Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Cooperation between industry, academia and government

This is a first in a series of post (I hope) that will deal with research and development in small and medium enterprises. The reason for me being interested in this topic will be clear after I describe a bit how I got into this. And before I start, let me clearly state that I'm not an expert for economy, management, or even a question of what science is. Everything I say is my personal view at the moment I wrote the blog posts and has nothing to do with anyone else. Especially it is not official position of Faculty or University.

I work on the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, University of Zagreb. My firm belief is that no university can be successful in a long run without being part of a prospective environment. The vice versa also holds, i.e. local economy can not be competitive and successful without support of a good university and colleges. To give an example that support this attitude, Stanford wouldn't be what it is without a brilliant leadership by Fred Terman who's vision helped create Silicon Valley. In essence he created successful local environment that helped Stanford, and the circle was closed.

Yes, we live in a global, highly connected world, and any student can work where ever she/he wants, the same goes for me. Furthermore, anyone can come to Croatia and work here, at least in principle. I can also cooperate with anyone I wish in the world. After all, just that is supported by EU through different programs, most notably Horizon 2020 which is encouraging EU companies and universities to cooperate. This is good, and necessary, but it is not so perfect for one simple reason, and that is the question who is paying me, and who is paying for education of students coming to my university? The answer isn't so global, it is actually very local. All that is payed by tax payers in Croatia, and tax payers are individuals and companies living and existing in Croatia!

With all that said, I think it is very important for local economy to grow and I must do as much as I can to help local companies grow and develop for a mutual benefit. And more importantly, I think that anyone in Croatia, working in companies or on universities, has to see things in such a way.

Now, we come to the question on how to help? The answer is actually quite straightforward, I should do what I'm supposed to do on the University, i.e. research. The companies should cooperate and contract universities for research in order to become more efficient, to have better and more competitive products and services. The truth is that not many companies have enough resources for research and development. It is a risky and expensive endeavor. So, the companies should rely on University and on EU funding. Namely, University provides research resources and EU with funding takes a part of the risk. Of all the funding available, I'll concentrate on one specific that supports Smart specialization, for several reasons:
  1. I was directly involved in one segment of its preparation.
  2. I'm involved in applications for several projects.
  3. It tries to connect universities and commercial sector.
  4. It isn't meant for large pan-European projects, but projects within a single country. 
Three years ago I was involved in the development of Smart specialization strategy (S3) of Republic of Croatia. This involvement lasted for about two years, a bit less. Smart specialization is actually something defined by European Commission which stated that each country (or region) has to specialize in something in order for the EU to be competitive on a global market in a long term. Of course, specialization has to be supported by the current economy, and obviously, it has to be focused. Now, I'm not aware of what other countries did, nor did I spent to much time searching around, so what I'm going to write is probably specific to Croatia, and even more specific for cyber security (one of the subareas selected for specialization in Croatia is cyber security which, which is where most of my work is done). One of the goals of S3 is to encourage commercial, academic and government sectors to cooperate. This should in turn make commercial sector more competitive.

I'm somehow under the impression that much was talked about S3 while it was developed, but now when the strategy is defined and we have to implement it there are not so much events, if there are any (apart from Ministry of Commerce that actually handles all activities related to S3). For example, I'm not aware of a single round table, workshop, conference or anything else organized by someone concerning S3, how it is progressing, have we learnt something, what can be done better, etc.

In the following posts I want to delve more into the following very important topics:
  1. What is R&D and why would SMEs should have one?
  2. How to have R&D?
  3. How to get ideas on what to R&D?
  4. How I think companies behave with respect to S3, and in general towards EU projects.

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scientist, consultant, security specialist, networking guy, system administrator, philosopher ;)

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