With support from the Just Transition Fund and its founders, Empower Eco will create 97 jobs over two years
A new €1.1 million economic and environment stimulus partnership is expected to mobilise the next generation of green-enterprise innovators and stimulate regional job creation.
Formed during Ireland's first lockdown, Empower Eco is a collaboration between Athlone Institute of Technology, Bord na Móna, Enterprise Ireland, Offaly County Council, LEO Offaly, Limerick Institute of Technology, Maynooth University, and Kilcormac Development Association. It is chaired by Rita Shah, founder and CEO of Shabra Plastics and Recycling Limited.
With support from the Just Transition Fund and its founders, Empower Eco will create 97 jobs over two years through a series of innovative actions. It will establish the Midlands' first social enterprise business model that integrates natural resources, enterprise, biodiversity, community, and social innovation with lifelong learning.
In 2021, it will launch a Food for Good range from Ireland’s peatlands to include a bell heather honey and the development of exotic gourmet mushrooms in agroforestry. More food products are also in the pipeline.
The social enterprise will benefit ex-Bord na Móna workers, the unemployed and underemployed in the Midlands region, who will be trained in biodiversity, design thinking, food production and employed through the social enterprise.
The project combines AIT’s bioscience expertise under the leadership of Professor Neil Rowan, the food and culinary experience of AIT’s Faculty of Business and Hospitality under the direction of Michelle McKeon-Bennett, Dean of Faculty, and Maynooth University’s specialisms in design, social innovation, climate and biodiversity.
Also a first, Empower Eco has secured funding to develop and launch Ireland’s first dedicated sustainability business accelerator. Accelerate Green, supported by Bord na Móna and Enterprise Ireland, will establish a pipeline of investible propositions in the sustainability and climate action sector.
It will act as a platform for high potential scale-ups in bioplastics, nutraceuticals, high-added-value agri-food and other high potential natural resource areas. Fittingly, the project will be based in Empower Eco’s headquarters, a repurposed eco-enterprise innovation and training hub in the Bord na Móna complex in Lough Boora.
These premises are the first phase of Empower Eco’s larger enterprise and innovation space ambition. In a further job creation approach, circular economy start-up entrepreneurs and communities will be supported to qualify and test their ideas in an immersive environment.
Vincent Redmond, the head of new business in Bord na Móna, explains, "Empower Eco is an exciting initiative that aligns with the ambition and strategic trajectory of Bord na Móna as it pivots from ‘Brown to Green’ in order to pioneer new climate solutions for the Midlands."
In yet another first, the Empower Eco system will cluster Ireland’s first connected regional ecosystem of sustainability, enterprise and eco-innovation projects in the Midlands. Building a community of 25 eco enterprise projects, testbeds and living labs through a connected web portal will make it easy for bodies such as IDA, Enterprise Ireland, researchers and educators to market the Midlands as a hotspot of eco-innovation, project collaboration, research and investment.
With the announcement of provisional funding by Minister Eamon Ryan, Dept of Environment, Climate and Communications, of €907,000 under Strand 2 of the Just Transition Fund, Empower Eco is now on its way to deliver a future-proofed regional enterprise, sustainability and training stimulus in response to unemployment, environmental and economic renewal challenges.
Prof Ciarán Ó Catháin, president of AIT, said: “I welcome this very exciting news and congratulate all partners involved. It symbolises an ambitious, transformative initiative for the Athlone Institute of Technology and Limerick Institute of Technology as we also transition to becoming a new technological university. Empower Eco, the sustainability imperative, is about using the natural world in clever ways to meet human needs. Post COVID-19, our region and our country has an even greater urgency to deal with these challenges”.
“Empower Eco will provide an intellectual and innovative powerhouse for the Midlands that will actualize its immense potential for creating a greener future, in addition to helping with our immediate transition to move beyond COVID-19 pandemic," explained Prof Neil Rowan, director of Bioscience Research Institute and founding director of Empower Eco.
"The project, which will support peatland innovation along with important carbon sequestration, represents the culmination of a life-time academic journey that has been underpinned by the activities of my 26 PhD students across many exciting collaborative projects spanning three decades of pollination and eco-system service management to circular economy activities.”
Kieran Mulvey, Just Transition Commissioner, said: “Empower Eco will help meet innovative and inspiring plans from businesses, local authorities and communities in the midlands who are committed to creating a green and sustainable economy for the region.
"Empower Eco is ideally structured and positioned to meet timely training and reskilling so local businesses and communities can adjust to a low-carbon transition. Empower Eco will support and enable climate solutions across the midlands where it will also add value to many of the 47 projects provisionally funded under Just Transition Fund that totalled €27.8m.”
Athlone Institute of Technology is a research-led third-level institute with an applied, industry-focussed offering, world-class research and development capabilities, and state-of-the-art facilities. Winner of The Sunday Times Institute of the Year 2020 and 2018, AIT is Ireland’s top-ranked institute and is on track to open its doors as the country’s next technological university in September 2021. AIT tops Ireland’s official league table for research and was listed in U-Multirank’s Top 25 Performing Universities in the World for Interdisciplinary Research in 2018 and 2019. For information relating to the institute’s undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, visit www.ait.ie.