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Interview with Dr Sudeep Basu, a specialist in the area of global innovations

Interview with Dr Sudeep Basu, a specialist in the area of global innovations

Publish date: 2013-11-06

At the end of july in Wrocław Research Center EIT+ second edition of VAIL Europe Conference was held. Main issues of this event were possibilities of cooperation between Poland and USA in the field of science and technology joint ventures. During this thought provoking conference we had a pleasure to speak with Dr Sudeep Basu, Global Practice Leader, Innovation Services at Frost and Sullivan, who currently serves as Co-Chair for IP and Technology Transfer on VAIL Europe Conference.

Tags: innovations , EIT+ , Sudeep Basu , VAIL Europe


You are a specialist in the area of innovations, so could you define me a nowadays definition of innovation; what is innovation today?

Dr Sudeep Basu

Innovation is a buzz word which is very often used today by many people from small companies, universities, start-ups and governments. Usually it’s used in the wrong context. To me, innovation is definitely connected with the word novelty, which means ‘new way of doing something’. Innovation per se doesn't have any meaning. It does not have to translate into ‘something productive’, ‘something useful’, ‘something that allows getting a better handle on things’ such as communication technology or space technology. It could be as simple as water purification a basic need of human beings all across the planet. If the innovation enables us to do it better, faster, in an efficient manner and can be easily implemented, then it's desirable. To me, just doing something for the sake of calling it ‘the innovation’ is a disservice to that effort.


Could you tell me about actual global strategies for innovation area?

Here perspective matters and the answer depends on whether you are a government, a large company or a small start-up. If you look at large companies, there are different strategies. They perceive the world as one playground with regional markets. They look at how to create and tweak a product for e.g. Poland vs. China vs. Malaysia. Some of them are built on a common, basic platform. Others could be designed for one area, like  Africa. Depending on what you're trying to make, your approach will change based on who your customer is, what product you're launching, what is the price point, what problem you're solving, what is the unmet need of your customer. I think that's the innovation strategy. Then there are multiple models of innovation such as open innovation. Another way of looking at the innovation strategy for the larger problem that everybody will face and is facing is climate change, the challenge driven approach. Look at global warming, climate change per se more importantly, is accepted as a fact. What will be the innovation that will solve this problem? There is no single answer. There are going to be multiple technologies, processes, changed mindsets. A lot of people say scaling the technology can solve the climate change problem. Yes, but only if you can change and scale the mindset of people. People all around the world are using energy. All of them have to become aware, not just educated people like you and me, but even those who are living in villages in remote areas. They need to understand how climate change will impact their lives and the future lives. That is another model of innovation - scaling a mindset. So, different innovation strategies in combination for unique problems.


Is it possible to define which area has the biggest potential to make the innovations? Climate change, medical, or another?

I think that's a great question. In fact, I have a published paper that I've written on this subject with my co-author in America’s Innovation Journal. If you look at the basic necessities in the world today, you will find out that it’s disease prevention as well as water, food and energy supply. Enablers like IT or communication make the world smaller, more integrated. However, looking at energy separately is a challenging task, it’s necessary to get on with eradicating diseases that can spread rapidly and provision of clean water. When you look at the James Bond movie that came out recently, it was not oil that was going to be a problem, it was water. So I think that basic survival of the human race depends on these key factors.


USA is the leader of global innovation. But there are troubles in some areas which are the reason of looking for partnership in the emerging countries, for example in Poland.

True, that the US has been the leader of Innovation and continues to invest heavily in it. There are untapped areas of opportunities. The best example is coal. We know Poland is about 90% dependent on Coal it as an energy source for electricity generation. It is also widely used in China, India and the rest of the world. The US has large reserves of this fuel. However, because of economic and environmental reasons there is a push to move away from it. So there are two possible paths ahead. The first is to leave carbon energy all together. The other one is to shift to cleaner options like clean coal technologies. If you think that just with the US leaving coal and moving to shale gas or combination of other options like wind, nuclear and solar will solve the global climate change problem, then I am sorry to say it will not. US population is 315 million while that of China and India put together is 2.6 billion. It's about ten times larger. If all those people gave up coal it would make a difference. Nonetheless, if you look at Poland and the US, you can say, where are the dots to be connected? Clean coal technologies would be one of them. The ARPA-E program in the US is a great example of what governments can do to catalyze disruptive innovation. A possibility is maybe to set up a partnership of e.g. Wroclaw with Kentucky, which is a coal state in the US and try to set up a clean coal technology fund. We know that it will actually change the dynamics of the way this fuel is burnt, that can impact the climate. Moving away from coal is not going to happen. No matter what, China and India will not give up on it, because it's a cheap source of energy. For them, turning into nuclear will take time. Look at Germany, they say they are going to give up coal, but in the midterm they are actually moving to more coal utilization as they transition. I think that is the area where definitely one needs to focus. At least for Poland, there is definitely an interest in the US. I've actually been trying to do my bit to bring the two sides together in this subject and stimulate further cooperation. The former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Europe, Juan Verde has served as a strong motivation for me in this regard.


