The advances that come with research and development can generate thousands of jobs and millions in profits.
A perfect example of the impact that science and technology can have on business is when researcher Martín Aluja Schuneman and colleagues demonstrated with scientific evidence that the Hass avocado wasn’t a vector for fruit fly larvae.
This discovery in 2011 led to restrictions on exports to the United States being lifted after an 80-year ban, resulting in billion-dollar profits.
The researcher at the Institute of Ecology (Inecol), who studied agricultural engineering at Tec de Monterrey, recognized how important to society this knowledge was and that it should reach a commercial stage to boost the country’s economic development. However, he says that the experience has been bittersweet.
Aluja Schuneman says that subsequent generations of avocado growers canceled the research collaboration they had with Inecol.
The options to continue studying this green fruit –and to find innovations to optimize its cultivation– are many and necessary. This Mexican scientist says that if history has shown us anything, it’s that the good times don’t last forever.
Some of those investigations, he says, are about producing avocado organically, generating products that control diseases and pests that are not so aggressive to the environment, efficient irrigation methods to reduce water consumption, producing resistant varieties with wild avocados, and more.
Aluja Schuneman, who holds a doctorate in entomology from the University of Massachusetts, recognizes that this collaboration could have been a virtuous circle that would have triggered other success stories between a productive sector with a very specific problem, frontier research carried out in public research centers, and government support.
“The problem is that the vast majority of the Mexican population doesn’t know about the benefits of science. We can see it with the producers of berries, tomatoes and other products, where the norm is to purchase technological developments from abroad.”
Thinking about the wealth of Mexican biodiversity, the need to bolster agricultural activity, and the serious environmental problems that humanity faces, the researcher helped create the BioMimic scientific and technological cluster, where he proposed to work hand in hand with public research centers from the National Council of Science and Technology and private initiatives.
“It’s survived thanks to the resources it received in the past, but when these are exhausted, it may become a white elephant due to the cost of maintaining equipment and facilities, as has happened with other infrastructure,” he complains.
Although very high-quality scientific research is being carried out that has led Mexican researchers being published in peer-reviewed journals such as Nature and Science, it hasn’t been possible to consolidate an innovation ecosystem that results in the creation of technology-based companies.
“The academia-industry-government connection is very weak. There’s no culture in the business world of looking to the scientific and technological sector to solve their problems and scientists don’t have the training or culture to understand the language of business owners,” says Martín Aluja Schuneman.
Innovation ecosystems such as Silicon Valley in California feature very creative young people, mature people who can guide these young people, a financial sector willing to risk resources (angel capital), and the connection of a specific demand to a tax incentive.
The US government decided to encourage private aerospace initiatives with the participation of young and creative entrepreneurs. Now we all know about Elon Musk and his work at the SpaceX company.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 17, 2021
In Mexico, this type of innovation is the exception. One example is the recent launch of the NanoConnect-2 satellite with the participation of the state of Hidalgo government, the UNAM, and business owners (Pastes Kikos and Liber Salus, among others), with the Indian Space Research Organisation being the agency to put it into orbit. If these efforts are sufficiently supported, there may one day be aerospace manufacturing companies.
For Víctor Gutiérrez Martínez, founder and CEO of software development company Plenumsoft, business sector innovation is about creating new products, services, business models, market models, or processes that increase a company’s return on investment.
Some cases are so important that they give rise to a new paradigm.
“In the business world, innovation not only creates new products, but it also creates new markets. When this happens, there are new players, new stakeholders, and new business rules.”
In 1900, the companies that existed were very different from those of today.
There were no data science, analytics, artificial intelligence, or digital marketing companies.
There is a growing interest in the business world for data science and artificial intelligence.
Gutiérrez Martínez explains that you can scan a document and have a digital copy, but you don’t have data: words or phrases. When you extract what’s in the text, it becomes a ‘datafied’ document that can be processed.
The business owner predicts an intensive use of data and a faster penetration of computing disciplines due to three large components that interact with each other and that companies seek to exploit: