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Across the MENA, only very large firms, primarily in the oil and gas, manufacturing, and business services, are really investing in R&D and innovation. Even in these cases, funds are usually spent on the acquisition of machinery and software rather than new products. Arab companies, both big and small, are starting to recognize that they cannot rely on passive R&D strategies involving technology acquisition to successfully innovate. We were asked by an emerging R&D and innovation hub to transform its ecosystem by leveraging investments in higher education institutions and its entrepreneurship center.
To fund the hub’s R&D ecosystem development in the absence of military and private sector R&D spending, we were tasked with introducing micro surcharges on government transactions to catalyze funding to promote innovation and private R&D projects. Based on global experiences of micro as non-traditional, innovative financing mechanisms to raise funds for development, we worked with public entities to introduce the fee on select transactions resulting in an estimated $400 million annually to fund innovation.
To leverage the hub’s significant investment in higher education institutions, we also provided strategic support to crystalize the implementation plan and launch a $400mn technopark with world-class R&D facilities. The technopark is the centerpiece of the hub’s push to build university-industry linkages, increase private R&D spending, transfer knowledge and innovation to enterprises, and stimulate targeted venture creation in Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies.
Despite its reputation as an urban testbed for innovation, this emerging R&D hub is often overshadowed by the significant spending and global attention of its neighbors. To draw global R&D leaders and R&D intensive startups, we worked with the technopark to identify emerging tech sectors not currently overlooked other initiatives, form world-class university-industry consortia around grand challenges, and offer catalytic R&D funds for collaboration.
The R&D hub is leveraging its legacy as a cultural and trading hub and renewed commitment to building an entrepreneurship ecosystem to rival its neighbors. These efforts are beginning to bear fruit - the hub is emerging as a first mover in technologies such as IoT, drones, 3D printing, and manufacturing automation. At the same time, the significant investments being made in the R&D ecosystem are catalyzing multi-stakeholder cooperation and leading to greater recognition of the value of collaborating with start-ups. The technopark is generating opportunities for co-creation, commercialization, and scaling up of innovative technologies whilst helping businesses access innovative ideas for growth.