Private-public partnerships to promote inventors with potential

Friday, 13 February 2015 00:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

      Following the adoption of a new mission to become the leading catalyst in uncovering innovative capability within the nation and be a forerunner in facilitating the process of converting ideas to practical applications, the Sri Lanka Inventors Commission (SLIC) actively pursued a strategy of establishing private-public partnerships. As a result of this endeavour a number of leading business organisations have come forward to join with SLIC in promoting the cause of inventors. The commission observed that the key impediments to leveraging the innovative capability of talented Sri Lankans were a lack of access to capital, markets, technology and the entrepreneurial capabilities of the inventors. It was also pointed out that not all inventors could or should be entrepreneurial businessmen and women. With regard to access to technology, the SLIC has a formal understanding with universities and national research institutes such as NERD and ITI. The SLIC also provides support programs for inventors to test and further improve their prototypes and products. However, in the case of access to capital and the market, unless there is strong private sector participation a critical mass of inventors adding value to the economy is only a distant dream, the SLIC stated. Several organisations within this sector - as a response to various requests made and some on their own initiative - have now come forward to partner SLIC in supporting inventors. There are a number of success stories already emerging.     Private sector initiatives Brandix was the first to make a major commitment towards this by coming forward as a strategic partner of the Sahasak Nimevum National Exhibition. Through this they sponsored a number of technical fields and provided capital to winning inventors to further develop their prototypes. On one such occasion they told a group of young inventors to “fail successfully and we will assure you opportunities.” They invited inventors to come up with solutions to apparel industry challenges and picked one such inventor who was an engineering graduate and invested in his invention by forming a joint venture, with majority stake held by the inventor. The Jinasena Group has an ongoing program where they shortlist inventors and support them to commercialise their products and provide incubation support. Under this program they procure solar lights developed by an inventor for free distribution to needy villagers as a part of the CSR program of the Jinasena Innovation and Technology Institute. Currently there are eight inventors being supported by them. The founder of Buddhi Industries B.K. Maheepala was one of the early inventors to be supported by the SLIC in promoting his invention, a cashew peeling machine, which he exports to many countries now. He has already helped two young inventors improve their prototypes in the fields of agriculture and construction. Watawala Tea sponsors innovations in the field of teaching aids and winners have remarkably improved the prototypes and have moved to the next stage. HNB Assurance sponsors the winners of safety-related innovations within the school category thus encouraging the creativity of young students in a field that is very important. Virtusa has sponsored inventors who have secured first places in school categories spanning the technical fields of agriculture, shelter, security and safety, communications and entertainment and is currently working with the commission to integrate creativity and innovation at a broader spectrum. Elpitiya Plantations of the Aitken Spence Group, signed an MoU with SLIC with a view to pick and promote innovations related to the plantation industry and currently has posed three challenges to inventors for which solutions have been presented in the form of proposals and are being reviewed at present. In addition, a mechanised device for the plucking of tea presented by an inventor is being currently reviewed. The Lankan Angel Network took a large number of inventors through their program, educating them on how to convert an invention into a business. During this last year one inventor was able to woo investors who put in a sum to the tune of $ 65,000 as investments in his venture. AOD offers to improve design aspects of selected inventions as a part of their contribution. Already one inventor who secured investments through the Lanka Angel Net Work is being assisted under this scheme. 3D Concept Studio, which pioneers 3D printing in the local market, just recently signed a MoU offering special offers to inventors recommended by the SLIC for providing their services. This will be a boost to inventors in their effort to convert ideas into working models. Hemas is one of the latest companies to join this group of corporate partners and has shown interest in a number of inventions for further development. This they say will be done by a special project process that has been internally established. Sampath Bank has extended their support to co-sponsor the YIC, the only reality TV program to promote innovation among schoolchildren. The second series commenced on ITN on 8 February. In line with this, the Toast Masters Club of Sampath Bank trains all student inventors in presentation skills prior to taking part in the reality show. Teachers and students really appreciate this unique opportunity. Sampath Bank also offers training opportunities to those inventors who want to move into business, telling them how to start a business through their Sampath Saviya Fianancing program. Last year alone 22 inventors benefited from this association. Challenging inventors Another unique method SLIC offers businesses to engage with inventors is by challenging them to come up with an innovative solution to a technical problem that they may have in their business. Companies can register online by visiting the SLIC website and post the problem without revealing sensitive information. By matching technical expertise, SLIC reaches out to inventors through emails and through SMS messages using the gateway set up for this purpose and requests inventors to contact the business directly. Last year a company engaged in providing specialised printing services to the apparel industry saw inventors solving a problem, saving a large amount of money and time. The SLIC is encouraged by these small but important initiatives. It reveals that its dream is to see every business adopting at least one inventor an year. While there are mega opportunities at the upper end of innovation involving ICT and more advanced technologies, there are many grassroots and intermediate innovations present that if provided with small support could make a big difference to the lives of those inventors as well as those around them, since these are solutions to problems they encounter. They need not have to be high-tech, high-cost solutions but low-tech, low-cost solutions. These inventors do not need large sums of money either. For the businesses, in addition to contributing to a unique area such as CSR, partnering with inventors can make very good business sense. For instance if they find an inventor working in an area that is of strategic interest such inventors can move much faster in developing products or solutions since they do not have the limitations a structured business has. Once the project is at a particular level the business can move in and help scale up things and create a mutually beneficial partnership.