The Forest At 30,000 Feet

October 29, 2017

 

Somebody asked me once, how do we look at the bigger picture from a macro level to try and solve the issue of creating an innovative and technologically advanced environment in Saudi Arabia ?.. Basically, at 30,000 feet give me the picture you see of the forest below.

 

My answer was:

 

I can't see a forest... The earth is bare, and there are a few trees scattered around.

 

The way I see it is that there isn't a quick fix for Innovation, especially not in the technology field. It took silicon valley the good part of a century to be able to stimulate and foster the innovative and technologically advanced companies we see today, and it all started out of Stanford University, which was the centre of excellence at the time from which all the innovators of that time stemmed from. Their graduates were given incentives to stay in the area by offering them facilities and seed funding to help their ideas grow, some of which we still see until this day, i.e. HP. Also, already established big companies such as Kodak and GE were also given incentives to move nearby whereby they were given the opportunity to send their employees on a part-time postgrad programs to Stanford so that there would be a transfer of knowledge in and out of the university which would guarantee that graduates could find jobs easily, while ideas and innovations would stay close by, thus fostering further growth in the area. [1] 

 

 to 2017, Silicon Valley is what we all emulate in wanting to be in terms of being a centre of excellence where fortune 500 companies and top talent are not only all emerging from at an unprecedented rate, but are also others are flocking to from all over the world to be part of the action.Fast-forward

 

So the lesson we can learn from this is that innovation is grown, it does not suddenly appear. So to see trees in the forest, we need first to plant the seeds of talent that would one day have the skills necessary to create the advanced technology we see coming out of the West and even the East. And that would only ever come from campaigning to adopt computer science programs in schools and also open universities of technology for those graduates interested in pursuing and advancing their skills in these fields. KAUST has the right idea, but their problem is that they've closed their doors to the general public and only accept students on a master's level and above, but the problem here is, what institutes do we have to get students to that level? 

 

Imperial College London has also tried to adopt the same model as Stanford but on a much more accelerated level and has created something called 'Imperial Innovations' [2]. This is a privately held company affiliated to the university, which invests in graduate's ideas and helps them to use and adopt the latest management and business practices to be competitive and profitable in the market, while at the same time funding their innovations and research further. 

 

The third option, if you don't have a massively well-educated talent pool in the field you are trying to innovate, and in our case that is technology, and you also do not have half a century or more like silicon valley to grow it organically, then you do what Dubai Silicon Oasis did and that is to incubate and accelerate bright young minds who would otherwise not have the skills and opportunity to do it themselves [3]. This is like planting baby trees from a nursery into the barren land to accelerate the growth of a forest. They're a solely government-backed entity and their mandate is to try and attract the brightest minds from all over the region to help create, learn, collaborate, and grow the tech companies of the future, who would then themselves go on to employ, attract, and teach a new generations of talent, which would then encourage new minds and new ideas from all over the region to flock in to do the same, and so on and so forth. This is the model I propose, and this is where we would start to see a dense, lush forest emerging from an otherwise dry and barren land.

 

That is the shortest route to becoming technologically innovative. You can either affiliate yourself to a centre of excellence i.e. a tech university, which we cannot do at the moment, due to the unavailability of such places, or you can support ideas in all the ways i mentioned to try and fast-track the process and slowly create grass root growth in innovation. Dtec 'Dubai Technological Entrepreneurs Centre' part of DSO, is the exact model I propose which I think would be the perfect vehicle to help foster, attract, and stimulate technological advancements in Saudi Arabia. I worked with them, and my office was in the same building they started their operations from, so i know first hand what it took to get them there and how they run their show, so it will not be hard to do something similar, if not better. [4]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicon_Valley#Stanford_University

[2] http://www.imperialinnovations.co.uk/about/

[3] https://www.dsoa.ae/en/

[4] http://dtec.ae

 

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