Building innovation centres and technology incubators

MANY universities across Slovakia have realised the importance of innovation and the commercialisation of research results. They have launched innovation centres and technology incubators hoping that these can make a significant contribution to putting Slovakia on the road to an innovative economy.

MANY universities across Slovakia have realised the importance of innovation and the commercialisation of research results. They have launched innovation centres and technology incubators hoping that these can make a significant contribution to putting Slovakia on the road to an innovative economy.

The Slovak Spectator spoke to representatives of several universities and innovation and technology centres in Slovakia: Lenka Mikulíková from the University Technology Incubator (InQb) at the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava; Zlatica Dolná, assistant to the project manager of the University Centre for Innovation, Technology Transfer and Intellectual Property Protection (UCITT) in Košice; and Ján Hudec of the Microsoft innovation centre at Matej Bel University (UMB) in Banská Bystrica; about inception of the centres, their achievements to date and their plans for the future.

Lenka Mikulíková (LM): The father of the idea to create the University Technology Incubator (InQb) is the current rector of the Slovak University of Technology, Robert Redhammer, who at that time acted as the pro-rector for science and research, while the main driving force was efforts to transfer technologies and commercialise results from the university environment into the commercial environment. The main aims of the incubator are to support the commercialisation of the results of research by STU students and workers in a more significant way, support the creation of new technology companies, support the knowledge-based economy, link science, research and innovation with business in practice and thus increase the competitiveness of the region and contribute to the fulfilment of the goals of the [EU’s] Lisbon Strategy.

Zlatica Dolná (ZD): An important part of the strategic plan introduced in the Long-term Development Strategy of the Technical University of Košice (TUKE) is the improvement of research and development (R&D) based on vivid and active cooperation with industries in Slovakia and abroad. In the process of implementing the strategy, we initiated the establishment of a new centre, UCITT, which is interconnected with other project proposals that are being prepared, i.e. the science and technology park TECHNICOM and the Hi-Tech incubator. UCITT is currently being built on the TUKE campus with support funding from EU structural funds. The main aim of UCITT is to facilitate efficient, mutually beneficial and versatile cooperation between professionals from the academic area and industry. This aim respects the principles and concepts that support the fulfilment of the global objective of the Operational Programme “Research and Development” focused on modernisation and effectiveness of R&D support. The outcomes of R&D should contribute to the growth of regional and national economies and thereby improve the conditions for innovation and technology transfer.

Ján Hudec (JH): There were several reasons behind the launch of the Microsoft innovation centre at Matej Bel University (UMB) in Banská Bystrica. Among them were previous research and education in the fields on which the centre now focuses, a perception of the growing importance of the business intelligence (BI) approach, and Microsoft’s willingness to invest in the centre.

At UMB’s Faculty of Economics we have been devoted to management of companies of various kinds, management of finance, investing and public administration. Each of these fields requires proper decision-making by managers, which is not possible merely through intuition any more. It requires work with data and information that in turn requires further support from information systems, for example of the business intelligence (BI) type. UMB correctly foresaw, because BI tops the list of innovation activities in which companies are investing, that this wave would also reach Slovakia.

The last reason, but not the least, was that Microsoft recognised our efforts and was willing to invest in infrastructure for the innovation centre.

The aims of the innovation centre can be divided into three groups: tools, applications and education. In terms of the first the aim is to research and popularise tools to support decision-making and tools to support cooperation between company and their clients (known as Customer Relationship Management (CRM)). Within applications the target is to search for areas within companies and organisations where existing BI and CRM tools could be used or, where they are used, for the centre to examine their effectiveness. Within education the centre’s activities are focused on UMB students in the BI and CRM fields as well as people using them in practice. The centre also provides space for multidisciplinary expert discussion by hosting various seminars focused on research into the dynamics of economic processes, analysing the effectiveness of companies, and more.

TSS: What are your most important achievements?

LM: Since the launch of the incubator we have supported 36 incubated companies within the InQb programme and 18 attendants in the Start-up office programme. The incubator was opened on November 28, 2005, and the first companies entered it as of January 1, 2006. Since 2008 we have managed to keep the average occupancy of the premises at about 80 percent.

During its operation to date the incubator has hosted international conferences, training courses, competitions as well as meetings of companies focusing on innovation and education.

We have also built a network of partners and completed three projects co-financed by the European Social Fund. We are now carrying out an international project co-financed by the ERDF called Centrope_tt in cooperation with partners from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria, whose results are activities in the transfer of technologies sector.

JH: With regards to the biggest achievement of the centre so far, it is the up-to-date content of about 10 subjects in which it teaches BI and CRM. I also perceive my selection to lead the university part of the team which is coordinating implementation of BI into the financial information system used by public universities in Slovakia as an acknowledgement by the expert community.

ZD: Our most important achievements include the successful progress of the UCITT project, which is crucial for the establishment of the centre; the project ends in June 2012. Its concept and position in the value chain is related to the establishment of the TECHNICOM park and is supported by several follow-up projects. These are the VUKONZE centre (Research Centre for Efficient of Integration of Combined Renewable Energy Systems); the KC ZATIPS centre (Competency Centre for Knowledge Technologies applied to Innovation of Production Systems in Industry and Services); the VRS ZaSS centre (Development and Realization Centre for Raw Material Extraction and Treatment).

These projects create the background for the development of the TECHNICOM park and activate significant innovation cooperation, transfers and joint projects in the field of services with companies, such as SMZ Jelšava, ZŤS-VUZ Košice, T-Systems Slovakia, ELCOM, ANTIK Telecom, CEIT SK, ITKON, IPM Solutions and IT Valley Košice.

TSS: What are your current plans?

LM: In the future the incubator plans to continue its activities to date, especially to support other newly established innovative companies and individuals who plan to launch such companies via the InQb and Start-Up office programmes, and to organise events and activities to support incubated companies.

We also plan to establish cooperation with other similar workplaces at the international level within Europe in order to launch contacts between Slovak and foreign companies in order to exchange experiences.

Another intention of the incubator is to introduce a system for obtaining practical experience for students of STU and also other universities in the region in technology companies via specialised practice, work experience or employment.

ZD: Our current plan is to finish the project, fulfil the measurable indicators, enhance our cooperation with other centres for technology transfer and innovation, and research centres, deepen our involvement in the activities of the National Infrastructure to Support Technology Transfer in Slovakia, foster TUKE’s cooperation with companies in the eastern Slovak region of (thanks to other projects and activities directed at cooperation with small and medium-sized enterprises), develop services and strengthen the position of the TECHNICOM park. We plan to implement a bilingual information website in February 2012 to fully support the mission of the UCITT centre and to promote, extend and develop its services and their delivery to clients.

JH: In the future the centre plans to continue activities which it regards as successful and, with the help of partner companies like Microsoft, WBI and others, to ‘break through’ into practical implementation.

Cooperation with [commercial partners] is a ‘long-distance race’, because if a company chooses us as its adviser, then it has to completely trust us because data processed in BI or CRM systems is among the most confidential and valuable in a company.


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