SFI began with an intensive study commissioned by the Irish Government in 1998. Dozens of leaders in Government, academia, and industry assessed the Irish economy, from pharmaceuticals to life science, from transportation to manufacturing asked how might these areas evolve over the long-term?
They concluded that biotechnology and information and communications technology represented
"the engines of future growth in the global economy....A world class research capability in selected niches of these two enabling technologies is an essential foundation for future growth."
The related Technology Foresight Ireland Reports, dated April 1999, are available in the Statements/Reports section of the Irish Council for Science, Technology and Innovations (ICSTI) website.
As part of its response, the Irish Government initiated the Technology Foresight Fund and allocated a budget of €646 million. SFI was established in 2000, as a sub-board of Forfás, to administer Ireland's Technology Foresight Fund.
The Agreed Programme for Government, published June 2002, provided for establishing SFI as a separate legal entity.
In July 2003, SFI was established on a statutory basis under the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Act, 2003.
SFI provides awards to support scientists and engineers working in the fields of science and engineering that underpin biotechnology, information and communications technology and sustainable energy and energy-efficient technologies.
A more recent and significant amendment to the SFI Act in 2013 widened SFI’s remit further to include both oriented basic research and applied research. The extension of SFI’s remit to include applied research will enable the outcome of oriented basic research funded by SFI to be taken closer to market, which in turn increases the potential of research to yield commercial opportunities and jobs as well as other societal benefits.