Saturday, August 7, 2010

University Research V: the incubators

An incubator as the name implies houses and keeps a new born in supportive and compatible environment ,nurses it till the new born is able to survive on its own.Business incubators are well known and have had a mixed record of success.R&D often requires some business motivations.Either very large companies with deep pockets or government supported or owned institutions indulge in R&D based businesses. Research Professors and scientists are short of capital .Often capitalists and business are reluctant to enter into uncharted territories.

Incubators can prove handy in such situations.Physical facilities,furnished offices and even common facilities like labs or marketing departments,provision of working capital in the form of equity and arrangements of approved loaning schemes are the tools through which a business incubator operates.Sometimes it can be a smart way for privatizing a R&D institution.Governments can off-load the liabilities of salaries of highly paid unproductive scientists through converting a R&D institution into an incubator.It would be surprising that the private motive may energize a dormant Research enterprise.Universities can foster R&D through independent incubators on and off the campus.

The idea has remained on the table for many years now in Pakistan.Iran,Malaysia and Turkey have reportedly had some success with incubators.One could learn from their experience.Sustainability and output is to be assessed before jumping into it.The best guarantee for success would be an assured market.NUST is reportedly contemplating to launch an incubator project.NUST Consulting appears to be an enterprise with some of the features of an incubator.The solution is to be tailored to the conditions on ground.It may not be necessarily a great idea but not feasible.It can be small and mundane but feasible.The truth is always in between.

Market and marketing such projects and their outputs is the major issue.Normally Developing countries markets are at least initially too-small both of the input and the output.Bilateral or multilateral cooperation and networks can play a role.For example ,a Pakistan,Saudi and Turkish network or JV can be formed.A larger network consisting of Indonesia,Malaysia,Egypt,Pakistan,Saudi Arabia and Turkey could be formed with one project each in the network countries.Islamic Development Bank could play a role in this.In the past,Dr.Anwar Naseem of Pakistan Science Society and a very dear friend of mine has been working on these themes and got to have a lot of knowledge and insight in various Muslim countries.I indulged on this subject long time back,when Dr.I.H.Usmani assumed the charge of NEST(Network for Emerging Sciences and Technologies) with funding from Agha Hassan Abdi.A few concept studies were done.This kind of work requires money and peace,both of which are lacking these days in Pakistan.Saudis have both of it in abundance.They also need it.I would strongly encourage them to do so in collaboration with Pakistan or on its own.

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