The UAE plans to create an ICT value chain to help develop home-grown telecom and IT talent.
When the UAE’s ICT Fund, an initiative of the TRA, announced that it had dedicated AED22 million ($5.9m) to fund R&D for ICT projects, and a further AED14 million for the “incubation” of ICT projects in the UAE for the remainder of 2011, the sums initially appeared modest.
Indeed, the ICT Fund’s investment plans are dwarfed by the overall value of the country’s telecommunication market, which is estimated to be worth in the region of $13.6 billion.
It’s a criticism that Dr Eesa Bastaki, CEO of ICT Fund, brushes off. Bastaki, who is a faculty member of the electrical engineering department at UAE University and a founder member of Dubai Silicon Oasis and the Rochester Institute of Technology in Dubai, insists that the investment is “just a start”. It will grow as demand for R&D and incubation funding for home-grown ICT ideas and companies grows, he explains.
Referring to the AED22 million earmarked for R&D, Dr Eesa stresses that the sum is just for this year, and it could increase as more research, ideas and proposals come in.
“Because it is the first year, we have started conservatively to make sure we can get enough proposals,” he says. “We hope to double it next year and then maybe triple it the following year.”
He adds that the UAE’s spending on R&D across all sectors, including ICT, should rise to a level similar to that of developed countries, which tend to spend about 2-3% of GDP on R&D.
“For us it is very low. ICT is just one sector, so all the other sectors when they get together should at least contribute 1% of GDP. ICT has just got a small share of that, so when you look at AED22 million, it is not that big as a whole, but it is a start. I have an idea in the long run for it to be closer to AED100 million.”
ICT incubation is at a nascent stage in the UAE, and Dr Bastaki admits that this is reflected by the AED14 million that has been earmarked for it this year. But here also, he hopes to see significant growth in the future. “This is a very small number compared to my future plans and I expect it to go to more than AED50 million as it goes on,” he says.
However, Dr Bastaki is also keen to stress that the ICT Fund is investing heavily in helping to develop a base of educated ICT professionals. ICT Fund estimates that it will invest some AED58 million in educational programmes, including scholarships, by the end of 2011.
The overall idea behind ICT Fund is to help create what Dr Bastaki refers to as an ICT ecosystem or “value chain” that starts with producing ICT professionals through scholarships, encourages R&D, and then attempts to transform the most promising R&D projects into start-up companies.
“I have been using the word ‘ecosystem’ a lot but I would like to use another phrase which is ‘value chain’,” Dr Bastaki says.
“We are looking at the main value chain of the whole ICT sector starting from education to create the knowledge and awareness, to create the skilled workforce through education from schools or universities,” he says.
“When you have prepared this skilled workforce and the talents, then you are at the next step which is R&D and that is the second focus area of ICT fund.
“Right now we are focusing on applied research because my main goal is to create a sustainable value chain that will lead to ICT products and services that are made in the UAE and sold globally.”