Thought Leaders, who offer ideas and proposals on developing new partnerships between the private sector and Greece’s education institutions, creating a smart, dynamic, and effective growth model.
Greece, following decades of unfulfilled plans, broken promises by its leaders, and lost potential among its most promising citizens, needs change. Fast. And now. Smart Moves, an initiative of the Chamber’s Education, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Committee, is designed to spark a new model for development, one that partners the private sector, education institutions, researchers, and government bodies—as well as funding sources of all kinds—for a new era of smart growth, smart ecosystems, and smart synergies.
Innovation needs profound knowledge and analysis of a market segment to find better alternatives; and fighting your own perceptions and certainties is the biggest part of the game. Then innovation is constructed with layers of new perceptions-visions as you progress. Innovation in a saturated segment is difficult, almost any variation is discovered. Check patents religiously.
The innovation process needs three steps—and your ambition—to prevail; first is a surrealism stage (refer to André Breton) where everything is possible and so it helps to understand user’s needs beyond those expressed. Second is a down-to-earth stage of square logic and engineering, where only viable alternatives pass (refer to Descartes). The third stage before development is to check the value of your solutions with users. Most innovations fail at this stage. Then you can start development if a business plan tells you can have sound ROI.
KOLs (mostly from universities) play a key role in helping you at every stage, since they have the need to present innovations in their congresses, and they know pretty much what the future landscape looks like. They are more reachable than you think, since there are few innovators, and they hate commodities.
Competitiveness needs more than innovation, quality, reliability, approvals, patents, trade marks, industrial design, and many others for you to become a global player. Be anti-conformist, a dreamer and a believer of your high expectations, you are an artist, be different. Conservatives cannot innovate.
What do I Expect from Universities Today?
Government expenses for research are declining and must be allocated to an increasing number of researchers. The private sector could be an important source of funds. Of importance, though, are the consequences of research expenditure on economic growth. If public research provides finds that are not, partially, related to the Greek economy, then this research serves the needs of foreign economies. Government grants for research in Greece turn out to be competitive advantages of other economies! The way to resolve this dilemma would be to reinforce the correlation between research and production.
The state could found, in each university, a company for the development of research findings. As long as this policy is not implemented, and by complying with the “wise” suggestion that companies have no place in universities, the state assumes the role of a broker between companies and, as law dictates, research findings published before the university ensures their copyright are considered public domain and as such any company can exploit them without having to pay anything at all. Thus, the university is actually helping those it wishes to exclude. So “no companies in the universities” does not protect the public interest, but rather disregards it. Companies can consist of capable research groups to produce outcomes that benefit new researchers in finding employment instead of emigrating. The university too can establish a company and respect state grants, defending the public interest.
In many countries, we see a high level of collaboration between the academic community and the private sector. A typical example is Finland, where our company is contributing to several projects like the development of joint solutions for outpatient care with the University of Helsinki, Faculty of Medicine and the Helsinki University Hospital.
In Greece, however this collaboration is at a very basic level and primarily focused on post-graduate studies. By combining the individual innovative profiles of Greek universities and the private sector we can create a lot of value added for both. Two proposals for collaboration are listed. Enterprises see the market trends and can provide a vision on where each industry is going and what kind of competencies will be needed in the future. Hence, they can enable universities to design educational programs that will address those needs well in advance. At the same time, universities can offer additional R&D innovation in those future areas and hence help shape the future. Let’s not forget that the EU2020 is requiring a growth of about 50% in current R&D spending within the European Union.
Another area of collaboration is to undertake joint strategic development projects. A good example is the Bristol is Open initiative where the state, the academic community and the private sector are collaborating in making the city smarter and more friendly to its citizens. In Greece, this could take the shape of an alliance for creating and enabling a Public Safety ecosystem with a clear export profile or a growth initiative around the Internet of Things.
Higher Education and Economic Development
Higher education is a key driver of economic development as a means of attaining employability, productivity, competitiveness and innovation.
The university’s contribution to economic growth implies that research in universities leads to innovation and economic advantage by contributing to the creation of highly qualified human resources.
Particularly, academic research and development are treated nowdays as catalytic agents in economic expansion. While large companies usually are self-sufficient in the area of research, the smaller ones and more specifically high-tech and startup enterprises are connected to a larger extent with universities.
To follow these economic transformations, universities can develop Centers of Creativity aiming at transferring innovation to local enterprises and to the business world, by developing approaches to help applied research be transferred outside the academic community.
A major parameter of the connection between universities and the market could be the increase of doctoral and post-doctoral research in Europe and internationally. This research should be encouraged through scholarships, while attracting and networking researchers globally is a policy to work for.
Among the actions to be taken is to strengthen the link between students and business through internships, which serve as a catalyst for the responsiveness of the knowledge and skills of graduates and the needs of the labor market.