So, maybe let's leave the coal example. Why Poland is good country for international partnership in joint research project?

Poland has shown remarkable resilience and economic growth even during the world-wide recession which affected other EU countries pretty badly. Poland also has a vibrant trained work force. In April 2013, at the BioPoland summit in Chicago, Madam Minister Ilona Antoniszyn-Klik was present and she is a great supporter of such initiatives. She is also present here at VAIL Europe in Wroclaw this year and this shows the intent and support from the very top in the government. Thus, from an Economic, Human Capital and Government Leadership stand-point Poland is a key country in EU for such partnerships. Specifically, in the US-PL context, Poland is a strategic partner of the US. In 2011, during the Polish Presidency of the EU, I was invited to the BioPoland Summit in Washington DC by the Trade and Investment Section of the Polish Embassy in Washington, and I facilitated introductions between Prof Miroslaw Miller (Then the President of EIT+, Wroclaw)  and Vickie Yates Brown, CEO of NUCLEUS Research park in  Louisville, Kentucky in the US and an MoU was signed on cooperation and Mayor of Louisville, Mr Greg Fischer appreciated this greatly. Prof Miller is a big supporter of partnerships and he is a champion for Healthcare-IT. Healthcare IT has a relatively smaller product lifecycle (1-2 years) whereas in pharmaceutical and drug development it is longer (8-10 years). If you want to see results in a shorter span of time, the healthcare IT area would be an option. However, in order to be really successful, from policy perspective, you have to identify a few niches and put a mandate at the national level, make channels, make the platforms and then empower the innovators and the entrepreneurs. Create the culture to make things happen. For example, Joint technology innovation funds are a great mechanism to foster partnership between the US and Poland. Minister Counselor Prof Marek Konarzewski too has talked about this idea and at VAIL we became aware that there are many funding opportunities for joint projects however there is low awareness of these funding opportunities among researchers and institutions. Poland definitely needs to support these mechanisms as such innovation in a necessity. Further, as the Co-Chair for IP and Technology Transfer at VAIL Europe, I must add that it is important to create and protect Intellectual Property around the innovation. I think it is very important to identify those niche areas where you have competency and can quickly make some impact. At the same time you should also have a longer term plan. I'll give you an example of a country  – Ireland. They have focused only on pharmaceuticals and biotech in a big way. Many of the patents in these areas have expired so manufacturing is now moving away from them since the value of that innovation to financial markets is now lost. Now, they are distressed, because they were so heavily focused on one sector. The implementation of the EU RIS3 strategy on Smart Specialization is a key component that can chart a path of success for Poland. You have to balance the risk. That's another thing to keep in mind while developing innovation strategy.


Ok, what are potential benefits of cooperation?

There are many benefits to cooperation. I already mentioned joint funding and partnerships for projects and this leads to exchange of expertise and training. Job creation and Job growth is also an outcome of cooperation as is Economic Development in the mid-long term. Poland is under EU mandate to hit the 2020 and 2050 renewable target. If you do develop these technologies jointly, there is a global market for it. Suppose US and Poland together developed a clean coal technology, they would then have India and China as great markets for this new technology. For US coal export is a big industry. They could sell the technology and the raw material for it. That would be a big advantage for US companies that are looking for opportunities to export. For Poland, a national challenge would be solved. Similarly, Healthcare-IT is a huge area for growth in the US and elsewhere. The US has a large aging population. If Polish companies pursue partnerships in this area and develop products for this space they can have access to very large and growing market opportunities. Some areas may need added attention like the issue of Software Patenting in Poland but these are things that can be resolved. Another example of successful cooperation is the TOP-500 program in Silicon Valley which is an excellent program where selected Polish professionals spend 2 months in Silicon Valley learning about commercializing innovation and entrepreneurship. I have interacted with this group at Stanford University during my lecture there and was highly impressed with Prof Moncarz’s efforts. The results of cooperation are clearly visible. These are just few of the benefits. As you can see, there are many opportunities available in the area of cooperation that could be the driver of success. Finally, the economic rationale will drive decision making.

Thank you very much for the conversation.


Interview by Tomasz Sznerch
edited by Piotr Kołata



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