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Assisted Technology Transfer: Why It’s Worth the Investment

Across the globe, about 80% of all industrial production comes from small and medium enterprises (SMEs). In Saudi Arabia, however, only 14% does (Bowden, 2013), but this imbalance represents a tremendous opportunity. Investing in SMEs has a job-creation multiplier effect: according to Mohamed Ramady, “for every one million Saudi Riyal invested in large companies, one additional job was created, while a similar amount invested in SMEs created around 28 new jobs.” In other words, a strong SME network has far-reaching benefits—and is crucial for a thriving innovation ecosystem.

Development organizations across the Middle East are working to foster that change. I recently participated in a panel discussion entitled “Technology Development, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship” at the Middle East Process Engineering Conference in Bahrain. Other panel contributors were RTI International and BlueVine Ventures, a newly established Saudi venture capital fund. Timothy Bowden from BlueVine noted that while Saudis are generally good at running companies, they tend to not be as good at startup. BlueVine’s solution: focus efforts on investable deal creation, bringing in a cadre of experts from abroad to ensure sufficient deal flow for the fund.

Assisted Technology Transfer Sets TTI Apart

Representing KAUST TTI, I presented the other side of the coin. Our strategy is to help existing, well-run Saudi companies move further up the value chain in the technology/product development process to become more innovative. Many Saudi companies, including SMEs, lack absorptive capacity for new technology adoption. But because of their critical role in economic growth and diversification, we think it makes sense to do more to engage Saudi companies in technology transfer. This approach, known as assisted technology transfer (ATT), is part of what distinguishes TTI.

Assisted technology transfer is a set of proactive activities that engage and build sustainable innovation processes in entities (SMEs as well as larger companies) that do not have the absorptive capacity to adopt new technologies. In the Kingdom, such companies may be more accustomed to importing high-tech products and tailoring them to specific applications; for example, integrating components into a system, and then simply deploying and servicing it.

TTI strives to avoid intellectual capital flight, the phenomenon by which IP leaves a country to the detriment of its economy. We do this by transferring technologies within the Kingdom wherever possible, even if barriers are higher. That’s where assisted technology transfer plays a critical role: TTI goes further down the technology-product development pathway in cooperation with its private sector partners.

Of course, TTI performs the traditional functions of a TTO. We take in and evaluate inventions, prosecute patents, manage portfolios, negotiate licensing deals with industry, and foster the creation of startup companies based on KAUST technologies. But we’re also committed to helping move the needle on industrial production by Saudi SMEs through ATT. By helping established companies innovate, we believe that change is possible.

Reblog of my original post of December 5th 2013 at innovation.kaust.edu.sa with permission of King Abdullah University of Science & Technology.

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