Developing Innovation Hubs April 2012
Academic and institutional science and research hubs can be crucial to the commercial strength and growth expectations of a region or even a country. The innovative power, human-resource development and training, supporting infrastructures, and opportunities for incumbents and start-ups alike that such research clusters provide can form a stable bedrock for regional competitiveness and economic developments. Although governments can direct where institutions should congregate, the commercial allure and credibility of such a science hub depend on a wide range of factors, and many regions have tried to create innovation centers only to find that top-notch researchers and companies have passed them by. Nevertheless, the example of Silicon Valley in California's San Francisco Bay Area—with its multiple tiers of academic institutions, various research centers of companies from all over the globe, and sound foundation of start-up culture and funding possibilities—highlights the potential such areas can have. Many regions are trying to emulate Silicon Valley's success, and some science and research centers are springing up in surprising geographical locations—potentially setting the stage for substantial changes in the global innovation landscape.
Some regional efforts to establish science-and-research capabilities are nascent and focused; others are substantial initiatives to develop global reach.
One such center, which has attracted quite a lot attention in the media, is the developing Skolkovo Innovation Center—or Russian Silicon Valley in Skolkovo—near Moscow, Russia. At the end of 2009, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev announced plans to develop this region. The Skolkovo Moscow School of Management is currently constructing a campus in the area, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts) is planning to develop joint education courses with the school. The primary purpose of the Skolkovo Innovation Center is to concentrate economic and intellectual resources to drive innovation in Russia. The Skolkovo Foundation is also attempting to develop a network with other research hubs and has tapped Western researchers and businessmen to serve as the Skolkovo Innovation Center's cochairs. Cisco Systems (San Jose, California), Nokia (Espoo, Finland), and Siemens (Munich, Germany) all have set up research centers in Skolkovo or have announced plans to do so. And Microsoft (Redmond, Washington) plans to invest in Russian start-ups in the area. According to General Electric (GE; Fairfield, Connecticut) CEO Jeffrey Immelt, numerous reasons for being in the region exist: "We are confident GE's new research center in Skolkovo will become a universal platform for the application of Russian scientific potential in specific business projects as well as for introduction of advanced GE technologies in Russia" ("Russia, The Next Silicon Valley?" Forbes, 12 November 2011).
China, which plans to increase R&D investments from 1.4% to 2.5% of its GDP by 2020, also wants to decrease its dependence on foreign technologies. The country already attracted research centers from a wide range of Western companies—such as GE, Intel (Santa Clara, California), Novartis (Basel, Switzerland), and Unilever (London, England)—and now is collaborating with US academia. S. Shankar Sastry, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, California), is involved in a new partnership between the university and the Shanghai Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park to offer his students new learning experiences while coping with the increasing budget constraints at the university. India also is adjusting its research strategy to become more competitive. Until recently, academics at India's 380 largest PhD-issuing research universities performed research for the sake of science and education. The government has begun to encourage academia and government laboratories to collaborate with industrial companies to create value and benefits for Indian society and the economy.
Latin American regions are also trying to find their niches in the global R&D landscape. Panama, which has hosted military research facilities for the United States and is the longtime home of the Smithsonian Institution's (Washington, DC) Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (Panama City, Panama), is trying to develop research expertise in infectious diseases and bioprospecting, scouring its natural resources to find substances of medicinal value. Costa Rica, Panama's neighbor, has adopted a similar research approach, and Brazil is already on its way to becoming a scientific hotbed. During the past two decades, Brazil increased its output of PhDs tenfold to 10 000 annually. Although the country's investment in research—1% of its GDP—is small in comparison with that of most Western countries, it is nearly double the average of other Latin American countries. Brazil's new priorities led to an increase in its share of the world's scientific papers from 1.7% to 2.7% between 2002 and 2008. When released, newer statistics will likely show a continuation of that trend.
Perhaps more surprisingly, Africa is awakening to participating in the global science community. For instance, the government of Rwanda and Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) will work together to inaugurate and manage a graduate engineering program on a new campus in Kigali, Rwanda's capital. The African Development Bank (Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire) is supporting the project. In an additional effort, the university is also beginning to collaborate with the Rwandan government to establish training programs for technology entrepreneurs. And because of the efforts of University of Bergen (Bergen, Norway) graduate Venansius Baryamureeba, Uganda is now home to a computer-science institution that offers levels of instruction and degrees from the vocational to the doctoral. Makerere University (Kampala, Uganda) was retrofitted for the project and is now turning out graduates. The school has attracted some distinguished scholars to its faculty, and they are working on, for instance, artificial-intelligence solutions and mobile applications for diagnosing malaria. The first doctoral students will soon receive their PhDs, and the school hopes to strengthen its offerings even more. As part of Kenya's long-term economic-development plan, Kenya Vision 2030, the country's government has initiated open-data websites to make government data available to the public. The World Bank (Washington, DC) and Nokia have set up an "m-lab" to encourage entrepreneurs to create new mobile apps that use various kinds of data. The most successful app to date is Safaricom's (Nairobi, Kenya) M-Pesa mobile-payments system. According to Carol Realini of Obopay (Redwood City, California), a provider of mobile-payment solutions, "Africa is the Silicon Valley of banking. The future of banking is being defined here" ("Kenya's Banking Revolution," Time, 31 January 2011).
Some regional efforts to establish science-and-research capabilities are nascent and focused; others are substantial initiatives to develop global reach. Some of the centers build on existing capabilities; others are trying to establish an innovation culture in a region for the first time. Outcomes are difficult to predict, but new regions are entering the field or expanding their involvement. The global innovation landscape will likely look very different a decade from now.