In 2018/2019 Lumin UWI Consulting strategically pursued projects and partnerships which have a direct and positive impact on The UWI’s bid to be increasingly agile. This is already seeing the University become more entrepreneurial, profitable and responsive to the needs of its customers. In one such project, Lumin UWI Consulting successfully negotiated with the Inter-American Development Bank’s Compete Caribbean programme to have The UWI engaged as one of three technology extension service providers in the region.
As part of its rebranding and new internal commercialisation thrust, Lumin has undertaken to assess The UWI’s services, programmes and faculties to identify new opportunities for commercial engagement in the region. This is the first project to be launched in this new and innovative space.
Technology Extension Services (TES) are a type of government policy used to accelerate the pace at which small and medium sized enterprises catch up with more advanced firms by a transfer of knowledge about best practices, particularly cutting-edge technologies for their specific sectors. It is essentially a strategic public investment in technological diffusion through on-site, specialised technical assistance. The benefit of TES with respect to other innovation policy tools is that it is cost efficient given the size of the investment per firm; offers quick wins by implementing innovations already proven to be effective in other markets, and is impactful in terms of improving productive efficiency and competitiveness of SMEs.
The Compete Caribbean Partnership Facility (CCPF), the Organisation of American States (OAS), and Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) have collaborated to implement a pilot that will test a regional TES delivery framework targeting Caribbean SMEs in the agro-processing and tourism sectors with high growth potential, with a special focus on women-owned firms. The main actors include eligible Caribbean firms; local business support organisations (BSOs) and Small Business Development Centres (SBDCs); technology extension service providers (TSPs); and financial institutions from the Caribbean region. Key outputs will include business potential assessments (BPA), technology audit plans (TAPs), and the technology assistance reports (TARs).
The services provided by the pilot will be demand driven and will pay particular attention to supporting increased adoption of digital technologies and technologies that improve environmental and energy management practices. Ultimately, the pilot seeks to improve understanding on the following elements:
a) the demand for TES amongst Caribbean firms
b) the supply capacity of the region’s technology services providers
c) the impact of TES on firm productivity, efficiency, revenue and competitiveness in targeted markets
d) the likely return on investment for a Caribbean-based TES programme
The pilot project saw Lumin conduct a complete audit of all The UWI’s campuses by the first quarter of 2019. Particular emphasis was paid to the Faculties of Science and Technology and the natural sciences to assess capacity for testing services using professional consulting networks, researchers, centres and institutes and faculty laboratory facilities. A proposal was then submitted to IDB Compete Caribbean recommending that The UWI has the capacity to support regional SMEs through the provision of the following services on a commercial basis across the campus territories:
The UWI will benefit directly from immersion in the business community, identifying key constraints to growth and developing technology driven solutions to stimulate private sector led growth and development. Compete Caribbean will pay the University for all services provided under the programme resulting in a direct financial return to The UWI system.
Additionally, The UWI will benefit from internal capacity building across its campuses in order to equip internal teams to provide these services on a commercial basis. The consultancy is estimated to begin during the first quarter of 2020 and continue over a duration of eight months. IDB Compete Caribbean will undertake extensive traveling to build the capacity of the TSPs including site visits to the SMEs to foster learning-by-doing. The cost of workshops and travel are included in the consulting firm’s budget. The number of TAPs and TARs completed through the handholding approach, schedule and milestones will be defined by the consulting firm in agreement with the IDB and BSOs and captured in the workplan.
The traditional model of bidding for consulting projects by small teams of experts is giving way to intensified emphasis on The UWI’s internal commercialisation of services to the regional community and this is a significant step for The UWI.
To date these services are provided to large firms in the absence of resources in SMEs and they are provided by a small number of private actors. This project pulls The UWI eco-system together in a coherent framework, builds internal capacity, coordinates administration under Lumin and creates region wide impact in a sector that is valuable to regional governments and industry players.
The pilot project is designed to finance 75 technical audits and 50 technical interventions. It is estimated that 200 business diagnostics will be conducted in the eligible countries in order to identify 75 firms with high growth potential. The model used for the development and marketing of this project is presently underway in the areas of student services and career placement, and start up development.