Blueprint for innovation

Boldly embarking on this ambitious roadmap will shine a light to guide us along a shadowy tunnel at the end of which we can underpin GDP growth and improve our competitiveness level

george_mangion
George M. Mangion
15 June 2017, 9:30am
PKF has the pleasure and privilege to introduce Stas Gayshan, MD of Boston-based Cambridge Innovation Centre and a sister organisation to MIT university to visit Malta and give a keynote speech at an event to be held at the Microsoft Innovation Centre, SkyParks Business Centre, Luqa.

An extended morning session will showcase an expert lineup of confirmed speakers. Apart from Gayshan these include Gor Sargsyan, president, Qbiticlogic International Atlanta USA, Joe Woods, director, Creolabs, Kenneth Farrugia, chairman FinanceMalta, and Ing Joe Sammut CEO Malta LifeSciences Park. Speakers from MCAST and the University of Malta are awaiting confirmation while Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, responsible for innovation, has been invited.

Interested parties are welcome to attend the “Blueprint for Innovation”. This is a morning session planned to take place at Microsoft Innovation Centre on 28 June.  For details contact Marouska Camilleri on [email protected] or +356 21484373. Sadly, our contribution as a nation to R&D as a percentage of GDP is one of the lowest in the EU and in this context, the re-elected party is promising a new drive to open the taps for more R&D investment. The good news is that both political parties promised in their manifesto to increase investment in innovation and consequently PKF thinks that its efforts to attract a world class organisation in this field does not come a moment too soon.

So far the reaction by government agencies to fund the initiative has been lukewarm but PKF is confident that there is a way forward.  Alas the dream of having an innovation and business accelerator centre of calibre will prove to be a true catalyst to anchor the existing manufacturing community and attract new ones. This roadmap is an ambitious one as European governments are in competition to attract international companies and start-ups, particularly in fintech and blockchain technologies.

Which brings us to the main topic of this article.  It starts with a recount of a pioneering trip last year by a delegation from PKF which visited Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, USA to explore links to promote Malta as a potential business accelerator and/or Life Sciences hub for innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs. The visit was undertaken with the blessing and patronage of Chris Cardona, minister responsible for the economy and start-ups.  He offered the services of a technical representative from Malta Enterprise based in New York to join in the discussions – although each party catered for its own expenses.

It is interesting to note that the MIT is a private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts founded in 1861 – built in response to the increasing industrialisation of the United States. The uniqueness of MIT is in its appetite for problem solving – especially those intractable technical problems whose solutions make a tangible difference. Needless to say, with its supportive campus environment MIT houses an incredible number of talented students and as part of its diversity and its intensely creative atmosphere, both the arts and science flourish in all their forms. It is no stranger to accolades – rated as the world’s best university in chemistry; economics; linguistics; materials sciences; nanotechnology and astronomy.

It goes without saying that this impressive learning institution is the pride of the American intelligentsia and other advanced countries (such as Singapore) have regularly invested in its development since the sixties to partake of its overflowing chalice of innovation and cutting-edge research. Another interesting landmark was the Boston-based Cambridge Innovation Centre (CIC). This houses more than 1,000 companies in close to 50,000 square metres of premium office and co-working space across eight facilities, including its expansion in St Louis, Missouri, Miami, Rotterdam, Warsaw and Sydney.

A number of high-profile companies know their baptism at CIC – including HubSpot, which now employs over 1,100 people, and raised $125 million through its IPO last year, and Greatpoint Energy, which several years ago announced a $1.25 billion deal to build reactors in China. Additionally, Android co-founder Rich Miner built his unique Google Android software.  Rich established Google’s New England headquarters there.

CIC also has a non-profit sister, the Venture Cafe Foundation (this provides a Forum for venture capitalists to scout and help fund new talent). What is so special about CIC? The answer is that as an innovation hub it succeeded to attract world class start-ups which proved very supportive for the US economy through the generation of premium jobs and its high value-added inventions. The motto at CIC is to create a relaxed yet professional environment in an area where talent seems to congregate and flourish.

Having toured some of its offices and laboratories, PKF staff were impressed by the number of dedicated entrepreneurs who work hard to seek the proverbial Alchemist Stone. CIC offers a number of user options and caters for different applicant types starting from a single user, or a founder with some employees or a company with 200 people. The Centre in Rotterdam will house 550 innovative companies and build upon CIC’s international community of entrepreneurs, investors, and established businesses. Rotterdam was chosen as an ideal location. Empirical studies indicate it is a city situated in a very central location just one hour’s flight south of Amsterdam, a “footstep” away from the Belgium border and really close to other European hubs like London, Paris or Cologne. Like Malta, the Dutch population are fluent in English and pride themselves of being a melting pot of different cultures.

Back to Malta, one can rejoice that the future concept of a Centre of Excellence is reinforced by Barts Medical school, MCAST, the University, AUM and other colleges and acting in unison they will unite in attracting talent and be the birthplace of a nexus of superior minds in the Med. This is a pipe dream which started 10 years ago in the launching of the SmartCity complex and now with some imagination and suave political foresight it can be re-engineered to house a cohort of talented graduates operating in a congenial atmosphere supported by venture capital. The government in its last budget had allocated over €75 million to build a new campus in SmartCity and this may be an ideal venue to sport an innovation centre. Only thus can we attract international business to exploit top-end R&D and with government support attract talent – a particularly shy bird.

It is not an easy journey and many countries want to emulate the commercial success of Boston, New York and Silicon Valley registered over the past 50 years.  Even China is investing massively in Pearl River Delta town of Shenzhen to emulate the success of Silicon Valley. Can our country, albeit small and lacking indigenous materials, rise to the occasion and surf gloriously over the tide to seize this opportunity? No doubt this will help unite the collective faculties of our universities, technical institutes and medical schools to pursue cutting-edge research particularly in Oncology, Nanotechnology and bioscience subjects.  Boldly embarking on this ambitious roadmap will shine a light to guide us along a shadowy tunnel at the end of which we can underpin GDP growth and improve our competitiveness level. 

George Mangion is a senior partner of PKF, an audit and consultancy firm. He may be contacted at [email protected] or on +356 21493041

george_mangion
George Mangion is a partner in PKF, an audit and business advisory firm