Saturday, November 16, 2013

BOLDTalks Innovation 2013 at DUCTAC

BOLDtalks made its second specialized foray on 16 Nov, hosting a morning and afternoon of talks themed on innovation, held at DUCTAC.

The event began with Dubai SME's Alexander Mathew Williams talking about local challenges and cycles in innovation. From Williams' statistics-filled talk, a couple of points that stood out were obstacles faced in getting local universities -- many of which do not have R&D programs -- to foster innovation among their students, and local perceptions of mentoring as wasta-dealing rather than the provision of guidance. He also attempted to explain the fees levied on startups by the state as a sort of pre-earning taxation scheme; I'm not sure how many entrepreneurs would agree that is necessarily better than taxes on earnings.

Some of the other talks were about innovation cycles in the region, microfinance, regional fast food franchising, educational innovation, and branding. For me, three talks were particularly fascinating.

Bastian Schaefer is a designer from Airbus -- which was one of the sponsors -- but his talk was not a lot of PR spiel. He walked us through the innovation process in developing the airplane of the future, starting with demographic shifts, and why and how these matter. He presented an example of a lighter, computer-designed, 3D-printed crew rest bracket that they created, and concisely described how advances in technology will impact construction, seating, aesthetics and efficiency in the kind of aircraft they are developing.

I also liked Dr Alejandro Rios G.'s talk a lot, and not just because he is also from Masdar Institute. He described the food-water-energy nexus, the growth of aviation emissions growth, and talked about his research center's project to use seawater -- available in overwhelming abundance -- to farm marine life for human consumption, as well as grow specialized mangrove plants that can be used to produce biofuels. I have long wondered if something could be done using mangroves, and I was pleased to know that it's happening, and right here in the UAE.

Possibly the most inspiring talk that day was that of Hind Hobeika. Although she is developing a rather niche product -- albeit one related to her passion -- she captivated us with tale of a journey from inspiration to conception to prototyping to funding to manufacturing. Most importantly (from an entrepreneurial and innovation perspective, especially), she recounted both successes and failures, and provided specific anecdotes and observations from along the way, about team-building, investment, patenting, production, and challenges specific to the region. Only a tiny minority of us are training swimmers, but I'm sure she had everyone there sincerely and enthusiastically wishing for her success by the end of that talk.

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