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s Masdar Institute progresses through its stra-
tegically chosen areas of research in advanced
and sustainable technologies, its Institute
Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (iInno-
vation) is working to translate and link that research
together with entrepreneurship to support the cre-
ation of local startup companies.
“iInnovation works on the basic question of how
to shape an innovation ecosystem to accelerate inno-
vation. This is a broader approach than that taken
by most other university centers for innovation and
entrepreneurship, which often are embedded in a
more robust, or at least a more established, innovation
ecosystem,” said Dr. Bruce W. Ferguson, the center’s
head and a professor of practice, engineering systems
Because the innovation ecosystem is still devel-
oping in the UAE, the center plays an important role
as a bridge between university research and industry.
A young country, the UAE spent the first part of its
development focused on building infrastructure. Now,
because petroleum is a finite resource, the country is
seeking new ways to support economic growth.
“But homegrown innovation has to take a greater
place in industrial development, which is not just true
for [the] UAE but [also for] other countries like China
and Singapore. It’s a global challenge, and simply try-
ing to recreate Silicon Valley does not work very well,
because that means trying to recreate an ecosystem
tailored for one particular environment; and there
are differences, and those differences have to be taken
into account when building an innovation ecosystem,”
iInnovation’s primary technology interests are
aligned with Masdar Institute’s areas of core exper-
tise: renewable energy, water, the environment, sus-
tainability, and microsystems. The center has plans
to establish an incubator space for startups and, next
year, to host the annual UAE Forum on Innovation and
Similar attempts have been made in the past to
attract startups to technology hubs. Some succeeded
and others did not. iInnovation is trying to learn from
these attempts to create an entrepreneurial model
suited both to local conditions and the specific require-
ments of the sectors the country is cultivating.
Throughout the Middle East, a resurgence of
interest in entrepreneurship has been occurring, par-
ticularly in Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. But some of
the newer companies have floundered, in part because
of investment problems caused by political instability.
The UAE has the advantage of a strong government,
and one committed to innovation.
Although Masdar Institute is independent, it
shares strong R&D programs with investment and
development company Mubadala, which is investing in
a wide range of strategic technology-based industries,
including renewable energy, aerospace, semiconductor
products, and health care.
“This affiliation of a university with an organiza-
tion that is developing key technology industries rep-
resents an organizational connection that is practically
unknown in the West. It provides tremendous value
in identifying potential commercial applications for
university research,” observed Ferguson.
The list of short-term goals for the center is
headed by training and instruction for faculty and
students, so they can successfully start new companies
with commercial applications based on their research.
The center will thus be establishing new innovation
and entrepreneurship courses at Masdar Institute.
“Longer term, we hope to develop a novel
approach to bridging the ‘valley of death’ between
proof of concept and pilot-scale operation. This prob-
lem confounds many technology startups, particularly
those outside the information and communications
sector,” Ferguson concluded.
The center’s goal is to train and instruct
faculty and students so they can successfully
start new companies with commercial
applications based on their research.
Institute Center for Innovation and
translate and link
to support the
10/8/13 4:03 PM
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