FEATURE STORY

Changing the Mindset – Commercialization of Innovation in Kazakhstan

December 15, 2015


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Kazakhstan’s Technology Commercialization Project fast approaches its completion in December 2015, and in a relatively short time, has demonstrated outstanding results: its success rate has reached 30%, well above global standards – an achievement that can be viewed through the lens of excellent collaboration between the Kazakh authorities, the World Bank, and international partners.

This World Bank-financed project was designed to improve science in Kazakhstan, using robust tools for the adequate financing of high-quality Kazakhstani research and development (R&D).

The Senior Scientist/Junior Researcher Grant Program financed 33 groups overall to conduct international research and development. Selection and supervision were undertaken by high-level professionals at ISCB. Central to the program was rigorous merit-based selection and performance monitoring in order to ensure achievements in technology commercialization, which was coupled with sufficient funding for a 3 year-period.

One of the program grantees, Elena Zholdybayeva, is a scientist working on human DNA test systems development and says this about the program: “For us as the scientists with no business experience, even the definition of technology commercialization, or business development, was something completely new. However, with the support of the project management unit, the Technology Commercialization Office, and CRDF Global, we have finished our scientific research, created an industrial prototype and have made a great step towards its commercialization: we signed our first commercial contract with the National Research Cardiac Surgery Center in 2013.”


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The project provided a grant to a group of scientists who are developing human DNA test systems. They are using the genetic markers unique to Central Asians to treat heart disease.

Photo: Shynar Jetpissova | World Bank

During the grant program, the project team went through a long, drawn-out process – from the idea to the industrial prototype and first sales. They are continuing their research to develop new test systems for more drugs in order to gain a larger market share, and are currently negotiating on a possible signing of the license agreement with a pharmaceutical company in Kazakhstan.

Sarkyt Kudaibergenov leads an R&D team that is developing polymer flooding technology for enhanced oil recovery. He praises the project for helping to take R&D results towards real implementation. He says that “The finances provided gave us an opportunity to build a sustainable technological business and find an appropriate business model. In this regard, we finished our lab research and conducted two rounds of field trials. As a result, we have signed a commercial contract with an oil company and two licensing agreements with oil service companies from Kazakhstan and Russia.”

A similarly important initiative within the scope of the project was the establishment of the Technology Commercialization Office (TCO), with the engagement of an experienced international partner, CRDF Global. The TCO has been instrumental in building the capacity of scientists and technology commercialization specialists throughout the national innovation system, with CRDF’s highly professional staff and large networking capacity making an especially important contribution to this effort.

The TCO has also developed a cohort of highly qualified Technology Commercialization Managers, who have a combination of skills and knowledge that can help Kazakhstani scientists achieve successful commercialization of their research. In addition, the TCO designed and successfully launched additional commercialization grant financing programs to support proof-of-concept and prototype development, which proved to be a very successful initiative, supporting another 33 projects throughout Kazakhstan.


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This team of scientists has been working on a truly innovative project: developing a solution to improving the recovery of oil from old oil wells in Kazakhstan.

Photo: Sarkyt Kudaibergenov | World Bank

Commercialization expert and project lead Erik Azulay says, “Within 18 months, the TCO's funded projects were able to conclude several licensing deals and contracts worth over US$ 4.25 million, which is unprecedented. Results such as these show that Kazakh researchers, when provided with the right kind of support and guidance, can produce high-quality research that is of commercial interest to the market”.

The TCO effectively collaborates on a regular basis with the grantees to ensure comprehensive support and guidance in terms of exploring and exploiting technology commercialization opportunities, whether it is a startup creation or a licensing deal. 

The project has contributed significantly to changing the mindset of the scientific community and policy makers towards taking a closer look at the economic development needs of Kazakhstan through direct engagement and the dialogue with private sector.

Building upon these results and higher standards, the Government of Kazakhstan and the World Bank are finalizing preparation of a new Fostering Productive Innovation Project, which will allow for scaling-up of the results achieved so far and promotion of innovation to a new level. The new project is expected to be launched in 2016, and will offer a number of opportunities for the scientific community, as well as for the public and private sectors, to effectively collaborate in funding international level R&D that will ultimately strengthen the competitiveness of Kazakhstan’s economy.