Prepared Remarks at the 2012 Curacao Innovation Event
Curacao World Trade Center, 20 September 2012
Tamira La Cruz, MBA
Permit me to add a business strategic side to our discussion today. As a business strategist it is my job to look for concrete and sustainable opportunities taking the relative strengths and weaknesses of an organization as a given. Yes, we can and should endeavor to change, a.o., our educational system. How long would that take? Can we afford to wait? What can we do NOW to get on the innovation train?
I suggest that innovations happen in Curacao organically every day. We need to recognize them as innovations, make them marketable (internationally, if possible). It is when profits are made on innovations (or seem possible) that people get excited about innovation and join the movement.
On another occasion I also used the example of a doctor who argued that he cannot innovate because he works in a small hospital with limited resources. I asked him: “Are your patients still alive?” Of course, but that is because I had to find creative ways to make do with little resources. So he had a ‘necessity’ as Dr. Peterson mentioned as a prerequisite to innovation. I said: “Then you have innovated. You have found a way to achieve the same result with fewer resources”. Finding solutions with fewer resources is the textbook definition of innovation!
There are about 200 countries in the world. Holland and the USA, our ‘examples’, are very high-income countries. Most countries cannot afford the innovations conceived in these markets. They are often too expensive and sometimes too complex for a small market. An innovation conceived in a small middle income country like ours is more likely to be more suitable and affordable for many other countries. In Blue Ocean Strategy, Kim and Mauborgne call these types of innovations ‘value innovations’: more suitable and more efficient.
How big is the market for innovations based on a small economy? Of the 200 countries mentioned before, 56 are small sovereign states. There are also 33 dependent small territories (like Curaco and Aruba) and 125 small islands with populations smaller than 1.5 million. So, depending on your innovation you have 211 markets!! Yes, it does require a shift in the way we think, as you mentioned, Dr. Peterson.
If you are an architect and you have found an innovative way to build energy-efficient houses in the tropical island of Curacao, and there is absolutely NO reason you could not do so. Better yet, you are better positioned to do this than any architect living in Delft or New York, certainly since the advent of the internet. Anyway. If you have found an innovative way to build energy-efficient houses in Curacao, you have found an innovative way to build energy efficient houses in Aruba, in St. Lucia, in Key West Florida, in Mallorca, in Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania, in the Philippines, in Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific, etc. etc. You don’t have to go build them all yourself. You can license the technology to others, make some money for yourself and some foreign exchange for the country.
In 2009 I set out to purposely outline the unique opportunities that arise from being a small state, possibly an island, possibly in the tropics. The findings were presented at the international SALISES conference in Trinidad & Tobago in 2010. The focus was knowledge innovations. Basically these are innovations by business and professional service providers: consultants, designers, engineers, translators, doctors, nutritionists, etc.
I wanted to make the same analogy for small countries as the late C.K. Prahalad made for Bottom-of-Pyramid countries, where people live on a dollar a day. He found that they have come up with unique innovations that can be marketed in other very poor countries, against a profit. My question was: could innovations in small countries be marketed to other small countries?
I can provide many more examples of small island marketable strengths. But let me conclude: We might take them for granted, but we have some textbook examples of innovation! Because in a small economy there is a REAL NEEED to be efficient! There is a NECESSITY, the prerequisite for innovation. There is also an unexploited opportunity to export these innovations to other small markets.
I ask the policy makers, supporting agencies here today, fellow panelists, to please support this sector by:
1. promoting local innovations abroad. It helps the local innovator grow. It also aids in attracting knowledge and medical tourism industries. Potential investors want some evidence that a ‘cluster’ exists locally, where they can get support services and professional exchange. That is the reason Silicon Valley is what it is today. Some promotion would include:
a. using/suggesting them as speakers at international venues
b. including their innovations in presentations about Curacao business
2. providing incentives and support in the broadest sense. Help the innovation leaders lead so that the followers have someone to follow, with best practices and inspiration. These would include:
a. The elimination of OB tax (revenue tax) between knowledge workers. We need interdisciplinary teams to produce world-class solutions and effective ‘clusters’. OB tax between suppliers hampers these.
b. Easy access to e-zone benefits for the amounts exported. Now the knowledge exporting company would have to move into an E-zone building, or pay double rent (a doctor cannot move there). Some E-zone buildings do not even accept locally owned companies
c. Tax credit for the acquisition of knowledge (an asset), same as there is a tax credit for the acquisition of real estate and fixed assets
Tamira La Cruz, MBA, founder and CEO of MarkStra Caribbean,is a consultant on research, corporate strategy, competitiveness and innovation. A business economist, she has a continuing interest in small state innovations and their monitization. She can be contacted via www.markstra.com , her blog Caribbean Research and Strategy blog or firstname.lastname@example.org.
These remarks were made as a panelist at Dr. Ryan Peterson’s keynote speech at the 2012 Curacao Innovation Event, September 20, 2012, based on a 2010 paper Exporting Knowledge Innovations of Small States presented at the 2010 SALISES Conference at the University of the West Indies.