Breathing Life into Innovation through Industry-University Collaboration
Over the last 6 years, the Philippines has ranked relatively low in the Global Innovation Index (GII), which measures the perceived extent of collaboration between companies and universities and research institutions. During this period, the country received its highest ranking in 2015, but placing only 53rd out of 133 countries.
Reaffirming this lack of collaboration, Engr. Joseph Garfin, Head of Integrated Micro-Electronics Inc. (IMI)’s Analytical Testing and Calibration (ATC) Laboratory, stated, “It’s not common in the Philippines for academia and industry to collaborate for research; there’s not much interaction between the two.” However, IMI officers understood that innovation was required to remain competitive, and they knew that they couldn’t do it alone. They needed experts, mostly from the universities, who could provide technical support to research and development (R&D) activities.
The AGILA project
In 2017, IMI partnered with De La Salle University (DLSU) to develop products that could help make medical procedures more accessible to Filipinos. For most Filipinos, medical procedures come with prohibitive costs. Hoping to make some of these procedures more accessible, IMI turned to technology and started to look for ways to improve medical tests and treatments.
The partnership was made possible through Academic Grants for Industry-led Applications (AGILA), a USAID-initiative through the Science, Technology, Research and Innovation for Development (STRIDE) program.
AGILA engages companies such as IMI and allows them to collaborate with universities in addressing identified research problems. The partner companies contribute as much as 50% of the research funds and work closely with select universities.
“We’ve entered into several collaborations with academe in the past, but none at this level wherein we do specific R&D and put in some of our resources,” said Sherwin Nones, IMI Head of Strategic Planning and Marketing. “We extended this support because we believe that giving a piece of our company towards the development of something and working together with academia could be a win-win situation.”
The road to AGILA
Since its launch, STRIDE has provided opportunities for industry and academia to work together. The project implemented research grants, including the Collaborative Applied Research with Industry (CARWIN) grant, that required higher educational institutions to partner with a private sector partner. Despite these grant opportunities, private sector participation remained tepid.
“While we knew from the start that we wanted industry-university collaboration to be a priority and we had funding for research grants to provide incentives for industry to participate, we learned that relationship building was equally important. We then endeavored to create more avenues for industry to provide feedback and volunteer information about their own innovation strategies, which enabled a shared vision for research collaboration. From the STRIDE perspective, we adapted our activities to favor frequency over size to provide more opportunities for industry to communicate with universities about their research agenda,” said Dr. Richard Abendan, STRIDE Chief of Party.
STRIDE ran a series of innovation workshops and kapihan sessions with industry and members of academia. It pushed for and helped establish university career centers as well as knowledge and technology transfer offices across the country. These programs served as venues for companies to talk about their businesses and their innovation needs. They enabled them to explore common interests and areas for joint-research with academic experts. “This (collaboration) came in after a series of innovation work-shops that we had over the past couple of years,” explained Nones.
This increased collaboration led to several promising innovations. IMI and DLSU developed prototypes that could make medical tests and treatment more accessible to ordinary Filipinos. The collaboration produced a simple breathalyzer that can detect lung disease—a leading cause of death in the Philippines—quickly and economically.
Another prototype is a non-invasive device for low-back pain relief. “We wish to integrate this technology into car seats or airplane seats. This is a great relief for those who suffer from pains due to long periods of sitting,” said Dr. Romeric Pobre, Principal Investigator, IMI-DLSU research project.
Following the success in developing these prototypes, IMI has now moved towards the commercialization of these products. “I think this proved to be a test case for us to have more collaboration in the future. I realized in the course of this engagement that the key to establishing good collaboration is having all groups work together. Let’s have everybody put something on the plate and come up with new projects that would build technologies for the future,” said Nones.
USAID STRIDE’s AGILA project helps bridge the gap between universities and industries—forging partnerships that will enable innovation for development.