The reconstruction of regional systems of innovation to allow the evolution of the biotechnology industry in non-high technology regions : the case of the Western Cape region in South Africa

Uctu, Ramazan (2014-04)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This study investigates the efforts of stakeholders in a regional innovation system (RIS) to reconstruct the system to enable the development of the nascent biotechnology industry in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Various institutions and organisations played a crucial role in effecting these changes. One of the most important changes involved legislation that altered the role that universities play in bridging the gap between research outputs and reaping commercial benefits from such outputs. Following the logic of the regional innovation system, the study focused on the institutional changes, the mechanisms employed to bridge this gap (from creating spin-off firms, and licensing technologies based on university research, to designing programmes to support the development of bio-entrepreneurs). For a comparative perspective from another region that arrived on the biotechnology scene relatively late, the study includes a section on university spin-offs in biotechnology from Hong Kong universities. Since all the efforts to effect the changes to the RIS that would enhance the growth of this promising industry are relatively new, the study faced the usual problems associated with pioneering developments, such as small samples, a complete lack of databases, etc. For this reason, the questionnaire survey and case study methods were used throughout the study. Starting from the general to the specific, the thesis is divided into four complementary parts. Part I comprises the general literature survey and rationale for the study, while Part II narrows the focus to the organisations and mechanisms that connect knowledge creation and knowledge exploitation in the regional context in the Western Cape, South Africa and Hong Kong, China. Part III evaluates early efforts at building a bridge from science to business in the form of bio-entrepreneurship programmes. Part IV takes a micro view, tracking the evolution of biotechnology spin-offs from Western Cape universities, and highlighting the role that institutional changes played in the genesis, growth and, unfortunately, demise of some biotechnology spin-offs. The last section concludes. Throughout the study a familiar refrain repeated itself with respect to the challenges faced by new spin-offs, namely the perennial culprits of a lack of appropriate skills, and funding. From our study, bearing in mind the small scale and the danger of generalisations, it would seem as if the reconstruction of the RIS and related changes in the national innovation system (NIS1) did not generate the results that the strategy hoped for (at least in the Western Cape, the focus of our study). A beam of light is the relative success achieved with the development and implementation of a bio-entrepreneurship training programme, which laid the foundation to build a more sustainable bridge between the science of biotechnology and the commercial world where the wealth creation opportunities reside.

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