Collaboration is the way to go: Innovation as a driver for sustainable economic development.

Zulaika Mook is the Head of the division within the Ministry of Economic Development that is responsible for economic development and  innovation. In an interview she explains the Government’s policy regarding innovation. Innovation is a vital prerequisite for business success.

Companies become more and more aware of this fact and the MEO has made it part of its business development policy to support the local businesses in their search for innovation. Mook emphasizes the importance of synergy between the government, the business sector, knowledge institutions and the population to realize this objective.

According to this so called triple helix approach, the government is responsible for facilitating and stimulating innovation and creating the right infrastructure. The government innovation policy defines innovation as ‘bringing new product and/or services for the first time to the market and or using new production processes for the first time that lead to sustainable economic development and finally improvement of prosperity of Curaçao’. The policy is based on collaboration, innovation and legislation.

MEO has identified five innovation areas:
•    Sustainable energy and technology;
•    Transnational education;
•    IT and the creative industry,
•    Innovation in relation to tourism;
•    Logistics services.

“We try to fulfill our policy through a package of incentives and support to the local companies” Mook explains. “We provide facilities, knowledge and capacity. The government also takes care of lowering barriers that hinder entrepreneurs to start, exit or grow their projects”. Besides this, the government is responsible for making property rights accessible and to enforce the law.
One of the incentives is the so called ‘Innovation Box’ which includes tax exemptions for investments in innovation. As the one responsible for pushing this agenda, Mook is positive about its progress. She adds that the main goal of the innovation policy is to promote sustainable economic development by stimulating innovative projects and processes that strengthen business activity, promote economic diversification and improve regional advantage and the competitive position of Curaçao.

An activity that was organized last year to promote innovation, was the Launchpad competition. It became one of the highlights of 2018. The competing entrepreneurs had to pitch and could win a voucher for further support with their project or Business plan. The voucher goes directly to the company and the investor. An interesting example of the competing projects is the booking system developed by HQ rental. These entrepreneurs created a software program to manage bookings. It started as a system for car rentals but can now be used to manage other types of rentals as well.

The need to encourage innovation in business, became apparent during the Business census of 2014. That inquiry showed that investments in Research and Development were very low for most companies. Both in small and larger companies, but especially in the SME’s. “This is a disturbing development as our economy relies mainly on the SME’s” says Mook. 

 

Companies that adopt innovation as an integral part of their business processes will see the benefits of more efficiency, possibilities for new markets and or solutions for existing problems in the new markets. Innovation is crucial to improve the export readiness of companies and Curaçao’s competitive position. It will help to improve diversification and create new opportunities and as such is a precondition for sustainable economic growth. 

 

What came forward during the different events to promote innovation is that there are a lot of good ideas, says Mook. The innovation award was introduced as a stimulus to push innovation. This event showed that local entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs are bursting with great ideas. Mook adds, “It is now imperative to create the synergy to realize these ideas”. Such as innovations in agriculture that create numerous opportunities for farming in Curaçao, notwithstanding the dry climate conditions that were formerly considered unfavorable. The role of the MEO is to create the infrastructure, place expertise and capacity at their disposal. Until now, the role of the government has been minimal. The Innovation policy will address this. Mook thinks that the knowledge institutions, -universities and colleges- should be involved more. “We should make more use of our students” says Mook. The students could play an interesting role in research and development.

Zulaika Mook is positive and looks forward to continue implementing the governments’ Innovation Policy. According to her, the way to go nowadays is through collaboration. Several businesses are innovating on their own, while they would gain more results by clustering and working together with others. She insists; “We need more collaboration in innovation”.

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