Cartoon Saloon calls on Kilkenny companies to apply for Enterprise Ireland new fast-track Agile Innovation Fund

Cartoon Saloon and Lighthouse Studios hope to employ 200 people by end of 2018

Mary Cody

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Mary Cody

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mary.cody@kilkennypeople.ie

Cartoon Saloon calls on Kilkenny companies to apply for Enterprise Ireland new fast-track Agile Innovation Fund

Enterprise Ireland has launched a new fast-track Agile Innovation Fund, to give companies rapid access to innovation funding.

Offering fast-track approval and a streamlined online application process, Enterprise Ireland's new Agile Innovation Fund will allow companies to access up to 50% in support for product, process or service development projects with a total cost of up to €300,000.

A previous recipient of Enterprise Ireland R&D funding, Kilkenny’s Cartoon Saloon has formed a joint venture, Lighthouse Studios, with Canada’s Mercury Filmworks to do third-party service work which may involve animations for big hitters such as Amazon and Disney.

“In about 12 months, Lighthouse could be as big as Cartoon Saloon,” says Gerry Shirren, Managing Director, Cartoon Saloon. “That means Kilkenny could have two animation studios with perhaps 100 employees each, making the city a magnet for talent.”

An animated fairy tale provided an unexpected twist in the story of Kilkenny-based animation studio Cartoon Saloon. The company’s 2009 film, The Secret of Kells, in which the unfinished Book of Kells is imperilled by Viking invaders and entrusted to the hands of a young hero, was nominated for an Academy Award – a remarkable achievement for the studio’s first production.

Cartoon Saloon has always innovated, creatively and technically.

“We moved really quickly to digital delivery about five years ago when broadcasters were still looking for physical delivery. Now digital is the norm,” explains Shirren.

Early on, the company received Research, Development & Innovation (RD&I) grant assistance from Enterprise Ireland to evaluate and implement a digital management pipeline. This proved essential for efficient production.

“We were looking at customizable software which needed to be heavily modified for our own processes,” says Shirren.

“The funding brought us into the realm of digital management systems which we hadn’t used before.”

It was another step on the path to a more professional, streamlined production process. “When funds are in short supply, that sort of support makes a difference. I don’t think we would have got through the implementation of the visual system without it,” adds Shirren.

More recently, the studio received a grant from Enterprise Ireland to embark on a small feasibility study, a sort of voyage into the unknown.

“We wanted to find out whether we could port over to a virtual reality environment,” explains Shirren. A showcase piece was created, based on a virtual reality world inspired by Song of the Sea, and is now available for VR and the Gear VR mobile platform, both free to download from the Oculus Store.

“It was a speculative project and we couldn’t have done it without support,” Shirren continues. “We learnt an awful lot from the process.” Anyone who has an Oculus Rift headset can now experience the studio’s creation.

The Agile Innovation Fund has been introduced by Enterprise Ireland for companies to respond more quickly to market opportunities and challenges, including those posed by Brexit.

Responding to the export challenges and opportunities presented to companies, the new fund is designed to help companies develop new products, processes and services for new market opportunities, enabling exporters to respond quickly and maximise export performance.

Investment in innovation by Irish companies has been found to be a key factor in driving their global performance. A survey of 2,000 Enterprise Ireland clients in 2016 found that those who availed of innovation supports (specifically capability, funding and collaboration support) reported on average a 67% growth in global sales.