Thursday 3rd August 2006

 

Research and Development Facility

Step in the right direction

 
 
 
 
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Government has embraced the use of research, development and innovation as a means of creating an internationally competitive business environment for small and medium-sized enterprises in the non-petroleum sector.

The Chamber views the recent launch of the Research and Development Facility (RDF) by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, to be implemented by the Business Development Corporation (BDC), as a step in the right direction.

The objective of the RDF is to develop the local research environment by strengthening the research capability of small- and medium-sized businesses.

This would assist them in re-designing and re-tooling their products and services to create more added value and capture market niches. The Chamber is supportive of this effort.

The RDF would make available research grants upon to a maximum of $100,000 per year to these businesses.

Understandably, there is criticism that the grant, which represents two-thirds of the cost of the research proposal, is well below industry requirements, if the goal is to achieve international competitiveness, but it is a start.

Our existing small- and medium-sized businesses have not taken advantage of research and perhaps do not fully appreciate the value of adopting new technologies.

This is why institutions like the RDF are so important, since they seek to forge valued partnerships between Government, private sector and training and research institutes.

It is therefore vital that this initiative be successful and paves the way for greater and even more structured partnerships going forward.

The Chamber urges Government to ensure that this initiative is fully supported under the BDC, by dedicated trained staff, empowered to effectively monitor and report on the progress and ultimate benefits derived from these grants.

The RDF must not simply become a structure within a structure, poorly managed and under-funded and whose relevance is never fully appreciated.

However, the Chamber notes the omission of the participation of UWI as one of the resource institutions to be accessed by the RDF.

UWI is some 50 years old, with a huge knowledge base, which can provide access not only of research tools but the manpower to carry out the research.

To some extent this is also an indictment on UWI, which it has failed to market its capability to the private sector in the areas of research and innovation over the years, but perhaps with the new focus on innovation and creativity this may change.

The Science Technology and Innovation Sub-Committee in its submission in the Draft National Strategic Plan (Vision 2020), had mandated, that in order for T&T to create and sustain an environment of international competitiveness, wealth and human resource development and employment creation, we needed to create a environment where the private sector would utilise research development, innovation, scientific and technological training as part of its corporate strategy.

The sub-committee stressed the urgency of the private sector developing strategies to harness technology, creativity and experimentation if it wished to reap the rewards of better quality, competitive products and services.

The way to achieve this was to forge partnerships, which would bring together policy makers, expertise, financial resources, market intelligence and technology, and link the private sector with learning institutions which have the knowledge, capacity and resources to conduct research and development and identify technological needs and train staff.

We need to create a culture of entrepreneurship. Perhaps the RDF can be the catalyst for innovation and partnering.

The Chamber is prepared to play its part in stimulating these partnerships, in its commitment to developing a private sector, which not only values and performs research but seeks to exploit it.

In this light the Chamber invites the RDF to utlise the wide knowledge base of the Chamber, the source of considerable market intelligence, with its catchments of small- and medium-sized private sector companies, the target base of the RDF.

Arguably, much remains to be done to align industry and innovation in T&T and the Chamber stands ready to play a dynamic role in creating a competitive advantage for its members.

Regrettably, corporate Trinidad does not have a culture of investment in research and development, which it views as added costs with risky returns. Our financial systems do not readily support innovation in industry and the creation of new entrepreneurs.

Currently, we do not enjoy what the sub-committee described as a “pulling environment,” engaging the private sector in “the science technology and innovation imperative.”

We have all the inputs but lack the holistic approach, which would see players like Namdevco, linking up with the private sector to create value added agricultural products.

In this light the RDF is urged to go out into the market place and seek to forge non-traditional partnerships, rather than simply wait for industries to come to them. This is the time to be pro-active.

To be effective the RDF must market itself. It must develop strategies to bring the key stakeholders together. Government has provided the environment; the RDF must create the strategic partnerships.

Government it appears has headed the urgings of the sub-committee which concluded that it was the role and duty of Government to be the conductor and develop the overall leadership and the management structure and provide support funding for the development of an effective and efficient national science technology and innovation policy.

At present Government investment in research and development is 0.13 per cent of GDP.

The sub-committee proposed that one of the ways to stimulate aggressive private sector investment in technology research and development was to offer fiscal incentives to the private sector, including tax relief, on profits of pioneering companies which emphasised the use of high technology skills, on research and development expenses, and on expenses relating to specialised high level post-graduate education training at institutions at home and abroad.

Undeniably, wealth, job creation and the establishment of competitive industries depend on the application of new technology.

The Chamber recognises that this is critical to creating sustainable growth and competitive industry in T&T.

In this light the Chamber wishes the RDF every success in fostering the development and growth of knowledge based competitive industries in T&T.

We look forward to hearing of the success stories of those businesses that have accessed the facility.

 

 

 

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