Costa Rica 2017 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Marcelo Jenkins Coronas, Minister of Science, Technology and Telecommunications, on enhancing the country's development, the national 2015-2021 plan, and opportunities for foreign investors.

Marcelo Jenkins Coronas
Marcelo Jenkins Coronas has worked at the University of Costa Rica since 1986. He was professor at the school of computer and information science at the same university from 1998-2015. He holds a bachelor of computer and information science from the University of Costa Rica as well as a master’s in computing and informatics and a PhD in computing and informatics with an emphasis in software engineering from the University of Delaware in the US. He also holds a quality certification in Software Engineering (CSQE).

What role does the Ministry of Science, Technology and Telecommunications (MICIT) play in Costa Rica's human capital and socioeconomic development?

Although we are not the regulator of telecommunications, we have important relationships with telecom operators. We administer the use of the spectrum for wireless telecommunications, including radio, TV, cellular, and other types of communications in the country. Hence, we make policies on how that is used and administered. We also try to define public policy and investments in telecommunications, providing guidance for operators and other actors, guiding their investments in the country. The amount of resources the country has invested in science and technology has increased considerably. There are three main areas: R&D, human capital development, and innovation. Those three areas work in synergy to enhance how Costa Rica can actually develop its R&D ecosystem. In terms of developing human capital, we support programs and scholarships abroad for Costa Ricans. Right now, we have invested USD35 million in scholarships for graduate degree abroad, and those people will come back to Costa Rica to develop the R&D ecosystem. The other area that R&D serves is to develop the necessary ingredients for the ecosystem to row, from working with international companies to enhance the R&D centers they already have in Costa Rica, to attracting FDI into Costa Rica's R&D centers. The innovation aspect is crucial. Our innovation division works with SMEs to develop technology-based small companies, with entrepreneurs to develop SMEs based on science, technology, and innovation, trying to coach them, and in some cases scale them up so they can actually export. It is a successful program, because we invest in young entrepreneurs who provide ideas on how to develop SMEs based on science and technology; it is not just in ICT, but also in biotechnology and other areas.

What are the main highlights of the Science, Technology, and Innovation National Plan 2015-2021?

The plan is based on three pillars. The first pillar and main objective is to become a knowledge-based country. This involves human capital development, the creation of R&D clusters, and the provision of a mature innovation system that can foster more entrepreneurship in the country. For the R&D part we have defined five priority areas: energy, agriculture and food, health, the environment, and education. We want to develop research projects that can solve Costa Rican problems in those five areas, things like climate change and water supply in the northwest part of the country. Hence, we are now investing our resources in five research projects worth USD100,000 each in that part of the country. The idea is to direct and focus the investment we do in research projects so they can be used in applied research to solve specific problems the country is facing. We will eventually move into human health or energy.

How would the ministry assess the opportunities for private investment, both domestic and foreign, in the ICT sector?

Costa Rica is a great destination for foreign investment in IT and ICT in general. Many software and IT companies, such as Intel, HP, and IBM have done well in Costa Rica, and their operations have been successful, employing thousands of people. We hope and expect that other companies and brands will come to Costa Rica to hire our engineers. We hope to attract more companies from Europe and Asia to invest in Costa Rica. We have one of the best public education systems in the world, and perhaps the best in Latin America, including universities. So we have the quality engineers and talent. However, what we lack is the number of engineers to bring to big companies that employ 1,000 people or over. We are a small country after all. Therefore, we have to see how we can provide more engineers for that particular sector. We work closely with universities to achieve this goal and address these issues. We meet with the rectors of all universities almost on a weekly basis to discuss this.