Sun, Jan 16, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Media Lab Europe closing owing to a lack of money

INCUBATORIrish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern had envisioned the lab -- based in a former warehouse of the Guinness brewery -- as a potential `digital hub'' of high-tech companies

AP , DUBLIN

Media Lab Europe, a high-tech research center founded by the Irish government and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, announced on Friday it is closing because it's run out of money.

The project, launched in 2000 with high hopes of promoting innovation and incubating successful products in Europe, was supposed to become self-financing. The lab's business model required around 10 million euros (US$13 million) a year from corporate sponsors -- but, with the dot-com bubble bursting soon after its opening, only a fraction of the hoped-for money came.

"In the end, it was too deep and too long a recession," said Simon Jones, the lab's managing director.

In its most recent accounts, Media Lab Europe said it spent 8.16 million euros in 2003 and raised just 2.56 million euros.

Its failure proved an embarrassment for the government of Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, which attracted the MIT-inspired project to Dublin by offering a 35 million euro start-up grant.

Ahern envisioned that the lab -- based in a former warehouse of the Guinness brewery in a traditionally rough quarter of Dublin -- could become the focal point for a "digital hub" of high-tech companies. About three dozen mostly small firms have been attracted to the area, aided by their own government grants.

But with the lab's cash reserves rapidly running out, the government and MIT spent months arguing over who should chiefly subsidize the loss-making effort. In the end, neither would. More than 50 people will lose their jobs when the lab closes Feb. 1.

During its five-year existence, a changing team of mostly young researchers explored a wide range of new technological ideas, often seeking to break down the human barriers created by technology.

One recent project involved allowing iPod users to connect to nearby iPod users' sets -- to see what they were listening to, and to send text messages. Another sought to design interactive video games that required strenuous physical effort. The problem was, too few of these ideas proved commercially viable for sponsorship.

In its closure statement, the lab's board of directors -- among them US technology guru Nicholas Negroponte and U2 guitarist The Edge -- suggested that the project might have become profitable if given a longer lifeline.

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