Mr. Rector, Mr. Vice-Rector, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, friends,
Thank you very much for your invitation to be present here at the first such conference that seeks to bring together representatives of innovation centers from around the country to help create a unified association across Romania, and to eventually participate in a global effort to unify and to promote the activities of universities who provide the education in the important topics – we believe – of innovation and entrepreneurship.
I don’t think I have to convince you, those who are in this room, of the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship. In the United States we believe very, very strongly that the entrepreneurial spirit, the ability to innovate – both by individuals, but also by institutions, by companies, and then also by organizations like universities, both public and private – are very, very important for bringing not only new products and services to the market, to the people, but also contributing to the dynamism, success and the growth of the American economy. And it is not just the United States, of course, that benefits from entrepreneurship and innovation; if you look around the world and chart those countries that over the past decades have done most well in terms of delivering economic growth and then also increase the prosperity of their people, entrepreneurship and innovation is very much a cornerstone to their success.
Because of this, the United States has worked with other countries around the world to try to propagate the basic – not only core principles – but the basic elements of the ecosystem that support innovation and entrepreneurship. And one such consequence of that is the Global Entrepreneurship Summit which takes place now more or less on an annual basis. I see people shaking their heads because they have experienced this summit. The most recent one took place in Holland. It was co-hosted by the Netherlands and the United States and the previous editions have taken place in California, India, and elsewhere.
In order to promote an innovative and entrepreneurial economy in Romania, the United States, including the United States Embassy, has supported a number of initiatives. But first, why would the United States be interested in Romania’s entrepreneurship or innovation ecosystem? It is because we believe that a society that embraces innovation and entrepreneurship does lead to a more dynamic economy and then a more prosperous society. Those are the reasons why we support innovation and entrepreneurship in Romania. It is because we want a more wealthy, a more prosperous, a stronger Romania: because we enjoy such a powerfully productive and constructive Strategic Partnership and we are able to do so many positive things not only here in Romania, in Central Eastern Europe, but in the transatlantic community and in places far from Romania, because of the wealth and prosperity that Romania already enjoys and if Romania was to be yet more prosperous you would have more resources to bring to our Strategic Partnership and we could do even more good together around the world.
So, one of the very, very important partners that we have in this work is the Romanian-American Foundation and I am very very glad that the President is here with us, Roxana Vitan with us this morning, and she will be speaking a little later, but also a good friend and colleague, Paul, who is working with the Romanian-American Foundation, is also with us here today. He has really been the leader of the program that the Foundation launched a couple of years ago together with another very important partner for the U.S. Embassy, that is the Fulbright Commission, to develop what we call hyphenated grants, grants that enable both university professors, instructors, as well as administrators, to spend time at Rochester University in New York State in the U.S. to learn a little bit about successful instruction of entrepreneurship programs at university level and what it takes to best administer those programs. We have just completed the third year of the Romanian-American Foundation-Fulbright entrepreneurship program. I was present together with Professor Curaj on Tuesday at the Fulbright Commission in Bucharest where the Board of this commission agreed to extend this program for another three years, so that has formally been accomplished. The number of graduates now is 24, so two dozen. We hope to have to have a similar number of graduates from the program in the years ahead and the results of this initiative, and Roxanna will talk more about this I’m sure, have really been far beyond our expectations. For example, graduates of the program, some of them present in this room today, on their own took on the task of forming an association; not only an alumni group, but an actual legal association with plans to bring some formal structure to the learning that was acquired as a result of the experience in Rochester, New York. But also as an association to apply for example for European funds and put those funds to use here in Romania to again support the education of entrepreneurship, of innovation and to contribute to the development of an ecosystem around these goals.
This is something that we didn’t plan. It was organic but very, very welcomed and it signaled very, very strongly that this program works. We have also tried to support very much universities like Ovidius in Constanta who have had both administrators and educators participate in the program – to support their work after they returned home – and we just spent some time with the Rector and the Vice Rector and I was very inspired by the plans that they have here at Ovidius to expand the innovation center but also the technology transfer office into a true institutionalized center with real staff, real numbers of professors, plans for a through quota of students and also buildings and more to ensure that these programs become firmly vetted into the work of the university here in Constanta. And similar ambitions we’ve seen in other universities around Romania.
Another program that the United States is about to support is in conjunction with the National Science Foundation. They have a program that has been in the works for quite some time, called the Innovation Corps where they send professors and other experts in the field to American universities and colleges but then also to overseas countries to, again, assist in the development of ecosystems necessary to support innovation, to look at issues around technology transfer, that is, transfer of technology from universities, either public sector or private sector, into the economy, so utilizing patentable or trade marketable technology that is developed in school and making sure that the legal infrastructure exists to move it legally into an environment where it can be marketed and then developed for use either as a good or a service by the population at large. This is something that has been done with great success in the United States. It was done with deliberate determination as early as 1970s or 1980s, where the legal infrastructure, the laws of the United States were changed to make it more easily feasible for universities to work with the private sector. There are some very very famous consequences of this organizational or legal infrastructure that exist in the United States: Hewlett-Packard and Google. The founders of those two world famous businesses began as students at Stanford University and it was because the legal infrastructure existed, they were able to take their ideas, their intellectual property, and take it to private investors. The university also benefited from these investments and also from the revenue flows from their products and services that followed.
These are very, very famous examples. There are others. Probably one that is not as well known, began in Florida University. The developer of a drug that has become very, very effective and widely used to combat breast cancer was an engineer at the university. He developed this pharmaceutical cure; because of the legal infrastructure that existed, he was able to, working with the university, secure private sector resources and investment in the product and became very, very well-known and utilized. As a consequence, the University in Florida reaped enormous financial benefits as well, revenues amounting well in the nine figure dollar range.
I-Corps – I was at a conference earlier this spring together with Roxana and Paul and my colleagues from the Embassy. I-Corps representatives from the National Science Foundation were here, somewhat to our surprise, but it was a very happy surprise. They had visited the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iasi. I think they were heading at the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj. They were in Bucharest and we spontaneously developed a partnership with them and so as I mentioned the National Science Science Foundation will be back to Romania later this year to have a conference with a special focus again on this technology transfer element that has been a point of discussion here in Romania before. I recall back in 2016, with Dr. Curaj and others, the Embassy of the Netherlands together with the Embassy of the United States, hosted a conference in Bucharest and in Cluj around this topic. It is probably not necessary for innovation to occur in Romania but for the ecosystem to be adequately sufficient to support innovation over the long term; this type of legal infrastructure, is very good and will be very welcomed here as it is in the United States and elsewhere.
With that, I would just like to again congratulate both the organizers of this conference, the participants for the tremendous work that you are doing to ensure and institutionalize the education around topics of entrepreneurship and innovation here in Romania and I wish you great success.