Commercialize innovations for a robust innovation ecosystem in Africa

Researches lying in the shelves of libraries are liabilities on resources. There should be a focus on translating innovative researches into actionable plans and implementing them for the greater public interest. This will benefit every stakeholder from researcher to entrepreneurship to the end consumer besides developing and maintaining a robust innovation ecosystem in the region.

Devdiscourse News DeskDevdiscourse News Desk | Updated: 13-03-2020 21:45 IST | Created: 13-03-2020 14:04 IST
Commercialize innovations for a robust innovation ecosystem in Africa
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In this age of the fourth industrial revolution, the consumers are easily and directly accessible for innovators at all the stages of research. The internet-based technological innovations have provided us with the facility to get the feedback of stakeholders from the very initial stage of idea to the finalization of the product or service. It has hardly left any scope for innovative research to lie idle in the shelves of the libraries.

Commercialization of innovative researches is often misunderstood with the technological transfer. It includes all those attempts aimed at making a profit from innovation through the sale of new products, processes and services. The commercialization of innovative researches will not only bring prestige and revenue to the academic institutions but contribute to economic development by facilitating industrial growth and transition and ensuring better facilities to society. The products and services created by the commercialization of innovative researches will also help in enhancing entrepreneurship culture, job creation, recruitment and retention, solving some of the pressing problems of life, improving quality of life for consumers and business effectiveness across a variety of domains.

Commercialization of research is not a standalone process but is an integral part of the research from the very primary stage of idea generation and conceptualization of the research. In this drastically changing world, the commercialization is no more limited to merely technology transfer but also includes extensive market research, competitive analysis, value proposition development, innovations to facilitate the transition, and other commercial considerations. The commercialization of innovative researches in a university/institution could be explained in the six-step process:  

  1. Innovative Research and Invention: The universities/ research centres should have a mechanism to pick up relevant topics for research. The stakeholders' input and feedback in research enhance its commercialization potential. There is a need to foster entrepreneurship culture in the African institutions and research centres in the region with a focus on advancing the fourth industrial revolution.
  2. Expert Evaluation: This is about sharing only the required information of the research for expert evaluation to assess its commercialization prospects. A committee of multi-disciplinary experts including relevant industry leaders should assess all the aspects of innovative research including the claim of innovation and prospects of commercial viability and sustainability.
  3. Intellectual Property (I.P.) Protection: IP protection is the most important step for research. It also enhances the claim of innovation and increases credibility because the protection is granted after a rigorous evaluation process. A team of I. P. experts should assist the researchers in completing the process of patent and other required norms to protect the I.P. rights of their inventions. 
  4. Business Development: This includes business planning and strategy; market research; targeted innovation marketing; incubation of Start-Ups and Spin-offs; industry/investor relationship development; and financial resources to facilitate proof-of-concept and prototype development, data collection and other early-stage business development assistance. 
  5. Licensing: This is actual procedure value negations, risk management and handing over the right of innovation to the concerned industry/ entrepreneur/ business group.
  6. Business Growth and Transition Support: In this drastically changing world, the businesses require research support for territorial, thematic and transitional support in all the areas of production, service, human resource, waste management etc. Thus there is continuous scope for innovative researchers in facilitating business and governance thereby increasing happiness in the lives of people. 

Besides the licensing, setting up incubation centres for Start-Ups and Spinoffs are also being increasingly popular throughout the world. However, according to a report of the World Bank, academic institutions in Africa had only 16 incubation centres in 2016. As there are over 56 countries on the continent, this figure is very low. In this age of fourth industrial revolution, the commercialization is not confined to just technology transfer but includes consultancy, exchange of experts, problem-solving, transitional assistance, new businesses, public policy conceptualization, crisis management, and much more.

African Scenario

African universities, particularly those in Sub-Saharan Africa were made on the models of European universities. They were meant for the basic researches and creation of knowledge where commercialization of the innovative researches is relatively a new idea. Though European universities have changed, the process is very slow in the African region. This gap between the basic research and innovative research suitable for commercialization which is often referred to as the valley of death is very high that needs to be bridged at the earliest. The problem is more serious for countries such as Africa which are facing an acute form of developmental disparity. Those countries are yet to achieve the goals of the third industrial revolution but exposed to compete and are facing the heat of the fourth industrial revolution.

The African universities and research centres need to focus simultaneously on both aspects of innovation – invention and commercialization. They need to manage funds to attract the best brains, impart knowledge and entrepreneurship skills, provide business development launch support and business development support and assist in policy conceptualization to foster a robust entrepreneurship culture. There is great need to make more objective centric and tap the existing sub-regional, Pan-African and Global Associations such as JICA (Africa Ai Japan) project, Pan African University (PAU), African University Association and Africa Centers of Excellence Project (ACE I, ACE II and ACE Impact) etc.

For more analysis and opinion pieces, please visit the Live Discourse on Centres of Excellence in African Universities: Innovations, Challenges, and Opportunities.

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