Science Industries in Developing and Emerging Markets

December 27, 2012 | Posted by rachel in Research |
ILRI’s animal feeding lab in Hyderabad: by ILRI, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  ILRI 

 

Science is often considered a rich country industry.  It requires large investments in expensive and unique buildings, educational systems to produce scientists that can perform cutting-edge research, and infrastructure to deliver costly reagents in a time efficient manner.

Although some of the best science still occurs in developed countries like the United States, Europe, and parts of Asia, developing countries are quickly devoting resources towards science and technology, and subsequent commercialization of the research.

Here is a brief summary of a few science hotspots in the developing world.

India

One reason to promote science in the developing world is that the problems developing countries need to confront are often different than the health problems in developed countries.  In the United States a majority of research is focused on cancer, diabetes, cardiac health, and stem cells.  In many parts of the world, people die from simple bacterial infections or malnutrition long before cancer has an ability to develop.  Large American pharmaceutical companies have little incentive to create drugs for the world’s poor, but India is trying to achieve some of their immediate scientific goals, like eradication of tuberculosis and improved monsoon prediction, with increased science funding.

The Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, is trying to double R&D expenditures to 2% of GDP by 2017, as well as creative incentives for private investment in the sciences.  The government has also created the National Science and Engineering Research Board, modeled after the National Science Foundation in the United States, which aims to fund its first grants this year.  With a $1.2 billion budget over 5 years, it is likely to play an important role in supporting Indian research.

Like in the United States, many smart Indian students reject a career in science for other higher paying areas, like information technology.  The Indian government is attempting to lure talented students towards the sciences through grants for high school students.

Contributing to this lack of talent, India suffers from postdocs going abroad to study in the United States and Europe yet failing to return home to start labs in India.  To reverse the flow of scientists out of the country, the Indian government is trying to attract overseas talent with fellowships and the promise of a higher living standard as an assistant professor in India than in the United States.

Certainly there is much to be done towards improving biomedical research in India, including relieving the pressures of Indian bureaucracy, decreasing shipment times for reagents, and updating facilities, but India is on track to take advantage of its vast population to build a stronger scientific research community.

Brazil

One of the products Brazil is best known for is sugarcane, which uniquely positions Brazil to be heavily involved in ethanol and biofuel research and production.  Although ethanol production has recently faced difficulty including high prices for transportation and a failure of widespread adoption, Brazil remains an important testing ground for the latest biofuel-based technologies, such as experimenting with different crops and the possibility for cellulosic ethanol.

Furthermore, Brazil is investing in a burgeoning tech sector.  For example, Brazil’s national development bank BNDES (Banco Nacional do Desenvolvimento) started a fund called Criatec, which is a 100 million reais ($48 million) fund aimed at investing in technology startups in Brazil.  Although foreign investment firms are still a little hesitant to invest substantially in Brazilian startups, but that may change with the Criatec effort, highlighting a possible area of growth for innovation in South America.

To fuel the innovation, Brazil has recognized the need for more scientists.  Towards the goal of increasing the number of scientists, Brazil is heavily investing in education.  The Ciência sem Fronteiras (CsF) program, which is a unique hybrid of public and private money, offers scholarships to send Brazilian researchers abroad as well as incentives for researchers to return to Brazil, through visiting scientist programs. These efforts underscore Brazil’s attempts to become a startup hub of South America, but they’ll have some competition from another competitor in Chile.

Chile

Chile is the highest ranked South American country on the Innovation Capacity Index, which ranks countries by a number of factors that take into account the government infrastructure and environment, as well as human capital and R&D money.

Recently the Chilean government has undertaken vast efforts to turn Chile into the Silicon Valley of Latin America with its Startup Chile Incubator program designed to attract the world’s best entrepreneurship talent to build their companies in Chile.  Startup Chile tends to prefer ideas with global potential and they provide $40,000 USD in equity-free capital to help entrepreneurs start their companies.

Not only is the Chilean government investing in startups and technology, the population, especially scientists are demanding more support from the government for basic research.  A movement called More Science for Chile, started by a Chilean Ph.D. student, calls for the government to invest more in scientific research and develop independent government infrastructure to oversee the development of science in the country.

Science for development

The efforts by developing countries to encourage organic research communities described above highlight the intertwined relationship between government investment in science, citizen desire for science, and the commercialization of new technologies.

Increasingly, governments around the world, including the United States, are acutely aware that investment in science and technology (often in the form of startups) is a prerequisite for national economic development.  With the purposeful expansion of scientific hubs in the developing world, it is important to remember that science is truly a global endeavor.

About the author

Rachel Senturia is a postdoctoral researcher and biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, where her research focuses on RNA-based technology for gene regulation in plants. She is also the founder of STEMsocks, a company focused on public science advocacy, and worked in the Office of Intellectual Property at UCLA.

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