Posted by: Gaia Self, Economic Analyst for Environment, Science, Technology and Health
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Tefft spoke on February 10 at a kick-off event for the new Science 4 Business Initiative (S4B) at Kyiv Polytechnic Institute (KPI), which gave me the opportunity to participate. The event was organized by the Science and Technology Center in Ukraine (STCU), which is also the implementer of the project. The initiative, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy under the Global Initiative for Proliferation Prevention, helps Ukrainian institutes promote their science and technology internationally, becoming more self-reliant and aggressive in approaching international markets. S4B represents yet another success of the U.S.-Ukraine partnership in advancing science and technology and the commitment by the U.S. Government to actively support innovation in Ukraine.
Speakers for the event included Ambassador Tefft; incoming STCU Director, Ambassador Michael Einik; First Deputy Head of the State Agency for Science, Innovations and Informatization, Borys Grynyov; Director of the National Academy of Science’s Center of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer, Yuri Kapytsia; and KPI Rector Mykhailo Zgurovskiy. The speakers noted the challenges that Ukraine faces in the field of technology commercialization and welcomed S4B as a critical response to the needs of Ukraine’s scientific community.
Ambassador Tefft discussed the importance of technology commercialization as a stimulator of economic growth, underscoring the key role that technology transfer holds in the U.S. economy – for both universities and tech companies. S4B is modeled after the organization of U.S. technical universities, where almost every institute has an office dedicated to technology commercialization. Inspired by this structure, which has proven successful in the U.S. and abroad over the years, S4B allows U.S. and Ukrainian partners to co-fund a Chief of Technology Commercialization Officer for one year (renewable for one additional year) in nine institutes. In the words of Ambassador Tefft, this “commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation will bring successes that will make them a true model for other institutions across Ukraine.”
It is common knowledge nowadays that Ukraine has a unique tradition of great scientists and great science; unfortunately, it is also widely recognized that Ukrainian research institutes face unique challenges in capitalizing on their own innovation potential. As several of the speakers put it, the lack of widespread knowledge, practices, and resources related to technology commercialization prevents Ukrainian science from being recognized internationally. Statistics put the current number of scientists in Ukraine at 140,000, but reveal that altogether they are responsible for only 0.31% of the country’s GDP. The already low levels of state financing, in addition, are dispersed across 38 different agencies, perpetuating a system where state support for R&D remains inefficient.
The U.S. and Ukrainian governments are working together to give Ukrainian science the opportunity to succeed internationally, and STCU has been a key enabler of this effort for several years. In this context, it is worth recalling the example brought up by Ambassador Tefft during his speech of a famous innovator, a former student at KPI, who succeeded in making his research not only known in the United States, but used around the world. Igor Sikorsky was an engineer born in Kyiv who immigrated in the United States and there commercialized his research to develop the first viable American helicopter in 1939. Not coincidentally, the Kyiv City Council renamed the street where the new U.S. Embassy compound is located after him – a great reminder of the opportunities that can emerge from the right synergies between our two countries in the scientific arena.