CIC opens innovation hub in Miami – Malta next?

To host a sister CIC and Venture Capital centre is a sweet-smelling vindication to revive the ghost of Smart City as an aborted ICT hub

We pride ourselves in achieving a small surplus on national account balance
We pride ourselves in achieving a small surplus on national account balance

As part of its corporate social responsibility, PKF Malta is keen to act as interlocutor to help promote Malta in the field of scientific research and for this purpose through the intervention and assistance of its correspondents in Boston (USA) it started exploratory talks with the head of international relations at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston to evaluate the possibility of introducing Malta as a potential ICT and/or Life Sciences hub for investors, inventors and entrepreneurs.  

Such a visit was undertaken last year and found the wholehearted co-operation of Dr Chris Cardona minister for economy and SME’s.  The delegation was joined by a technical representative of Malta Enterprise - although each party catered for its own expenses.  PKF has succeeded to attract the attention of such an important institution which will attract 400 new jobs within a group of start-ups.  It passed the financial proposal to the authorities.  Due to the exigencies and top priorities of the EU presidency, government officials need more time to digest the proposal but one hopes for a positive reaction.  As a small country, we pride ourselves in achieving a small surplus on national account balance (unprecedented in the last 30 years) yet our industrial base stands rather low in the pecking order involving technologies such as robotics, nanotechnology and biotechnology. 

Another snag is perhaps found in our ecosystem which is not fully attuned to the basic requirements of a coordinated educational and industrial policy. It is a pity if such an opportunity is lost for Malta considering how millions have been poured to support FDI such as hosting the US currency printer Crane, not to mention educational institutions such as Barts and the American University apart from others that are in the pipeline when the massive ITC campus is commissioned.  

Attracting talent and retaining it can only succeed if our political leaders have the vision to support world-class innovation and R&D centres so it begs the question - why is it that we invest such a small amount of our national budget on research and development when compared to the EU average?  Statistics show 0.67% of GDP is allocated when we promised EU a higher ceiling of 2%.  Moving on, certainly one cannot doubt why Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was chosen by PKF.  

This is a private research university in Cambridge, USA founded in 1861 in response to the increasing industrialization of the United States.  Needless to say with its supportive campus environment it houses an incredible range of student groups coming from the four corners of the world and as part of its diversity and creative atmosphere, its graduates flourish in all faculties.  Another interesting landmark is the Boston-based Community Innovation Center (CIC) founded in 1999 by Tim Rowe and located in Kendall Square.  This houses more than 1000 companies in close to 50,000 square meters of premium office and co-working space across 8 facilities, including its most recent expansion in St. Louis, Missouri.  A number of local high-profile companies (including top names such as Facebook and Amazon) know their baptism at CIC - including its HubSpot, which now employs over 1,100 people, and raised $125 million through its IPO last October, and Greatpoint Energy, which several years ago announced a $1.25 billion deal to build reactors in China.  Additionally, Android co­founder Rich Miner built his portion of Google Android and established Google’s New England headquarters there.  CIC also has a non-profit sister organisation - the Venture Cafe Foundation.  What is so special about CIC?  The answer is that as an innovation centre it has succeeded to attract world-class start-ups which proved very supportive for the Boston economy through the generation of premium jobs enriched with high value-added research in an impressive range of scientific sectors.  

Having toured its offices and laboratories, and discussed with the founder the possibility of Malta as a future centre the PKF team were impressed by the number of dedicated entrepreneurs hosted in the building. Sassily we were told how they work hard to pursue the proverbial Alchemist Stone and morph it into a sustainable commercial operation.  A CIC centre can be a complementary structure to strengthen the operation of a Life Sciences block recently inaugurated within Mater Dei hospital precinct - now with a respectable number of quality tenants.  A recent development is the opening of Cambridge Innovation Centre ‘s high-profile startup in Miami.  The company chose Miami as its third US expansion location and will eventually house more than 500 tech startup companies.  Stas Gayshan, managing director, visited Miami periodically for the past two years to study the area.  The new centre, modelled on its successful spaces in the Boston-Cambridge area that house and support startups located in the precincts of MIT, will be located (see picture) in the University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park.  CIC founder and CEO Tim Rowe said “We are trying to build the infrastructure in the cities that have the potential to make an impact on the world.”  It’s first expansion in Europe occurred last September in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, the first of its kind outside of the US.  The Centre will be able to house 550 innovative companies and build upon CIC’s international community of entrepreneurs, investors and established businesses.  Rotterdam was selected as an ideal location chosen after analytic studies revealed it is a very central city just one hour flight south of Amsterdam, a “footstep” away from the Belgium border and really close to other European hubs like London, Paris or Cologne. The ambition of Tim Rowe, the founder of CIC is to bridge across continents and fuse innovation in Europe and in Australia.  Will Malta join the list of accredited hosts?  The answer depends on the government in its discerning policy how to attract FDI.  It goes without saying the dream of having an active international centre of calibre geared to attract inventors can be doable provided support is marshalled to help fund such a venture.  Naturally such a hub when fully operational attracts international academics and entrepreneurs from neighbouring oil-rich countries to research and develop new ideas - the backbone of strong start-ups, and the creation of virtual bridges focused to discover trends in cutting-edge technologies. In conclusion, to host a sister CIC and Venture Capital centre is a sweet-smelling vindication to revive the ghost of Smart City as an aborted ICT hub.

Nothing else will improve our chances to have an active research and development base standing as a strong pillar of our economy.  Let us pray the government converts to the idea and undergoes a Paul of Tarsus leap. 

George Mangion is a senior partner of an audit and consultancy firm, and has over twenty-five years’ experience in accounting, taxation, financial and consultancy services.  His efforts have seen that PKF has been instrumental in establishing many companies in Malta and placed PKF in the forefront as professional financial service providers on the Island..

George can be contacted at [email protected] or on +356 21493041