By Professor M.K Othman
Scientists are categories of people with high mental occupation at all times; they are preoccupied with observation, imagination and conception of ideas in all spheres of human endeavour. One may remember the famous exclamation “Eureka!” attributed to the ancient Greek scholar, Archimedes. He reportedly proclaimed “Eureka! Eureka!” after he had stepped into a bath and observed that the water level rose, and the volume of water displaced was found to be equivalent to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. His alert, intellectual mind made him to realise that the volume of irregular objects could be measured with precision using this concept, a hitherto intractable problem. He was so eager to share his new discovery that he stepped out of his bathtub and ran through the streets of Syracuse naked shouting “Eureka”, – hard nut to break.
That incidental observation made by ancient and famous scientist of all times, led to the solution of a problem posed by the then King (Hiero) of Syracuse, on how to assess the purity of an irregular golden votive crown; he had given his goldsmith the pure gold to be used, and correctly suspected he was being cheated by the goldsmith who removed part of the gold and added the same weight of silver. Several scientific and technological breakthroughs originated from this kind of scenario involving scientific thinking. Other spectacular incidences discovered through scientific thinking were electricity (energy), telephone (communication) and other life essentials that made man to enjoy living on this planet. Imagine what life could be without these discoveries, without electricity, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy your daily, without telephone services, means of transportation, etc., life could be dull, human capacity will be low. Wonder of the Day!
Scientific thinking is a self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective analysis of issues and events. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities as well as a commitment to developing scientific skills, abilities, and dispositions. However, the feats achieved by the scientific thinking may not be disposed to end users or general public until they are validated, packaged, transmitted and made accessible to users. This last lap of the technological breakthrough is absolutely necessary for awareness, mass adoption and utilisation. The lap is not the responsibility of the scientists, technology generators who used their scientific thinking for the development of the technology. The society – government is responsible for championing the last lap. This is the premise that necessitated the creation of National Board for Technology Incubation (NBTI) in Nigeria.
NBTI was established by the Federal Government of Nigeria to implement Technology Incubation Programme (TIP) in all the 36 states of the federal government. The Technology Incubation is a unique and highly flexible Programme, which involves business development process, infrastructure and people for commercialisation of new technologies. It is designed to nurture and grow new and small businesses, products, innovations and entrepreneurs by supporting them through the early stages of development. TIP is an integrated government support programme to government establishments such as academic institutions, research centres and private sector, either individually or in partnership with the intention of creating and nurturing of budding value-added and technology-based enterprise. The policy thrust of the Technology Incubation Programme is to pursue the commercialization of technologies and technical innovations using Technology Incubation, social, and economic competitiveness of the country aimed at improving livelihood of the citizenry. The mission of TIP is to develop the necessary infrastructure, nurture technology start-ups, promote Nigeria’s indigenous potentials through value-added and technology-related activities and as well as create enabling environment for effective linkage amongst technology providers, entrepreneurs, and financial institutions for the provision of capital to potential investors. Similarly, the goal of TIP is to assist small scale budding entrepreneurs to overcome the initial hurdles of bringing viable research and development results and other technologies into profitable enterprises. It serves as a functional linkage between research and industry. Specifically, the objectives of TIP are to:
- Promote the industrial base of the country, through commercialisation of Research and Development (R&D) results, establishment and management of Incubators, Science and Technology Parks and Cluster development etc.
- Upgrade and enhance the application of indigenous technologies
- Promote Nigeria’s indigenous potentials for economic development through value- added and technology related activities
- Closely monitor the development of prototypes of machines, equipment and tools which could be passed on to the manufacturing units for commercial production
- Provide common facilities in such areas as testing, machine, castings, electroplating, and quality control laboratories
- Practically demonstrate Research & Development results in critical areas such as waste utilisation, energy saving, etc.,
- Help in solving specific process problems for Tenant entrepreneurs by continuously injecting innovation in their processes
- Encourage the production of machines and equipment, partly or fully as per market acceptability; and
- Liaise with Research Institutions and Centres in the design, development and production of improved tools for use by rural production process and artisans for increasing their productivity and earning capacity.
As can be seen, there are many benefits of Technology Incubation especially when best practices are employed in the operation of the incubation centre. The numerous benefits include enhancement of entrepreneurs’ chances for success, helps improve skills, creates synergy, and facilitates access to mentors, information and seed capital. Benefits to government involves ability to overcome market failures, promotes regional development, generates jobs, incomes and taxes, and becomes a demonstration of the political commitment to small businesses. Benefits to Research Institutes and Tertiary Institutions include strengthening of interactions and collaboration between the knowledge base and the industries, promotes the commercialisation of research results, and fosters enabling environment, which encourages faculties and students to maximise their potentials/capabilities. Finally, the benefits to local community include the creation of entrepreneurial culture, as well as generate local incomes for the majority of graduating businesses settling within the area.
Incubation system is a development modality that can be effective in the context of a stable and social environment. Consequently, government at both national and state levels is expected to play a critical role by providing an enabling environment to have effective incubation system in place. Thus, the operational framework of the incubation system in Nigeria provided some roles to the federal government being the primary stakeholder. The roles are formulation of policy guidelines for the implementation of specialised and customised infrastructure. In addition, federal government provides a central facility workshop, equipment, and laboratories, granting/provision of development fund (seed capital) as a soft revolving loan to entrepreneurs in partnership with relevant stakeholders for sustenance of the programme. The roles also include linkages with knowledge based and external service providers, provision of marketing outlets through exposure to local and International trade fairs and exhibitions in collaboration with Nigeria Export Promotion Council. Provision of a soft revolving loan, to entrepreneurs in partnership with relevant stakeholders for sustenance of the programme
In a similar vein, the roles of state government were designed to include provision of adequate spacious sites that could allow future expansion; provision of functional building for offices and incubation units and renovation of same where necessary, provision of good access road to the centre and provision of utilities (water, electricity, telephone, etc) to the centre. States should also provide industrial parks for the relocation of the entrepreneurs after graduation while making concerted effort to promote the products from the Incubation Centres.
NBTI was created over a decade and has been implementing Incubation Programmes across the nation. The programme is achieving its first objective of job creation, which targets unemployed graduates, retrenched staff of public and private sectors and entrepreneurs to expand or diversify their businesses. The programme is also making progress on second objective of commercialising research results from the research centres and tertiary institutions of learning. In the same vein, NBTI is making headway on the promotion of small and medium enterprise development. These are really lofty achievements aimed at developing Nigeria towards industrialisation. What are the technological breakthroughs showcased for commercialisation in the last decade? What are challenges being faced by NBTI in discharging its mandates? (To be continued next week).