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Providing technological support for entrepreneurs
In last week’s column, a network to implement an effective national STEM education programme was proposed. For education to be impactful to national development, it must be directed and its outcome must be more than certification. One way to achieve this is by integrating and embedding entrepreneurship into all programmes, from the primary through the secondary to the tertiary levels.
At the university level, there are engineering labs and workshops (at least in the case of UWI and UTT) and hence students there would have the opportunity to develop their ideas and prototypes. In the secondary and primary levels no such facilities exist. Further it would be impractical, definitely in terms of cost, to try to institute such. But, both MIC and NESC do have centres located throughout the country.
These are quite well equipped and hence their facilities together with those at the universities can be made available, on a structured basis, to students and entrepreneurs.
In an effort to do exactly this, the Caribbean Invention and Innovation Center (CIIC) was launched at UTT a few years ago. Training was provided to nationals of T&T, Barbados, Jamaica, Suriname and the Dominican Republic. Great interest was generated and prototypes were built for entrepreneurs in those countries. Several entrepreneurs, in a variety of sectors, did approach the CIIC for support and technical help as such facilities previously did not exist.
The proposed Science City, at Couva, was also intended to provide such facilities as part of an effort to boost the development of entrepreneurship, particularly among the general citizenry. It was integral to Niherst’s attempt to provide entrepreneurial support to the public by intensifying its informal STEM programme and exposing students and others to new and emerging technologies in order to help catalyse economic diversification.
A culture of innovation and entrepreneurship must be deepened in the country if fundamental economic changes are to occur. Many believe that we are a creative people. But this creativity has not been translated into industrial innovations, products and services to significantly impact the economy. The main factor is that the innovation and entrepreneurial infrastructure is not well developed. This must be rectified.
Financial, technical and business support must be provided. In order to stimulate invention, innovation and entrepreneurship, competitions like Scientific Ingenuity (formerly the Prime Minister’s Awards for Innovation and Invention) and i2i were instituted. Many quite interesting and potential commercially viable products and ideas emerged from them and in fact some were patented and a few were being developed into commercial products.
Diversification is not an overnight process. It requires sustained effort, particularly when there is neither a strong culture of innovation nor the supporting infrastructure. At best, it is a slow incremental process and hence it is essential that a Science, Technology and Innovation policy framework be developed and implemented.
Emerging from that policy, a strategy for providing access to the technological facilities of educational and R&D institutions funded by the state must be addressed. This may include the “assigning” of schools to laboratories located in their locality. So for instance, students of schools in Arima may be granted access to the labs at UTT’s O’Meara Campus to develop entrepreneurial ideas under supervision of staff at the institution.
In the innovation chain, the critical analysis of ideas to filter out impractical and or unworkable ones, is the first step. The next would be the determination of proof of concept and then the development of a prototype. The universities and technical institutes can play a critical and invaluable role in this regard.
Even if there is no venture capital available locally, an entrepreneur with a working prototype can seeking funding internationally. The provision of technological support is thus absolutely necessary.
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