Article snapshot: “Technological innovation in the United Arab Emirates: process and challenges”

This blog post is a snapshot of an accepted article in a peer reviewed journal. If you would like to read it click here. If you wish to quote the information in this post please cite:

Al Hallami, M., Van Horne, C., Huang, V.Z., 2013. “Technological innovation in the United Arab Emirates: process and challenges”, Transnational Corporations Review. 5(2), 46-59.
Just today we found out that an article that had been hanging around for awhile (and most recently updated with some new data) was accepted for publication in a peer reviewed journal! Did I mention the first author is an Emirati? Young woman? Just now finishing her Master's? Well, yeah :) This just shows what hard work can accomplish.

The article's journey started a few years ago - when Mariam and I worked on it for a conference. It then became the spark for a chapter the two of us published on Innovation in Abu Dhabi - which was just published this year. Whereas the chapter looked at innovation from a strategic perspective, this article looks specifically at the process and the challenges faced by entrepreneurs in that process.

There are two main questions that motivated the research:

  1. Is there anything unique about the R&D and innovation process used by the Emirati entrepreneur? 
  2. Could the process be more efficient?
    1. What steps in the process are most in need of external support?
R&D data from MENA and the UAE

First, the data from the 2011 UAE GEM Report paint a bleak picture of the technological innovations even used by entrepreneurs in the UAE. I explained more fully in another blog post, but basically close to 100% of SMEs are in industries considered low to no-tech.

Furthermore, the R&D investment rates of the UAE are low - and even when the whole MENA Region is considered, expenditures represent less than 1% of world wide R&D spending.

Adapted from UNESCO Institute of Statistic, “A Global Perspective On R&D” (2009)

Those aren't statistics that make the innovation researcher's heart swell for sure! On the other hand, there is nowhere to go but up!

Case study

There are inventors and entrepreneurs in the UAE though - Emiratis with patents and companies trying to bring high tech products to the global market. The case study follows the innovation process of a round floating mobile platform, termed the “floating villa” by the Al Hallami Group.  It is a newly introduced product to solve problems such as the lack of space and land in major cities and tourist attraction places. “The purpose of this innovation is to introduce a feasible solution to minimize environmental damages while making use of sea area.  It is a mixture of an environmental friendly, strong, safe, stable; size variable and mobile construction that is a blend of both a yacht and a villa.” (Al Hallami, 2010).

Innovation Process
From studying the idea to commercialization process, interviews, site visits and reviewing the patents the following process was identified. It is similar to ones found in the literature - there are phases and it is iterative - but how it mainly differs is the lack of access to public industrial research centers or universities research groups who could assist local companies with applied research projects or even projects that take "theory to the shop floor". I am very familiar with these types of relationships in Canada (OK, maybe I wrote a PhD thesis about it or something like that) and they do work... in more ways than just simple technology transfer.
Al Hallami Group “Floating Villa” innovation process

As a result of this paper R&D exploration in processes, two main suggestions were made. There appears to be a need to increase support and government backed initiatives for large-scale R&D processes by creating government funded applied research centers, funding opportunities for collaborative research with universities and researchers and increase support for graduate engineering and technical education for the local Emirati population.
Secondly, creating R&D focused privately based venture capital funds could be encouraged perhaps through the development of an Islamic based venture capital framework where funds could be considered part of the Zakat[1] every Muslim annually pays.
I am pleased with this article and happy that it has finally found a home. Of course I will update the post when it appears in Google Scholar - I celebrate every new addition to my profile there and I think my nerdyness has rubbed off on the lead author as well!!!!!

[1] The yearly act of giving charity and supporting the community based on the total wealth of the individual. 

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