Keeping innovation alive
A total of 17 innovation centers have been established by large companies to herald an economy oriented towards creativity and innovation ? the economic catchphrase of President Park Geun-hye. The Incheon Innovation Center that opened on Wednesday is the last in a chain of corporate research and development labs under the government’s campaign to promote a creative economy over the last 10 months. A network of innovation centers across 17 cities and provinces will develop industrial regional strengths and support start-ups and small- and mid-sized companies. The president has been seized with the project, attending 15 out of 17 openings. Under that strong government pressure, new “Silicon Valleys” could rise here.
The innovation incubator project underscores the country’s reliance on our chaebol. The large conglomerate groups were put in charge of hosting innovation centers according to their corporate home bases ? Samsung in Daegu, SK in Daejon, Hyundai Motor in Gwangju, LG in North Chungcheong and Lotte in Busan. That mechanical allocation is hardly inventive as befits the innovation initiative. Whether the projects can last and bear fruit is also questionable because of the pretentious way the government and chaebol address the project. Large companies announced investment plans in time for the center opening and the arrival of the president. The heads of the 17 conglomerates that took part in the project were invited to a luncheon at the Blue House. Now the president has also decided to include jailed corporate heads on the list of special pardons on Aug. 15, Liberation Day.
In order to keep true to the purpose of the innovation hubs, companies should take the initiative to lead investment according to regional strengths. Not only funding, but other conditions should be right to encourage start-ups. Start-ups would not be afraid of failure if there were sufficient programs to support them in their new ventures. Start-ups and innovation cannot sprout under heavy layers of regulations and a discouraging business culture.
Both the government and private sector must use the innovation centers as the impetus to build a habitat friendly and supportive of start-ups. Various funding and support programs should come under one roof. The centers must be able to assist individuals and companies in the entire process of starting a business or venture.
The innovation network should not end as the showpiece of an administration that lasts five years. There must be cooperative work among the government and large and small companies.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 24, Page 30.