By T.K. Tamby
Innovation is, without doubt, the most critical element in sustainable wealth creation. It is the engine that can propel a nation to progress and economic growth.
On a more micro level, for a company, the need to innovate is as critical as the need to breathe, because in a constantly evolving market place; remaining static is as good as being dead.
The ability to innovate not only involves the ability to adapt to the changing market environment but also the ability to improvise and create new markets, which spur growth in wealth.
To inculcate the constant desire to innovate, there must be an ecosystem that promotes and supports innovation. This realisation led to the creation of Unit Innovasi Khas (UNIK), a special purpose body in the Prime Minister’s department to develop and implement strategies to stimulate and support innovation in Malaysia.
UNIK, through the Malaysian Innovation Agency Act 2010, set up its implementation arm, the Malaysian Innovation Agency or Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM), as the driving force towards establishing an innovation economy.
In explaining AIM’s role in creating an innovation economy and culture, its executive vice-president Naser Jafaar stresses that UNIK and AIM are not recreating the wheel but pushing for improvements in the existing framework through an effective and cohesive system, which allows for recognition and eventual commercialisation of innovations.
Unlike existing innovation agencies and units that are very much contained within the sector they were established, UNIK and AIM approach innovation in a more holistic manner, calling for the inclusion of innovation in all economic and social activities at all levels and groups of society.
“We are looking at wealth creation, both tangible and intangible, to support the Government’s vision of creating a high income nation,” said Naser.
This is reflected in AIM’s twelve initiatives that work from grass roots up. Programmes include I-Think which brings innovative thinking to schools, targeting both teachers and students; the Genovasi Innovation Ambassadors Programme, which involves the appointment of innovation evangelists who will promote and help implement innovative ideas in their respective communities; and Innovation Business Opportunities (IBO), a one-stop centre that brings entrepreneurs and investors to commercially viable innovations from all over the country.
Scouting for research and intellectual properties
When AIM came into operation in June 2011, its first task was to scout for research and intellectual properties (IP) that were dormant in government universities and public institutions. “We evaluated 3,700 IP documents on their commercial viability and discovered that 200 had potential commercial value,” said Naser.
Based on the documents, AIM devised a business plan which was posted on its website, and invited entrepreneurs to send in their bid, he said, adding that this initiative created a buzz in the market place.
This first step was an attempt to unlock the potential of existing research as well as recoup the investments channelled by the government into universities for research.
It was also an effort to create a bridge between researchers and industries, said Naser. “This way, businesses are able to tap into the commercial potential of existing innovative discoveries and researchers are exposed to actual industrial needs.”
He hopes the initiative will also prompt more industries to invest in research, thus easing the government’s burden of shouldering the bulk expenditure for research.
“Currently, more than 70 per cent of investment in research comes from the government compared to countries like South Korea where more than 70 per cent of research is privately funded,” said Naser.
He said higher private investment will be possible when there is more synergy between university research labs and industries, which will facilitate the flow of corporate funds into applied research to address industry need for improvisation and innovation.
AIM’s first phase of IBO launched in April last year saw the collation of 42 opportunities with a potential third year revenue of RM1.48 billion. Nineteen deals, with a potential third year revenue valued at RM175 million, have been signed. The second phase of IBO launched in September 2012 saw 50 innovation opportunities with a third year potential revenue of RM560 million.
Tomorrow: Harnessing grass roots innovation