IN today’s knowledge economy and globalised world, innovation and competitive advantage are key to ensuring worldwide economic growth. The economy of any country in the world is characterised by technology led competition, in which intellectual capital and technical knowledge constitute the main assets. Possession of these assets has become the hallmark of a country’s technological capabilities.
Technological innovation requires not only venture capital and testing, prototype development and refinement of working models, etc. but also intellectual capital in the form of specialised skills and entrepreneurial competency.
Innovation Hubs are defined as physical environments that support start-ups and individuals at different stages of development. It is an umbrella term for a community-driven pre-incubator, incubator, accelerator, hacker space and co-working space that encourage collaboration, networking and innovation.
The start-ups they promote are seen as an instrument to foster innovation and economic growth as well as tackling poverty. The major aim is to help young people in reaching their entrepreneurial potential and to help them make use of their technical and business skills.
Universities are increasingly tasked with fostering entrepreneurship and innovation, encouraged to generate revenues from research produced on campus and contribute to (local) economic growth. This view of the entrepreneurial university reflects two recent trends.
First, universities are increasingly patenting research with commercial potential and subsequently seeking to increase their licensing revenues. At the same time, universities are creating Innovation Hubs to assist faculty members, university graduates, community members, or other parties to start new firms that contribute to local economic growth. The motivation for the above are largely due to the reduction in public funding for academia and increasing pressures for public accountability.
Innovation Hubs help start-ups to develop and launch new business models. They provide a ‘bridge’ between the start-ups and its environment and promote innovation and entrepreneurship.
Innovation Hubs provide services, which help start-ups to get through initial hurdles in starting up a business. These include:
Facilitation of intellectual property information to various users within the university, industry, innovators, and inventors by establishing and linking with Government agency for intellectual property and other institutions electronically.
Facilitation of applications for the intellectual property rights generated within the university for granting at the Government agency. Centre of education on intellectual property rights for the national development. Centre for facilitation on negotiation on technology acquisition and importation in the country.
Innovation Hubs nurture an enabling environment where a community of entrepreneurs can grow. At the same time they serve as a nexus point for the local start-up community, investors, academia, technology companies and the wider private sector. Combining the different resources not only saves costs, but creates a positive effect for the start-ups and fosters knowledge-transfer as well as technology transfer.
An Innovation Hub aims to provide technical and business assistance to young entrepreneurs engaged in the development of technically oriented products, processes and services. Innovation Hubs offer seminars, courses or workshops on business in general, legal issues, marketing and financial management to help start-ups increase their knowledge and field of expertise.
Correspondingly the Zimbabwean government launched in 2018 its Education. 5.0 initiative, which seeks to improve the contribution of higher education institutions to the economic development of the country.
Through the Vision 2030 objectives, the Government has initiated the establishment of Innovation Hubs to support start-ups and business accelerator programmes. These Government initiatives look at harmonising university research activities with the industry and the Government.
In addition, international organisations as well as private corporations are encouraging young people through entrepreneurship programmes.
Innovation Hubs benefits to universities
Knowledge gain and income generation has often been one of the primary drivers and tangible benefits of developing linkages with industry and the society.
Some modes of linkage, particularly consultancy support to industry and society, have historically benefited individual academics, rather than the institution. Such activities were only loosely regulated by the institution. With the establishment of Innovation Hubs this change, particularly, as the overall scale of activity increases and the institutions exercise greater central control.
The benefit of the partnership in a research produces an interaction that may spark off additional ideas and lines of thinking beyond the reach of either side alone.
One major problem in collaborative research is the ownership of the intellectual property rights. The university intellectual property office shall have to address this issue evolving from joint ownership.
Benefits for the productive sector
Industry benefits from linkage mechanism by having the opportunity to contribute to higher education and to influence and interact with the development of the core function of universities as the base of knowledge in society.
More specifically, individual firms and inventors who work with universities may gain a competitive advantage by having privileged access to: bright students who may be able to employ on trial basis to carry out a project, experienced and skilled staff members who they may work with for that particular project, endowed and furnished laboratories needed for the particular research project, centre for on-going and post experience training their staff, specialist academics who are not in commercial competition with the firm, up to date information on technological advancement and a window for the likely future developments.
High cost, specialised research facilities, which could be beyond the ability of the firm or individual to develop or to acquire it.
University Innovation Hubs are generally seen as effective mechanisms for translating academic research into commercially useful innovations and value-adding start-up companies.
Allowing both universities and individual inventors to share the financial rewards from invention is likely to be helpful in promoting commercialisation of technologies developed at universities.
The National University of Science and Technology (Nust) Innovation Hub is set to be officially commissioned this week and it marks the beginning of exciting times ahead.