IN­NO­VA­TION WITH­OUT BOUND­ARIES

Qatar Today - - COVER STORY -

T here are some ar­eas in the world that have had the type of re­sults that STPs have had with­out re­ally hav­ing an STP. “Sil­i­con Val­ley is an ex­am­ple”, Paul Krutko, Pres­i­dent and Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer at Ann Ar­bor SPARK, men­tions. “It's more about cre­at­ing an or­gan­i­sa­tion that co­or­di­nates a num­ber of ac­tiv­i­ties with­out be­ing teth­ered to a par­tic­u­lar ge­og­ra­phy.” Which is just what this in­de­pen­dent non-profit en­tity is all about. Ann Ar­bor in Michi­gan, US, is cen­tred on the an­chor in­sti­tu­tion of the Univer­sity of Michi­gan, which Krutko says has one of the largest re­search bud­gets in the whole coun­try – $1.6 mil­lion (close to QR6 mil­lion) a year and has the largest con­cen­tra­tion of IT pro­fes­sion­als after Sil­i­con Val­ley. With a rich ecosys­tem in place, SPARK acts as a “fa­cil­i­ta­tor” and “co­or­di­nates ser­vice de­liv­ery to com­pa­nies to where they are lo­cated”. The big pull is not space, Krutko says, and this is val­i­dated by many of the con­ver­sa­tions he has dur­ing the con­fer­ence. “Par­tic­u­larly in the US, in­no­va­tion dis­tricts have or­gan­i­cally de­vel­oped, of­ten in the cen­tre of the city, re­flec­tive of young peo­ple who like to live and work in that en­vi­ron­ment. They are not drawn to go to some park sep­a­rate from the city,” he says.

For more than a decade now, Ann Ar­bor SPARK, an en­tity be­ing sup­ported by pri­vate com­pa­nies, the univer­sity and lo­cal and re­gional gov­ern­ments, has been an im­pact on the eco­nomic fu­ture of the ge­og­ra­phy through its support for early-stage and ma­ture. “When it comes to startups, our ob­jec­tive is to help iden­tify their mar­kets, get their first cus­tomers and send them on their way; not house them for many, many years,” he says. This means a suite of ser­vices like ac­cess to cap­i­tal, men­tor­ing, bring­ing in con­sul­tants for those that need help, a CEO-in-res­i­dence pro­gramme, etc. In fact, due to their track record with early-stage com­pa­nies, they were given the op­por­tu­nity to support and op­er­ate a pro­gramme for State of Michi­gan where they in­vested $25 mil­lion (QR455 mil­lion) in 100 com­pa­nies on their be­half. “We have the ex­per­tise and a good rep­u­ta­tion in iden­ti­fy­ing early com­pa­nies be­fore the ven­ture cap­i­tal stage,” he says.

But, like all well-bal­anced STPs and ar­eas of in­no­va­tion (AI), ma­ture com­pa­nies and for­eign en­ter­prises also seek out Ann Ar­bor SPARK's ex­per­tise of a dif­fer­ent kind. “Nearly half the in­vest­ment we have had is FDI from over­seas, from com­pa­nies look­ing to lo­cate op­er­a­tions in North Amer­ica. And due to the her­itage of the re­gion, with Detroit be­ing one of the epi­cen­tres of the au­to­mo­tive world, we lead on strat­egy for the re­gion for Ann Ar­bor; to be in­flu­en­tial in con­nected, au­ton­o­mous and au­to­mated trans­porta­tion. All the buzz­words of to­day.” This is re­flected both in the kind of startups they support and the type of MNCs who ap­proach them. “Ma­ture

“ONE OF THE COM­PA­NIES WE ARE WORK­ING WITH IS THE LEAD­ING MAN­U­FAC­TURER OF HEART-LUNG MA­CHINES USED IN HOS­PI­TALS GLOB­ALLY AND IS DE­VEL­OP­ING SMALL DE­VICES TO AS­SIST CON­GES­TIVE HEART FAIL­URE.”

com­pa­nies usu­ally need help to suc­cess­fully open a new op­er­a­tion in our com­mu­nity,” he says, il­lus­trat­ing how they help them find sites, con­nect to reg­u­la­tory com­mit­tees, give them ac­cess to the right tal­ent for their en­ter­prise and gen­er­ally act as fa­cil­i­ta­tors in help­ing them set­tle in. “Mahin­dra, the In­dian MNC which man­u­fac­tures heavy ve­hi­cles, wanted to en­ter the US mar­ket with a new prod­uct – an elec­tric scooter that they had de­signed from the ground up. They had minia­turised the Tesla mo­tor, de­vel­oped the bat­tery and wanted to pro­duce and sell th­ese in the United States, par­tic­u­larly the sun­nier cam­puses in Cal­i­for­nia and Florida.” SPARK helped Mahin­dra find a fa­cil­ity to set up the fac­tory, got them gov­ern­ment support through some fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives and they are now up and run­ning, pro­duc­ing over 100 scoot­ers a month. They sim­i­larly helped Fau­re­cia, a large auto sup­ply company based in Paris, to ac­quire a Ford fa­cil­ity in the com­mu­nity and to­tally re­built it.

“Of­ten STPs try to em­u­late some­one else. But what you need to fo­cus on to be suc­cess­ful are best prac­tices and sec­tors that stem from what prob­lems you are try­ing to solve in the com­mu­nity and the as­sets you have.” Which is why the em­pha­sis there is on the au­to­mo­tive clus­ter and their strengths in ICT, with a lit­tle of de­vices (par­tic­u­larly, med­i­cal) and ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing thrown in. “Some­times STPs can get off track on this be­cause they aren't teth­ered to what's go­ing on in the com­mu­nity. If you don't have the in­sti­tu­tions to support, say, bio­science you have to invest a lot of money to get your­self there,” he says. In­vest­ment that of­ten­times only the gov­ern­ment would be pre­pared to make. That's why the non-profit pri­vate-pub­lic part­ner­ship is the preva­lent model in the US, he says. “Gov­ern­ment fund­ing can be tricky be­cause if the funds dry up or the gov­ern­ment changes or a new tech­nol­ogy min­is­ter with dif­fer­ent ideas comes in, STPs might find them­selves a lit­tle vul­ner­a­ble. It is ac­cepted fact that the most suc­cess­ful parks and re­gions are where pri­vate sec­tor in­volve­ment is max­imised,” he says, while al­low­ing that in many coun­tries that have as­pi­ra­tions for knowl­edge econ­omy, like Qatar has, gov­ern­ment support is im­por­tant. “In­stead of the lead­er­ship say­ing let's just let things hap­pen, the gov­ern­ment makes an in­ter­ven­tion in the be­gin­ning to jump start the ecosys­tem, es­pe­cially in ar­eas that don't quite have a his­tory of in­no­va­tion.”

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