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FEATURE STORY

Croatia Supports Innovation and the Knowledge Based Society

December 21, 2016


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Marko Mišulić, CEO of Rentlio and Microblink customer

Photo: Rentlio

The World Bank-supported Second Science and Technology Project demonstrates concrete ways to support innovation and knowledge in Croatia by supporting research that is competitive at the international level, creating new value for the Croatian economy, and helping the development of research infrastructure in Croatia.

Science plays an important role in society, but what exactly is the importance and relevance of science in our daily lives? What is the role scientists play in broadening our understanding of Earth or in making our societies more sustainable? Is progress in science and technology linked to the well-being of humans?

The answer to this last question is, obviously, yes.

But to answer the previous questions, let’s take Croatia as a case-in-point. More specifically, let's look at the Second Science and Technology Project (STP2), a  World Bank-supported initiative that demonstrates concrete ways of supporting innovation and knowledge - from policies to day-to-day applications.

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PhD student Neven Šantić at work in the lab at the Department of Physics (Photo: University of Zagreb)
Imagine the super computer of the future, which is able to process information from parallel feeds - de facto dealing with a multiplied intake of information and much faster than any computer we use today.

This is just one of the future, practical applications of ongoing research into pseudo-magnetic forces and fields for atoms and photons being carried out by a team at the Department of Physics at the University of Zagreb, Croatia. The team is being led by led by Hrvoje Buljan, in cooperation with Marin Soljačić from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

This work focused on both theory and experiment, and the research was partially funded by a grant from the Unity through Knowledge Fund (UKF), under the STP2 project- which provided money for equipment, personnel, and academic networking. 

Other funded projects deal with topics in various fields such improving the quality of life of cancer patients post stem cell transplants, offering practical solutions to measuring pico current intensities inside electrically charged fields, allowing for machine reading and extracting meaning from unstructured online data, to name a few.


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Microblink: real-time text recognition on hand-held devices for reading ID cards, payment slips, invoices, IBAN, receipts, and more. 

Photo: Microblink

" This technology helped our users to speed up personal documents processing by more than twenty times for each document. You can imagine how huge the impact was on the everyday business flow. "

Marko Mišulić

Rentlio CEO and Microblink customer

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Microblink currently has about 450 customers in more than 40 countries around the world. 

 

Photo: Microblink

The UKF’s goal is to provide consistent support to research that is competitive at the international level, create new value for the Croatian economy, and help the development of Croatian research infrastructure. UKF has been organizing open calls for projects, where prestigious academic peers (who remain anonymous) offer initial assessments and midterm project feedback.

UKF prides itself in fostering a “motherly” approach toward projects - evaluating them and looking after their success while abiding by the principles of excellence, transparency, equality, measurability, competence, individual responsibility of project leaders, and ethical and best practices in research.

To most of us, the content UKF-funded projects probably sounds like a sci-fi trip to a distant and abstract land, but they play an important role in creating the fast-paced world we live in today - thanks to the participating researchers. For them and us alike, tomorrow is already here. This fast transition from idea to reality is perhaps easier to see by looking at the results of the grants and loans provided by the Croatian Agency for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), Innovations and Investments (HAMAG-BICRO), also funded through the World Bank supported STP2 project.

The agency is facilitating access to finance and providing support to entrepreneurs - starting from the research and development of an idea, all the way to commercialization and placement of innovative products and services on the market. It necessary support, especially in the early stages of testing and validating an idea or hypothesis. In other words, funding a proof of concept helps small and medium entrepreneurs cope with research risks that are not covered by classical financial instruments.

HAMAG-BICRO’s success stories cover a variety of fields and topics - with proof of concepts on components that are part of electric vehicles, conversion of images into text characters, or testing dried blood stains to estimate the biological age of people. The implications are many-fold, making Croatia a trail-blazer in supplying technology, software, and medical care to the global market.

Microblink, formerly SlikoPlat d.o.o., is a research and development company whose mission is to simplify everyday life by eliminating manual data input in various mobile apps. They use real-time text recognition on hand-held devices to read ID cards, payment slips, invoices, receipts and more.

In 2014 they completed a project, financed for just over 35,000 euros by HAMAG-BICRO, to develop a functional prototype of the Optical Character Recognition engine for mobile devices by using machine learning for real-time text recognition and the camera on a mobile phone.

Today, their technology is incorporated into the apps of all commercial banks in Croatia. In fact, their clients on the local and global market cover banking, finance and insurance, tourism, automotive, telecommunications, retail and online shopping, government, law enforcement, entertainment, health care, security, and software development.

The project shows how financing a critical step - even with a relatively small amount of money - during the development of a product before launching it on the market can help enable technology across industries and operating systems.

This is just one example why the World Bank is continuing to support innovation in Croatia and helping the country to become a knowledge-based economy. In addition, to the UKF and the HAMAG-BICRO’s activities, the STP2 project is assisting select public sector institutions in designing proposals and implementing programs funded by the European Union (EU), which Croatia joined in 2013.

Through its research and development financing, this project is stimulating demand for EU funds from the business and scientific communities - particularly from SMEs, high-performing scientists, and young researchers.


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