Support for SMEs and Start-Up Companies in the UAE Urged at Innovation Conference

September 21, 2018

The importance of linking academia with industry and the role of incubators and accelerators to spur innovation were highlighted by Dr. Steve Griffiths, Vice President for Research at Masdar Institute, during his participation at the Khalifa Fund Innovation Conference, which took place in Abu Dhabi last week.

Dr. Griffiths represented Masdar Institute as the academic member of a panel to discuss “Leveraging Partnerships and Innovative Solutions to Empower SMEs,” and was joined by fellow experts in the private, government, financial and economic development sectors.

Using Masdar Institute as an example, Dr. Griffiths provided insights into how the Institute has stimulated innovation by providing the foundations for innovation and incentivizing it. By focusing on research first, the Institute is investing the required resources to produce the knowledge and technologies that can then be translated to commercial value. The realization of the commercial value is recognized as innovation.  

Dr. Griffiths explained: “The key to encouraging and facilitating innovation is to lay the foundations for individuals and SMEs to take their innovations and ideas to the commercialization stage in a straight-forward manner with readily accessible resources. After achieving this, entrepreneurs and innovators will come forward with their innovations for commercialization.   

Speaking of the fundamentals for fostering innovation, Dr. Griffiths discussed the importance of academia maintaining a strong base of science and engineering capabilities and establishing a strong linkage with industry to ensure that problems of practical importance are understood and addressed.   

“The addition of academic programs that support innovators and entrepreneurs to come forward, including technology transfer offices, proof-of-concept funding, entrepreneurship education and translational structures such as accelerators and incubators, encourage and facilitate a culture of innovation. This is proving successful at Masdar Institute, as in the past year the Institute has substantially invested in creating an innovation supportive culture and as a result invention disclosures and quality disclosures have doubled in comparison to previous years,” he explained.

Academia, government and industry can help SMEs to leverage their innovations and create sustainable, high-growth businesses by allowing access to markets, financing and infrastructure, which were identified by Dr. Griffiths as the biggest obstacles that SMEs face in the UAE when trying to commercialize their innovations and expand their operations.

“Access to markets is one the principal challenges technology start-ups and SMEs in the UAE face. In order to help stimulate growth in the SME sector, it is critical that measures are put in place to support the growth of technology companies in key sectors and ensure they gain access to international markets,” he advised.

From a financial perspective, there is an inherent need for the provision of funding to aid companies from the proof-of-concept stage to full incorporation – including channels into other markets – and emphasized the need for an increasing amount of venture capital investment locally to support SMEs in their development.

To fully support the development of start-ups and SMEs, the UAE needs to establish clusters to attract multinational corporations or research laboratories that have the R&D capabilities to scale capital intensive technologies at a faster pace than SMEs. These clusters, or national laboratories, could then provide engineering and market knowledge that SMEs lack and have difficulty finding.  

To ease the challenges posed by starting a business, Dr. Griffiths said there was a need to introduce accelerators and incubators to provide additional funding and business support for business that need to scale up. By providing access to accelerators or incubators, start-ups and SMEs can easily locate and grow their businesses with access to dynamic entrepreneurial and innovative environments and flexible terms that can alleviate many start-up issues regarding long-term office leasing costs, staffing, living costs and other business issues.

The Khalifa Fund Innovation Conference, held under the theme of “Unlocking SME Potential through Partnerships, Innovation and Technology Solutions,” was hosted and organized by the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development with the support of the IFC World Bank during the 5th SME Toolkit Global Partner Conference. The conference allowed for the sharing of best practices to develop competitiveness and innovation capacity and discussed the importance of leveraging partnerships to stimulate innovation and creativity in the SME sector.

Ciara Sutton
News and Features Writer
11 November 2015