With innovation being a goal and policy, many countries have taken rapid steps, to transform research findings into products, in order to contribute to their GDPs. Therefore, countries have considered innovation as a culture that should be consolidated and disseminated among young people so that it grows with them from an early age. In this respect, SQU has been keen to keep abreast of the ongoing developments in innovation and entrepreneurship, producing knowledge and providing an incubator for Omani youth. Recently, SQU’s Council has approved a proposal to establish a new research centre called the Innovation and Technology Transfer Centre. Its concept, goals and mechanism are highlighted in the following interview with Dr. Rahma Al-Mahrooqi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Postgraduate Studies & Research.
What is the Innovation & Technology Transfer Centre?
The proposal for establishing the Innovation & Technology Transfer Centre was approved by SQU’s University Council on June 11. The Innovation & Technology Transfer Centre at SQU will, as the name suggests, operate as a centre for promoting innovation and technology transfer in the university and across the country. It will become a national leader in promoting and facilitating a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, and will encourage the adoption of best practices in supporting the translation of research into value-added services and products. It will also expand services and product availability in Omani society and, in doing so, will enhance the country’s economic development and innovative output.
How can the Centre achieve such goals?
The Centre will offer programs and services to SQU students and staff across five sections – Training, Mentoring and Outreach; Industry Linkages and Licencing; Incubation; Intellectual Property; and Innovation and Technology Transfer Studies. In addition to these sections, the Centre will also contain an Innovation Factory, which will operate under a manager who reports to the Centre’s director, and the director will also be responsible for managing SQU’s Innovation Fund.
Why is it important for SQU to establish this centre now?
SQU’s Strategic Plan for 2016-2040 explicitly calls for the development of the university’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Department, or IED, into a fully-fledged centre over the coming years. Not only will the Centre build upon the excellent work that the IED has achieved in supporting innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the university, but it will also benefit greatly from the work that the Academic Innovation Assistance Program (AIAP), which was jointly developed by The Research Council and SQU, has done to enhance innovation among SQU’s academic community.
While the realization that this aspect of the Strategic Plan was a guiding principle, we were also mindful, in the planning stage, of the nation-wide push to help Oman achieve economic diversification and sustainability as outlined in Oman Vision 2040. We believed that the university could directly contribute to this by developing young Omanis’ 21st century skills in areas of strategic importance, connecting training and instruction with local and global developments, increasing national productivity and competitiveness, thereby ensuring that Oman is ready to reap the benefits of the 4th industrial revolution.
Why will SQU make a good host for the Centre?
SQU is the logical choice for hosting a Centre devoted to innovation and technology transfer for a large number of reasons. For example, the university is the main source of academic output in the country, as can be seen in the number of SQU-affiliated research papers, books, and conference presentations appearing in Scopus and Web of Science indices every year. Around two-thirds of this academic output is concerned with applied sciences. This offers a high potential for engaging in innovative activities, for registering patents, commercialization and so on. Also, SQU is in many ways at the centre of Oman’s innovation eco-system due to its large number of staff and students, its formal and informal connections with organizations within the Sultanate and around the world, and the fact that its core mission explicitly encompasses promoting research, innovation, and creativity. All these factors mean that the Centre will benefit from, while also making an important contribution to, SQU’s engagement with innovation.
How does the new Centre relate to Oman’s existing innovation landscape?
Oman is, of course, fortunate to have high-levels of support for a variety of innovation-focused initiatives. The Centre will complement and support those organizations and initiatives currently operating in the country’s innovation eco-system, while also helping bridge the gap between the research outputs and the requirements of sustainable development. As a result, we believe that the Centre has the potential to be one of the main enablers of innovation not only in Oman, but also across the entire region. With the contribution of its Innovation Factory and Innovation Fund, the Centre will be a sustainable feature of the already impressive innovation infrastructures of SQU and Oman, and will help the country to achieve its ambitious innovation objectives of being ranked in the top 20 of the Global Innovation Index and International Innovation Index by 2040.
Could you give more details about the Innovation Factory that will be attached to the Centre?
Yes, the Innovation Factory will be an integral part of the Centre’s operations. The Innovation Factory at SQU will be supervised by a manager who reports to the Centre director. It will give the university’s staff and students access to a wide range of advanced digital manufacturing technologies and materials in an easily accessible and supportive environment. These services will also be available to members of the general public for a standard fee. The level of equipment, materials and services available will not only complement the work conducted by the Centre’s five sections, but will also provide the means to transform ideas and concepts into reality. In this way, the factory will support the final prototype development for inventions as products ready for the market.
And how will the Innovation Fund contribute to the Centre’s operations?
The SQU Innovation Fund was formed to allow the university to support projects in areas of strategic importance for the country that involve the enhancement of existing, and the production of new, technologies. The overarching objective of the fund is to support innovation that allows Oman to move towards a technologically-based, knowledge-driven economy. In this way, the fund will support the work of the Centre itself while simultaneously contributing to Oman’s global competitiveness. The nature of this support for innovation at SQU and across Oman will have a positive long-term impact on the country’s sustainable development across all industries. This will naturally bring a large number of benefits to Oman and its people, including job creation, economic growth, diversification and so on.
Are there any other benefits that Oman can expect to gain from the establishment of the Centre?
Well, as you no doubt know, Oman is engaged in a number of important efforts to help achieve the transition to an efficiency-driven, knowledge-based economy that is associated with sustainable and equitable development. Clearly, for this to happen, the country needs well-trained, highly-skilled, talented and innovative people. The Centre will give young Omanis a way of keeping up-to-date with continuous changes in fields of knowledge across areas of strategic importance. They will also be able to engage in a hands-on way with the creation and dissemination of knowledge, while contributing directly to its value-added applications. This will allow the Centre’s users to draw a strong connection between training and instruction, and will result in innovative ideas and products being developed that have the potential to improve people’s lives, both here in Oman and around the world.
Given its ambitious scope, what are the Centre’s plans for achieving financial sustainability?
Initially, the Centre’s budget will be the current existing budget of the IED, which is drawn from SQU. The Centre will complement this by providing paid services through the Innovation Factory to members of the public, and will offer paid training courses and sessions about innovation and entrepreneurship to interested parties outside of SQU. In addition to these sources of revenue, the Centre will also generate equity from spin-offs and from start-ups that have been developed by SQU staff and students, while proceedings from the SQU Innovation Fund will also be used to help fund the Centre’s continuing work. As I mentioned before, the Innovation Fund will receive contributions from various companies, and these will be invested in ways that generate income for further driving innovation.