A WALK IN THE PARK

Working toward becoming an information economy, the UAE is cashing in on the high-tech dividend, and homing in on the Emirate of Sharjah, kudos goes to the Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation (SRTI) Park.

Sharjah is a swiftly evolving hub for business and entrepreneurship, Hussein Mohammed Al Mahmoudi, CEO of SRTI Park, was quick to point out on the fringes of the ninth Annual Investment Meeting (AIM 2019), one fueled by the Emirate's geostrategic location and access to a highly educated local workforce. The strategic bonding of academia with industry has created a self-contained ecosystem for R&D, entrepreneurship, and technological advancement; all in a financially appealing commercial environment. It is little wonder then that in 2018 Sharjah wooed over 35 new FDI projects, with plans to up that performance by 20% this year. FDI is forecast to reach USD1.6 billion by April and hit the USD2-billion mark by year-end across a raft of high-tech dependent sectors such as healthcare and renewable energy.

A Triple-Helix, M'lord

SRTI Park was established in 2016 by royal decree of Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, to foster R&D activities through a “triple helix collaboration" of industry, government, and academia. This approach is crystallized in CEO Al Mahmoudi, who is also the CEO of the American University of Sharjah Enterprises (AUSE). It, too, was established by royal decree to bridge the gap between ideas and the marketplace. Indeed, Al Mahmoudi was formerly Director General of the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, having launched strategic economic initiatives including the SME Act, and established the Sharjah Export Centre, Sharjah Commercial Arbitration Centre, and the Sharjah Business Forum.

SRTI Park is ultimately expected to house over 200 leading international innovators and start-ups. It features flexible office space availability appropriate for multinational corporations and SME incubators alike, ranging in format from flexidesks within a shared environment to spacious offices. Size ranges from 604-2,453sqft, with entire floor plans maxing out at 57,350sqft.
As a lightning rod for Sharjah's 20-plus industrial areas, the park leads the way in smart industrial development where AI lends brain to robotics brawn in the rollout of Industry 4.0. A telling message from this March's Skills of the Future Culture panel session at the Government Communication Forum (IGCF 2019) was that in the fourth industrial wave, repetitive jobs will become a thing of the past, with huge retraining required, not least in the public sector. This explains the momentum of Sharjah's education sector. The American University of Sharjah, for one, was established as comprehensive research institution.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, the park pursues an agenda of research strategic to the Emirate, notably into water technologies to include recycling, desalination, hydroponic agriculture, and artificial rain production, the latter technology having made the news in 1Q2019. Other sought-after residents of SRTI park are engaged in alternative energy, to include waste recycling and broader ICT applications. Also having a key informational function, the Park recently partnered with the American University of Sharjah (AUS) in hosting a seminar on the future of smart manufacturing. To further showcase the offering, in March SRTI Park and UK NGO Future Cities Catapult staged the UK-Sharjah Innovation Forum at the House of Lords.

The event was a launchpad for Sharjah's Innovation Economy Report, a roadmap for its path to information economy status. A UK CEO Roundtable Discussion attended by UK FTSE 250 companies explored the investment opportunities at SRTIP.
Sharjah has without a doubt established itself as a Middle Eastern powerhouse of innovative research and development, at a time when education and training are increasingly perceived as a lifestyle, rather than a rite of passage. In this light, as the meeting point of raw concept and balance sheet, SRTI Park is at the forefront of initiatives driving Emirate's strategic goals in the age of Industry 4.0.