tirelessly to support people across the UK.”
Beverston Engineering specialise in prototyping and the manufacture of engineering components for aviation, aerospace, oil, gas and pharmaceuticals industries.
As a supplier to Rolls-Royce, part of VentilatorChallengeUK, a consortium of 14 firms including Airbus, Ford and Siemens, Beverston has been making parts for the ventilators for the NHS.
The SME, based in Knowsley, Liverpool City Region, has been working with Made Smarter to create a solid productivity infrastructure and lay down the foundations for the smart factory connectivity that is capable to rapidly scale up in the future.
Rod Wah, Managing Director of Beverston Engineering, said: “We have needed to be agile to enable us to respond to the UK’s vital needs. Our employees have worked hard machining parts that they have never made before, very quickly.”
Storth, a manufacturer of agricultural machinery for slurry management, worked with Made Smarter to introduce a robotic welding system into its production line to reduce delivery times and maintain quality. The technology also allowed the Lancashire-based business to continue operating when welding staff were self-isolating.
Julian Lopez, Export Manager at Storth said: “Our adoption of a robot welder, through support from Made Smarter has been a success from day one. We were experiencing bottlenecks within our welding process which was causing delays in schedules. The robot has helped us overcome the delays but also helped us to continue operations at a time when some of our welders have been self-isolating, which has caused staff shortages.”
Storth, based in Carnforth, is now looking at introducing automation to operate unsupervised cutting and feeding machining.
While many businesses have experienced a downturn, Nutree Life, manufacturers of plant-based nutrition products, has seen a substantial surge in orders and has had to hire extra staff to fulfil the demand.
The Lancashire-based business completed the first phase of a project with Made Smarter to boost its capacity using automation technology shortly before the lockdown began. It is now looking to fast-track the second stage due to the benefits it has seen from implementing technology, and how it has supported them with increased demand.
Patrick Mroczak, CEO of Nutree Life, based in Preston, said: “With other food producers cutting ranges to focus on volume, customers are looking for alternatives, which has created an opportunity for us. Orders from all areas of the business have increased, which means we are producing more. There is no doubt that without investing when we did, in the way that we did, with the help from Made Smarter, we would not be able to cope with this unprecedented increase in demand. The technologies we have adopted have enabled us to develop new products quicker and we are now taking pre-orders for the first time, such is the demand.”
Some SMEs are using new technologies to continue manufacturing operations remotely.
Alphabond Technologies Ltd, an adhesives manufacturer based in Northwich, Cheshire, has achieved continuity after Made Smarter supported the business to adopt a new ERP system which enables them to connect systems for increased data visibility and automated reporting, resulting in a boost to their efficiency and allowing for real-time decision-making.
Dylan Shaw, Managing Director of Alphabond Technologies Ltd, said: “Not only has the new technology reduced manual and duplicative processes, it has also increased our response rates to customers. An added benefit we have seen through these challenging times is our ability to adapt and work remotely. Remote working wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.”
Despite temporary closure or reduced operations due to lockdown other Made Smarter businesses are using the time to plan for the future.
DA Techs, an alloy wheel refurbishment specialist based in Chorley, Lancashire, used support and advice from Made Smarter to invest in digital technologies which proved key in them winning a three-year contract and scaling growth plans. It has now secured support for the second phase of its digital strategy.
Jamie Baxter, Director of DA Techs, said: “During this time, we are building on the technology adoption we have already introduced into the business. The next phase will enhance the systems architecture to enable data-driven decisions and forecast future demand. Now more than ever I think investment in smart working and greater efficiency is going to be vital, and we are delighted to be working once again with Made Smarter.”
While many industries have been forced to pause their activity to play their part in helping the country defeat coronavirus, the government has acknowledged that it is important manufacturers maintain their operations to keep supply chains moving.
ATEC Engineering Solutions, a Salford-based business which designs, manufactures and repairs complex electronic and electro-mechanical equipment, is still running its production as a vital part of the defence supply chain.
Andrea Hough, Managing Director of ATEC and member of the Made Smarter National Commission and North West Pilot steering group, said: “I am so proud of my team at ATEC. They have responded to the current climate with dedication, energy and compassion. In addition to maintaining the smooth running of our existing operations, the team have adopted remote-working tools such as Zoom to enable social distancing. We have also utilised our 3D printers to produce protective visors for local care homes and care home trusts.”
Made Smarter has also produced an essential guide about how a manufacturing SME can try and maintain continuity and future-proof the business. The PDF can be downloaded from here.

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