Poland: innovation can be pushed
Poland not so innovative?
The 2012 Global Innovation Index ranking, prepared by the World Intellectual Property Organization, ranked Poland as the EU’s third-least innovative economy in 2012, with worse results recorded only by Greece and Romania.
In parallel, the 2012 edition of the Technology Fast 50 Central Europe ranking from consultancy Deloitte features an impressive number of Polish companies. In fact, six positions in the top 10 of the list are held by businesses based in Poland.
A shift to innovation?
For the past 20 years, Poland has been very successful at building economic growth through attracting investments such as assembly plants or off-shore outsourcing centers. Those, however, require low production and labor costs – but those are gradually approaching EU averages in Poland. To compete, Polish companies must therefore focus heavily on innovation.
But in his recent book, “The Rebellion of the Net,” Edwin Bendyk, criticized the overall lack of interest Polish businesspeople have in innovative activities and in developing lasting relationships between the academic and business worlds. He places blame on the short-term vision of Polish business owners. The country’s private sector has until now been successful at developing simple products and services, in which the creativity of employees has lower priority than, for example, professional discipline or clear procedures.
There is no escape from a knowledge-based economy. While we can avert a discussion or difficult decisions, we will sooner or later face the challenges this new reality is bringing.
This is not to say, though, that Polish businesses and institutions have no desire whatsoever to develop innovative ideas. Take the case of VIGO System, a company which produced infrared detectors for NASA’s Curiosity rover, which is now exploring Mars. To get a jump-start on a new project involving the production of high-tech sensors, the company sought financing from banks. The procedure took over a year and although VIGO did receive the necessary funds, the time-sensitive project was seriously delayed.
The Institute of Electronic Materials Technology (ITME) discovered a new method to produce a one-atom thick film of carbon known as graphene, which was classified as one of the nine most interesting findings in the field in 2010-2011 by technology consultancy Future Markets.
The material is strong, transparent and conducts electricity, which could make it a perfect material for touch screens for smartphones. The CEO told Reuters how his institute has been trying for nearly two years to get state funding for equipment to help research the discovery. He also said his institute was barred by the Economy Ministry, which oversees it, from entering a joint-venture with a foreign investor to commercialize graphene. For now it seems the state does not really care.
The general opinion of experts involved in Polish science is that when Poland made its first steps to becoming a market economy two decades ago, few people were interested in investing in a research project when it was much easier to just import foreign technology. The direct effect is a system that fails to support innovation.
End of the tunnel?
But change may be on the way. According to recent data published by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, business spending on research and development has jumped by over 800 percent this year. The ministry explains that the leap in R&D expenditure comes as a result of recently implemented programs that encourage cooperation between business and academic circles.
The ministry itself is also contributing more. At a press conference at the end of October, Science and Higher Education Minister Barbara Kudrycka announced that the government plans to create a venture capital fund which would provide financing for Polish inventions. The program will be called Polish Innovations and aims to focus on providing financial support for private companies and institutions looking to introduce Polish technology to the market.