UAE to model new innovation center on ASU’s SkySong
A visit to the United Arab Emirates by Arizona State University President Michael Crow and Vice President for Research and Economic Affairs R.F. “Rick” Shangraw Jr. could help the Arab state face its challenges by unleashing the talents of its entrepreneurs and innovators. During their visit, Crow and Shangraw came to an agreement with UAE officials on replicating ASU's SkySong in their country.
As it turns out, both sides had a lot in common, said Shangraw.
“Our physical environments are very much the same – we're both rapidly growing desert regions,” Shangraw said. “Because of that, we face a lot of the same challenges for managing resources and planning for growth. It turns out that innovation was a common goal, too.”
As a result, the first National Innovation Center in the UAE will be in place by the end of 2010, said Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri, the UAE economic minister. The UAE center will identify key projects in alternative energy, environment, education and information technology.
ASU’s SkySong Innovation Center, located in Scottsdale, Ariz., supports firms entering or expanding within the United States. SkySong is designed to help companies grow by providing business services and programs – access to new technologies, capital networks, business education and a skilled workforce – offered or facilitated by ASU.
Shangraw explained that the goal of the ASU-UAE discussions was to find common ground in areas where both entities could benefit, but not act like other universities and simply replicate infrastructure.
“We’ve been talking with UAE for the past 18 months on moving the concept of SkySong over to UAE,” he said. “We aren’t talking about a building and a sail in UAE, but to help them build a SkySong equivalent activity over there to help encourage entrepreneurship and innovation, which will be tied back to ASU by offering versions of our entrepreneurship training and the way we think about connecting global companies with other companies, and how we bring venture capitalists into that environment.”
SkySong wasn’t the only focus of the discussions.
“We are also moving forward with the concept of a national decision center (based on the Decision Theater concept) in UAE and an advanced educational platform as well,” Shangraw said.
“Each of these three concepts exist at very nontraditional intersections and collaborations,” he added. “ We aren’t talking about picking up ASU and putting it over there and start offering degrees. We are talking about bringing the concept over.”
One of the more interesting initial challenges of the UAE innovation center will be to address alternative energy.
“There are certain parts of the economy that we would like to build and enhance, especially alternative energy,” al Mansouri said.
That gave Crow the opportunity to talk about one of ASU’s newest initiatives, LightWorks, which focuses on the university's strengths in renewable energy fields including artificial photosynthesis, biofuels and next-generation photovoltaics. LightWorks will expand to include other light-based projects, such as lasers for biomedical applications, energy-efficient lighting and smart-grid technologies.
Shangraw said that the two sides are exploring ways where ASU can bring some of its expertise in solar, biofuels and smart-grid technology to the UAE. Additional challenges the UAE innovation center will address include population stress, the urban heat island and sustainable development.