Universities can link the local, national and global levels, bringing together multidisciplinary partners in clusters, which are important mechanisms for economic development, and for utilizing resources allocated to higher education efficiently. It is a goal to strive for.
Triple Helix Model
The Triple Helix model of innovation refers to the extensive and active co-operation between Business-Academia-Government. It argues that the creation of the knowledge base depends on the synergies created among these three main actors.
Building triple helix interactions with proper protocols and missions can lead to innovation outburst, entrepreneurial capacities, and enhanced knowledge and technology transfer with, ultimately, successful engagement in national/regional development. Such interactions involve shifts, especially in higher education, which must assume an entrepreneurial role and incorporate knowledge commercialization strategies by involving industry and government in its mission. These shifts can be seen in countries where regions near universities burst with entrepreneurial ventures, innovation capacity and an overall improved regional economy. But this is not the case in Greece. A harsh economic environment, poor communication among triple helix actors, rigid academic institutions, an obsolete regulatory framework, lack of a business-oriented culture, limited support for entrepreneurial activities, a low innovation score, and severe brain drain point toward the fact that triple helix interactions are not being performed in this area.
The THA Chapter in Greece intends to promote interaction between universities, firms and government by supporting the international exchange of scholars, by educating scholars in THA’s mission, by organizing international symposia and assisting the education of students, scholars and practitioners, and by providing a common framework for triple helix actors to engage in the regional development of Greece through boosting innovation capacity, encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship and through building knowledge by fighting the national brain drain.
Bet on Tech Innovation
When talking about investment and innovation in Greece, most people mean investment and innovation in services. Greeks have almost given up on technology and manufacturing. Even most Greek startups focus on services and although Greece educates a lot of young people in sciences and engineering, the best of them seek better career opportunities abroad.
It is high time universities and industry joined forces to effect a renaissance of Greek technology and manufacturing. The American College of Greece is already pursuing ideas in this area.
There are many models to follow, but the most promising is the creation by a university of a dedicated innovation center (IC) which pairs the institution’s research facilities and human capital with the needs of businesses for the creation of innovative products and/or processes. The IC should also serve as a source of support and expertise for enterprising young researchers/entrepreneurs eager to develop and test new ideas. It would also prove an invaluable training ground for the university’s own students from a variety of fields.
How can such a project be funded? Fundraising is crucial and user fees will kick in eventually. A more innovative approach would be for the university to become an angel investor in companies or patents spawned from its IC in exchange for convertible debt or ownership equity.
The challenges are many: modernization of the legal framework; buy-in by businesses and academia; finding competent IC administrators—and that’s just a few.
But if we are to see our country safely through this crisis, we have to start thinking big.
Bridging the Gap
It is well-documented that the wealth level of a country depends on the level of its education. Indeed, the best higher educational institutions are found in the most developed countries. The basic research conducted in universities leads to new discoveries and innovative products. Having established an important eco-system, the university research centers for innovation and entrepreneurship choose, test and modify the most promising ideas to become profitable for the economy and for the university. This successful connection between the university and the economy contributes significantly to the GDP of the developed countries.
Not, however, in Greece. Here the connection between the universities and businesses is minimal as the two sides do not communicate well, mostly for historical reasons. Yet, the economic and social crisis of the last eight years in Greece has created a window of opportunity to bridge this communication gap. Needed are concrete steps to identify what each side has to offer. An example of such step taken from the academia is the recently established Center for Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship by the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. The Center aims to support the research capability of the university and connect it with the industry while it promotes the transfer of knowledge to the society via the creation of start-up companies. Yet, for the economy to benefit, similar steps must be taken from the business side such as, for example, to identify their needs to the Center to find matching response from interested researchers and innovators.
Connecting Education and Entrepreneurship
In Greece, there are many students in higher education with great potential, strong knowledge background and effectiveness in research and innovation. However, the lack of interconnection between educational institutions, businesses and the market, in general, does not allow the exploitation of this potential and the implementation of innovation for the continuous improvement of Greek entrepreneurship.
Therefore, for several years, National Bank of Greece has introduced strategic initiatives and programs in the Greek market that enhance the interconnection of education and entrepreneurship:
- “Innovation & Technology” Competition is in cooperation with eight prestigious Greek universities. Innovative ideas are being submitted by contestants and evaluated by university staff. Top proposals are assessed with contestants to provide mentoring both by banking and business experts along with university experts.
- NBG Business Seeds funding program, designed to foster innovative and export-oriented entrepreneurship; the program has led to the creation of an ecosystem with technology companies (Microsoft, amazon), universities and consulting companies to support entrepreneurs in all stages of their business cycle.
- First fintech hackathon in Greece.
- First fintech accelerator program in Greece.
National Bank of Greece cooperates with Junior Achievement Greece to build and encourage entrepreneurship from the early educational stages.
