Hungarian SMEs and Academic Institutions: Some Technology Transfer Results
by György Kovács
Small and Medium size Enterprises (SMEs) became a decisive factor in recent Hungarian technology transfer activities. In this article we discuss some TT success stories academia to industry.
Technology transfer was a natural and flourishing activity between academic and industrial partners during the years of embargo, when Western politics did not allow the delivery of high-tech equipment and technology defined in the so-called COCOM lists to East European countries (1960-1990). As most R&D goals were well-known and the ways to reach them were top secret, the countries were forced to have their own R&D results. Some of these were just from the narrow field of IT related manufacturing engineering: adaptive control, direct numerical control (DNC), dialog CNC, multi-axis machining, CAD/CAM/CAPP systems, Flexible Manufacturing Cells and Systems (FMC and FMS).
To reach these results a close co-operation between academia, industry and government existed. Industry and the market collapsed together at the beginning of the nineties, universities and academic research institutes survived, but became poor, and R&D support from the government decreased to 0.6% of a decreasing GDP. It is hoped that the GDP in 2002 will reach its value of 1989, and the R&D support will go up to 2% of the GDP in 2-3 years. Hungary became a full member of NATO and of several other international organisations (including ERCIM), and it hopes to join the European Union soon. Some of the positive factors of the nineties are the following:
Powerful multinational firms appeared giving jobs and demonstrating modern technologies. Several SMEs were formed; some of which are ready and are forced to invest into development to be able to survive. Joint ventures taught how to survive in the world market. European joint R&D projects became available to prove SMEs abilities. The EU Fifth Framework Programme that started in 1999 finds Hungary already in the position of a full right partner country.
Technology Transfer Success Stories
Recently the direct technology transfer from academia to industry is important but very restricted, due to financial and organisational issues. On the other hand special technology transfer solutions are provided by different types of IT related SMEs focusing on the problems and methods of transfer and implementation of R&D results. A short list of the different origins of SMEs and some representative ones are:
- spin-off SMEs of academic institutions: (i) a representative of advanced foreign firms and successful system-integrator based on the products they represent (ii) genuine R&D with implementation of the results and IT integration; the staff just continued the academic R&D they started several years earlier (iii) industrial projects as an independent SME and as SZTAKI subcontractor
- SMEs working as joint academic-private firms: joint venture of the academic research staff and some private engineers take part mostly in virtual enterprise related international projects
- SMEs based on one or two big ideas: a CAD/CAM provider added to its profile the production of rapid prototypes on a Laminated Object Manufacturing 2030E machine, which they purchased with several difficulties with government support and loans. This led them to the real success.
- SMEs formed to promote products of some real big firms: the merge of two existing SMEs to provide rapid technology transfer based on a successful CAD/CAM product (CATIA of IBM) formed a new SME
- SMEs based on the ruins of the socialist industry (by means or without privatisation): the software team of a machine tool factory makes software development in the field of NC/CNC programming and it sells the products with total support mostly to customers of the factory
- SMEs as parts of new, national big, private enterprises: a small SME provides IT integration based on existing software products in the field of (multimedia) information systems in Hungarian and international projects.
Two further interesting technology transfer cases give partly different views, goals and solutions:
The long-term co-operation of departments of the Technical University of Budapest with industrial firms to sell academic knowledge, to be involved in industrial R&D work and to assist in recruiting new engineers.
The Information and Technology Innovation Park (InfoPark) in Budapest is a private SME that started as a government initiative to establish a huge territory in Buda for effective technology transfer, by homing big and small Hungarian and multinational industries, taking advantage of the neighbourhood of the universities. This initiative has scientific, economic and even human policy advantages.
As an example of the continuing direct technology transfer from SZTAKI there is the long term co-operation in different projects with the Paks Nuclear Power Plant, providing 40% of all electrical energy in Hungary.
Most of the above information is based on the presentations and discussions of the successful technology transfer day organised in Budapest with international participation in 1999, as an accompanying programme to the International Exhibition and Fair, MACHTECH, March 5, 1999, Budapest.
Some General, Common Features
Some spin-offs started their negotiations with western partners already as members of the institute. The partners were impressed with the large, powerful, government owned and run SZTAKI. The institute had (and has) a high level infrastructure and a good scientific reputation world-wide. This led the partners to negotiate with the institute and even to contracts with representatives, resellers, partners, etc. The researchers who were involved in these types of co-operation had to decide between the research and science and bringing to the market their knowledge and experience. The successful ones decided to try to keep the level and sell their knowledge. Typical to these spin-offs is that they rent the rooms and several facilities (computers, fax, copy, library) of the institute even today. This way they are independent, but still work in an unchanged environment. The new ideas for researchers of the spin-offs and for all other SME formations, which wanted to survive in the market, had to learn:
- how to find suppliers
- how to find customers
- how to design and build hardware from building blocks instead of circuits
- how to customise software instead of develop it
- how to provide the best available solutions and support
- how to add value
- how to compete with the big firms and beat them
- how to co-operate with European partners in joint projects.
It was easy to find answers to most questions:
- to keep the high, academic level in R&D
- to find appropriate niches of activities
- to become system integrator
- to be there and be polite but aggressive at the market.
All technology transfer partners had to learn how to use the professional engineering and IT knowledge collected and accumulated during academic years. Some business knowledge had to be picked up as well. Technology transfer from academia to industry works in all examined cases keeping the high professional academic level coping with the market requirements. Another important conclusion is that the international scientific activity during academic years assisted in building up international relationships in the private business/market life.
György Kovács - SZTAKI
Tel: +36 1 209 6143