Innovation key to competitiveness

COMING from a country known for its advanced technology and innovative culture, a Japanese professor reminded Filipino entrepreneurs and creatives to be “innovative” and maximize government-funded FabLabs in the process.

Gracing the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Slingshot PH summit yesterday, Keio University professor Tomoaki Watanabe emphasized the importance of innovation for global competitiveness and productivity.

“Although the common discourse about innovation is global competitiveness, the significant benefit and more broader view of innovation is productivity in general,” said Watanabe during the conference held at Harold’s Hotel.

The professor said having FabLabs as a starting venue for innovation in a community is a global practice. FabLabs are small-scale workshops offering personal digital fabrication for entrepreneurs.

At present, there are 12 FabLabs all over the Philippines, all located in schools and universities. In Cebu, DTI opened in June a FabLab at the University of the Philippines Cebu where the public can avail of digital fabrication equipment and services, advanced prototyping, and gain access to training and workshop facilities.

DTI invested P5.4 million for the UP Cebu FabLab facility. Maria Elena Arbon, DTI Cebu director, said FabLabs are set up in schools since this is the most efficient way, especially for students, to get access to new technology.

Overtime, the goal is to have graduates skilled in digital innovation.

However, Watanabe warned that FabLabs could be financially unsustainable in the long run.

“A FabLab is not obligated to produce economic obligations,” the professor said. Nevertheless, he said there are ways to make it sustainable.

One of the solutions is to tap local businesses. Through FabLabs, Watanabe said business owners can look for talents who can provide them the service and produce a specific design or product.

Another way to make it sustainable is by coming up with data on the enterprises assisted by the FabLab and the success stories that it brought to them, suggested Tina Amper, TechTalks.ph founder. That way, it creates awareness and interest about FabLabs and encourages local businesses to make use of it.

“Serve business users. They care about financial gains. They’re willing to pay for the FabLab (and its services),” added Watanabe.
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