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Sharjah 2020 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Hussain Mohamed Al Mahmoudi, CEO of Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation (SRTI) Park, on R&D, the Innovation Economy Report, and goals for the coming year.

SRTI Park is the first major milestone of AUS Enterprise. Can you give us a short introduction of the development?

SRTI Park, an initiative of the American University of Sharjah Enterprises (AUSE), was established in 2016 by royal decree of Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council of the UAE, and Ruler of Sharjah. SRTI Park aims to develop and manage an innovation ecosystem within a free zone that promotes R&D and supports enterprise activities and the triple-helix collaboration of industry, government, and academia. The park focuses on six verticals: water technology; digitalization; transport and logistics; environmental technology; renewable technology; and production, design, and architecture.

The first phase is expected to initially accommodate 200 companies. What are the highlights of this achievement?

Phase I of the park comprises three inter-linked buildings of some 60,000sqft and will house the park's headquarters, laboratories and innovation centers, and a host of start-ups, SMEs, and anchor companies that focus on contributing to the R&D and innovation culture of the region. Future phases include a center of excellence, a technology museum, a hotel, a convention center, and housing units.

How do you see the innovative R&D sector growing and improving here?

It is not surprising Sharjah has achieved a leading position on the international map. The Emirate has made education and science as the foundation for progress and development in line with the vision of Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi. Today, Sharjah is taking a step forward on the path of global leadership, supported by quality projects, notably SRTI Park, which marks the beginning of a new era of excellence in science, knowledge, and research.

How is increasing digitalization becoming an increasingly hot topic affecting this development in Sharjah?

The focus is now on the park for its future role as an economic catalyst for knowledge, innovation, and entrepreneurship, paving the way for Sharjah to be recognized as a global hub for Industry 4.0 by contributing to the shaping of future sectors, led by robots, drones, 3D printing, and smart transport. The park is unique as a nucleus designed to emulate the path of economic diversification, making the partnership between the public and private sectors an important strategic priority in order to increase spending on R&D projects at all technical, social, and economic levels. The main features of the park are its solid pillars of technological progress in the service of community development.

What is your strategy to showcase the park's strengths for FDI, and what makes SRTI unique to similar entities in the UAE?

SRTI Park is working on developing an integrated business system for the smart industries in the Emirate in cooperation with international organizations. The Emirate has more than 21 industrial areas, and it wants to utilize this by collaborating in the fields of smart industries related to robotics and AI. Smart industries are part of the fourth industrial revolution in the world, and Sharjah plans to lead in this through research, development, and innovation. The community plays a pivotal social role by stimulating innovation, creativity, and spreading knowledge and technology in a community, providing talented young people with exceptional opportunities. It is not possible to talk about SRTI Park without mentioning the competitive advantages that will enhance the leadership of the educational environment in Sharjah on the map of scientific research, technology, and innovation regionally and globally. One of the main focuses is to support scientific research through SRTI Park and for it to be a hub for international research companies, researchers, students, faculty, and graduates of AUS.

What was the strategy behind launching Sharjah's Innovation Economy Report?

Based on a series of events and joint efforts between Sharjah stakeholders and the UK government, represented by Future Cities Catapult, this report highlights the next steps to be taken by SRTI Park to support the Emirate's journey toward establishing a knowledge economy and becoming the R&D and innovation hub of the region. The book was launched earlier in 2019 at the UK-Sharjah Innovation Forum at the House of Lords in London, in cooperation with the UK government. Through this report, SRTI Park joins the global standards system for innovative cities. It will also play as a roadmap to the park during its next phase.

What sustainability projects are you launching at the park?

We make use of natural resources, from solar energy and salt water, high temperature, and humidity, to provide a source of irrigation for agriculture and to ensure the success of pilot projects by focusing on the importance of innovative farming methods and their many benefits compared to conventional methods of irrigation. The agricultural products of the urban population of the world, in addition to its role in the utilization of seawater covering a vast area, up to 70% of the globe. The research site specializes in the development of sustainability and natural resource conservation technologies offering innovative technological solutions for agriculture through the use of infrastructure in urban areas such as balconies, houses and terraces. These include the tower farm, a vertical agricultural system, and the horizontal farm technology, which is water-based. The project introduces a new concept of sustainable agriculture through the practice of using the principles of ecology, which is the study of the relationships between living organisms and their environment. One of the most important research areas in Merlin Digital's Sustainable Technologies Research Site is the sustainable water project, a solar desalination still that produces 10 times the amount of pure, distilled water per square meter per day from any source of contaminated water—seawater, groundwater, and others—compared to classic solar stills. The idea is to re-engineer solar distillation, a basic technology that humans have known for thousands of years.

What are your main goals and objectives for 2019 and beyond?

The park is a milestone in the pursuit of scientific research in the benefit of society, economy and humanity. It is based on an ambitious vision to enhance the UAE's and Sharjah's presence as a key player in shaping the digital revolution, technological transformation, and economic openness, offering a competitive edge to attract leading companies and the best minds and creative talents to undertake research and innovation activities that support the overall development.