In all these programs and initiatives, we cooperate with international counterparts leading similar programs, to provide access for Greek entrepreneurs to the global entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Smart Moves . . . and a Greek Reality Test
We need to create productive synergies in education and entrepreneurship and that is what Smart Moves Proposals aim for. But, before we go on, we need to see how these proposals fit into the broader debate, by recognizing there are some mutually agreed assumptions concerning present matters in Greek reality.
The first assumption is that entrepreneurship in Greece is largely built around small and medium-sized businesses. Furthermore, it is these businesses that, under the burden of high taxation, high contributions and expensive funding, are unable to pay premium wages. And erroneously, society blames entrepreneurship for it.
Another assumption is that only a small percentage of university graduates is in essence productive and actually becomes part of the workforce. This is due to the fact that education appears to fall short of technical know-how and expertise.
There is also the premise that a relatively small percentage of scholars are in fact knowledgeable of the actual needs and gaps of the economy, either on a national or a local level. Without having that information, scholars cannot fully grasp the market supply and demand associations or come up with an informed decision regarding their choice of study field.
Ιn an environment of crisis, university graduates overall must be able to match their skillset, knowledge, and competence to the needs of society and the economy, with a clear view of what the market has to offer and what the market requires from them in terms of minimum credentials, i.e. basic knowledge of economic principles, practical knowledge, language aptitude, etc. This will serve as the means to increase competitiveness, generate growth, and enhance social cohesion. Last, there is the consideration of the way the micro and macro-economic environment is developing in the country.
Smart Reform in Universities
Surveys, one such conducted recently by Adecco, “Employability in Greece, 2016,” have shown a discrepancy between skills required by employers and the perception of prospective applicants regarding their actual possession of these skills. The market needs persons with original and resourceful (out of the box) thought, ability to do team work, effective time management, and facility in eloquent and clear oral presentation. Above all, the most sought after skill is critical thinking, which is the ability to analyse facts, to generate and organize ideas, present succinct arguments, compare, deduct, evaluate arguments and solve complex problems. In Greek when a person possesses these qualities we say that a person has “judgement,” but university education in Greece is one of professional specialization for which no general education is required, e.g. no philosophy, or ethics, history, economics, mathematics, physics, the disciplines that foster critical thinking.
A smart move would be for universities to introduce reforms, to the extent that they can, that would allow flexibility in university curriculum and some parallel general education; the end product would be graduates possessing critical thinking. In addition, the reform could include some practical work training as an academic requirement and the bold step of introducing English as the language of instruction in the undergraduate and post graduate level. The latter would attract large numbers of foreign students to Greece. In this educational environment, graduates of Greek universities would become more competitive and employable in the Greek and the global market.
Create Productive Synergies
We are in the midst of a transition from the Information Age to the Digital Age. Over the next decade we’ll see tremendous growth of the Internet. Cloud, security, mobility, collaboration and other technologies are powering a massive opportunity. The future not just full of technological possibilities… it is also full of technological inevitabilities. The process of digital disruption is survival: “Disrupt or be Disrupted.”
Companies and countries that don’t digitize will lose to more innovative competition. New technology models…challenging traditional models, will only accelerate. This also means instilling the right processes, organizational structure and culture change.
Cisco is partnering worldwide with governments, companies and academia to accelerate digital transformation projects. Becoming digital also implies a culture change, which means training the current workforce to be successful in the jobs of the future. The types of jobs that are available today won’t be the types of jobs available 20 years from now. Digitization will drive innovation, growth and job creation. Through the Cisco Networking Academy, we provide knowledge and training for students and teachers on the skills required.
Technology can help to reduce unemployment and create digital skills to work in a digital world. This will not come only from large companies. It will come also from startups and entrepreneurs. Market conditions are forcing every company and industry to evolve, interface with customers and collaborate. All this requires exponential thinking… Think like a startup or entrepreneur… Not linear.
Converging Applied Research Outcome to Production Chain Needs
Most of the research in Greece takes place in universities. Part of this is basic, addressing theoretical scientific issues; a considerable part of research, though, produces innovative results that can improve the productive chain efficiency. However, the procedure to ensure that the outcome of this applied research addresses problems/issues that interest the Greek production chain, and can therefore be directly integrated therein, remains a desideratum.
Although considerable efforts were allocated lately towards matching university research outcome to production chain needs, little progress was recorded, mainly due to the lack of a systematic, well organized communication procedure. There is, consequently, an immediate need for the operation of thematic platforms, where for various production areas university people teaching and researching on these themes and people with relative production activities will come together in a well organized way to exchange views and compose action plans for enhancing synergies between research/education and entrepreneurship.
To ensure efficiency the three thematic areas are selected on the basis of communication progress among the parts so far—food/drink products, environment, and energy could be such a selection—with a mandate to the platform groups to come up in six months with a specific road map for creating/enhancing these synergies. It would be better if the whole effort is organized by one/two non-profit, private, well established, multidisciplinary research/professional organizations that would also bring to the table financial supporters for at least one task within each thematic area.
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