Students and young scholars with ideas for innovative inventions often encounter financial difficulties that hinder their scientific and academic development. Egypt is hoping to help solve this problem with the launch of the Innovators Support Fund.
The fund, which is supervised by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research but has independent management, aims to provide unconventional scholarships for high school students to complete their university studies in Egypt and abroad, as well as programs for university students, graduates and pre-university students to finance research on innovative ideas and develop projects for commercial use.
“We do not offer scholarships in the conventional sense,” said Mohamed Amer, the executive director of the Innovators Support Fund. “Instead, we would support anyone who presents unique ideas or visions and wants to complete his university or school studies, and is financially deprived.”
Besides scholarships, Amer said, the fund offers various other programs directed at young innovators. These include supporting awareness of the culture of innovation and invention, offering incentives and prizes for innovators, providing technical and scientific support to develop ideas and to conduct market studies and feasibility studies, and helping with registering patents, developing patent prototypes, and establishing companies to economically implement patents and innovations. The funds’ grants range between 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($3,000) to one million Egyptian pounds ($60,000), said Amer. (See a related article, “Egypt Hopes to Strengthen Scientific Research Through ‘Science Up.’ ”)
Like scholars in other Arab countries, Egyptian scholars suffer a lack of support and financial allocations. Most master’s and doctoral students are also forced to spend from their own pockets to conduct all the analysis, tests and basic materials needed for their research. (See the related articles “An Iraqi Researcher’s Situation Spotlights the Need for Investment in Research,” and “Most Arab-World Researchers Want to Leave, a New Survey Finds.”)
“I will take the initiative to register in the fund to obtain the necessary support to produce a real-life size model of the wheelchair.”Ahmed Magdy Mahmoud
A graduate of Helwan University’s Faculty of Engineering
Ahmed Magdy Mahmoud, a graduate of Helwan University’s Faculty of Engineering, sees the Innovators Support Fund as a good opportunity for young researchers and innovators. Mahmoud and four of his colleagues faced several challenges while designing their graduation project, a highly-praised eye-movement-controlled electric wheelchair for quadriplegics. Nevertheless, they found it difficult to market the project and design its final model to be presented to hospitals.
Mahmoud and his colleagues paid the cost of designing a scale model of their innovation, about $1,000, themselves. They could have requested support from the college, but they preferred to bear the cost in order to retain their property rights. Any university support could prevent them from being able to market the project or offer it to manufacturers and investors without prior written approval. Moreover, the innovation would be kept in the university’s warehouse in that case.
“I will take the initiative to register in the fund to obtain the necessary support to produce a real-life size model of the wheelchair,” Mahmoud said. “Then I will start manufacturing it and communicate with companies and hospitals.”
On the other hand, Mohamed Kamal, a professor at Kafrelsheikh University’s Faculty of Arts, says the fund will not benefit scholars in the humanities and social sciences, given that it links research funding to economic returns. He calls for a review of this condition.
“The fund draws a road map to protect and increase development returns for researchers, innovators and inventors, and speeds up the pace of discovery of innovators.”Mona Yahia
The head of Central Department of the Egyptian Patent Office
“We are facing difficulties to get funding or grants to conduct research on social phenomena that may be dangerous,” or on projects that are “very beneficial to society and have indirect economic returns,” he said. “However, they require capabilities and funding that might hit 30,000 Egyptian pounds (about $2,000). Unfortunately, the fund does not support this kind of research.” (See a related article, “Arab Social Sciences: Scarce, but Sorely Needed.”)
Support and Guidance
The Innovators Support Fund’s role is not limited to providing financial grants. It focuses largely on discovering and nurturing talented young innovators and entrepreneurs to crystallize their ideas, help develop ideas into commercially viable projects, and protect their intellectual property rights.
“There are many who need to consult experts to develop their ideas and develop solutions to other problems that hinder their implementation apart from funding,” said Amer, the fund’s director. “The fund will work to provide this,” he added.
The Egyptian Patent Office at the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology is Egypt’s only authorized body to approve the registration of patents. The office studies innovations and inventions before granting a patent, but it does not provide financial support for putting inventions into effect.
Mona Yahia, the head of Central Department of the Patent Office, believes the Innovators Support Fund is a step on the right path to spreading the culture of intellectual property rights and supporting researchers in Egypt. “The fund draws a road map to protect and increase development returns for researchers, innovators and inventors, and speeds up the pace of discovery of innovators,” she said. She added that the Patent Office cooperates with the fund to provide various kinds of support and assistance, like holding workshops presented by experts concerned with intellectual property rights.
“There is no concern about the continuity of the fund’s work and achieving its goals, due to the presence of a work and income mechanism established by the legislator upon preparing the draft law.”Ghada Barsoum
An assistant professor of public policy and administration at the American University in Cairo
The Fund’s Independence
The fund was established under law as the “Fund for the Care of Innovators and Geniuses” and is known in English as the Innovators Support Fund. It operates under direct supervision of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, but it has a private, independent management and budget based on 5 percent of the budget of private universities upon issuing the decision to operate them, and 5 percent of the budget approved by private universities when the data of their owners is changed, in addition to 2 percent fees that will be collected from private university students, and 10 Egyptian pounds to be collected from students at public universities and private institutes under the supervision of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. Moreover, it will get 1 percent of the net profits of private units at universities and research centers in various ministries.
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“There is no concern about the continuity of the fund’s work and achieving its goals, due to the presence of a work and income mechanism established by the legislator upon preparing the draft law,” said Ghada Barsoum, an assistant professor of public policy and administration at the American University in Cairo. “It also enjoys independence despite its work within the higher education system because it will support those who approach it with their ideas. Nobody will be forced to work in a certain direction.”