The German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI), in cooperation with HANNOVER MESSE Research & Technology, the leading international trade fair for R&D and technology transfer in Hannover, Germany, hosted a panel discussion on national frameworks, practices, and funding schemes for early- stage high-tech companies in the U.S. and Germany on October 26, 2010. At the German House New York, Richard Bendis, President & CEO of Innovation America, Edward Reinfurt, Executive Director of the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation, and Christos Christodoulatos, Associate Provost to the Office of Academic Entrepreneurship, Stevens Institute of Technology, discussed how to adopt best practices and to access seed money to establish university spin-offs and other successful examples of research commercialization. Kurt Becker, Associate Provost for Research and Technology Initiatives and Professor of Physics at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, moderated.
Referring to the 7th Annual Conference of the Technopolicy Network, which took place in Heidelberg, Germany, on September 30 and October 1, 2010, the first speaker Richard Bendis said that transatlantic knowledge clusters are an emerging and growing trend.
However, one of the challenges for small businesses, according to all speakers, is the relationship between competing in a global market and international collaboration. Mr. Bendis, a seasoned entrepreneur with experience as a corporate executive and venture capitalist, gave an overview of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which has been supporting small businesses since 1982. While in Germany the first research program was established at a Berlin university as early as 1821, in the U.S., the impetus for innovation historically has come from the adoption of technology from military to private market use. The 1982 SBIR/STTR (Small Business Technology Transfer) programs represent one of the first national policies intent on systematically fostering innovation in the U.S. alongside state-level economic development initiatives. Additional programs were initiated by the Clinton and Obama administrations in the 1990s and 2000s.
Another key topic of the discussion was the role of creating a culture of entrepreneurship in universities and businesses. According to Edward Reinfurt, new businesses established by international students have statistically a higher success rate in the U.S. More willing to take risks, students, in general, show high entrepreneurial spirit: “23 percent of Rochester Institute of Technology students are considering starting their own business,” Mr. Reinfurt said. The universities play a significant role in supporting students’ ambitions and establishing student start-ups, agreed Christos Christodoulatos. An expert at creating an innovation-entrepreneurship-culture at U.S. universities, he referred to the Stevens Institute of Technology’s $2.5 million in scholarship programs that target innovation and entrepreneurship.
Despite domestic and foreign investment opportunities, all speakers agreed that when it comes to establishing a start-up in another country, more risk is involved than setting up a business in one’s home country. The role of intermediaries, such as the Fraunhofer Network on an international level and consultants or alumni groups on a local level, are instrumental in helping create and establish spin-offs.
The German Center for Research and Innovation, which opened in February 2010, provides information and support for the realization of cooperative and collaborative projects with the goal of enhancing communication on the critical challenges of the 21st century. GCRI hosts a wide range of events from lectures and exhibitions to workshops and science dinners. Launched as a cornerstone of the German government’s initiative to internationalize science and research, it is one of five centers worldwide. The GCRI website, www.germaninnovation.org, will be launched soon.
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