Tech transfer in South Korea

Four of the partners in Mesopartner are at the TCI Conference in Daegu, South Korea. On the 3rd of November we all went in different directions on excursions to various clustering initiatives in the region.

I signed up for the mechatronics tour. I want to share a few observations about the technology transfer institutions that we visited.

Firstly, technology transfer into the region is focused on stretching existing enterprises. You would think this is obvious. In South Korea, the different levels of government contribute large amounts of funding to buy the latest and most modern equipment that are placed in public institutions. This technology is often identified by leading firms like Samsung. Important criteria for technology selection includes its “platform” ability, meaning that it can be used in several industries. The Koreans refer to this as “convergence”. A second criteria is that it must enable competitive products to be developed with a strong focus on exports.

Secondly, cost recovery is a low priority. At the institutions that we visited they often charge as little as 20% for the use of the latest equipment, basically recovering costs of consumables. The facilities cannot handle production orders, but are used mainly to demonstrate applications or for making prototypes. The facilities consist of open spaces, open labs and cutting edge testing facilities.

Thirdly, the institutions support smaller companies in R & D and product development, often on-site. It struck me that the institutions realized they have to “take” the technology to industry. While most of the effort is focused on new products and new enterprises, there is still on objective of helping incumbent more traditional companies to innovate.

Lastly, we visited a Creative Economy cluster initiative. It was not focused on arty projects, but on hardcore technology like making micro-robots, smartphone attachments, etc. Companies could bid for space (literally a 15m2 space in a modern office environment). There is a strong emphasis on smaller down-scaled technology applications. Entrepreneurs that are selected to join the incubator have 6 months free rent, lots of technical and market development support, and networking and exchange with other incubatees are compulsory. Large companies like Samsung, LG, etc have technicians and coaches on site (24/7) to support any enterprise on almost any topic. Thus the resources of large companies that are partnered with these centres are made available to help smaller startups.

Today the conference starts. Already I feel like I have learned enough to justify the trip from Pretoria to Deagu.