To spin out patented innovations from Okinawa and make the prefecture become self-sustaining, the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University in Onna Village launched a new research funding program called “Proof of Concept.” OIST is heading into the fourth year of its academic program. The program provides funding and human resources to ambitious and ingenious technologies and discoveries spun from the university labs on a priority basis, aiming to commercialize them.
Takanari Ichikawa, who has the Doctor of Science degree and heads both the Business Development Section and the Technology Licensing Section, delineates the future of OIST with the POC program, saying, “Okinawa will open doors to the world.” He said, “Innovations have always been created in niche areas between the boundaries.” OIST has introduced a new system which is absent in other institutions of higher education in Japan. With this system, OIST will promote technological innovation with a medium to long-term perspective, setting its sights on achieving the self-sustaining development of Okinawa.
The POC program consists of five stages. The first step is to provide funding to each project not to exceed 5 million to 10 million yen. Then experts from the Business Development Section and the Technology Licensing Section will provide a research team with expertise in expense management, procurement, and other necessary operations. The research team will then set three objectives and advance the project in order to achieve these objectives within 18 months. In addition, information based on the current market trend will be provided to OIST by external experts while OIST adopts a mentorship system to receive input from experts selected from international companies. Those experts will help OIST find prospective corporate partners. With such external support, OIST will pursue the goal of concluding licensing contracts with companies and commercializing its novel technologies. There are some common issues facing the world of science and technology throughout Japan, including Okinawa. “While the number of patents owned by Japan is quite large, not many licensing agreements are being made,” pointed out Shahriar Ahmed, who is a doctor of engineering and manages the POC supported projects. In Japan, a lot fewer novel technologies are shared with the society, compared to other countries.
Shahriar said, “Even though there is an outstanding technology, if companies do not
accept it, it is meaningless.” Removing the barriers between academic institutions and companies can spur the advancement of science and technology. “Doing something by one person is limited. Working in a team will create a synergy effect and move us closer to practical use,” he enthuses.