Research Brief 2012
As its main research line for 2011-12, the MIT NextLab Program sets out to augment the Triple Helix model of innovation, composed of government-academia-industry, specifically focusing on innovation and entrepreneurship in information and communication technologies (ICTs) within emerging markets. Higher income emerging markets such as Russia and Singapore have recently invested hundreds of millions of dollars to bring together academia and industry, following the Triple Helix model of innovation (i.e. Skolkovo and SUTD), where the government brought together academic and industry partners in a physical setting to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. But most other emerging economies do not have the resources to follow in their footsteps. We propose a new, augmented Helix model that repositions existing academic institutions, catalyzes public-private participation, promotes international collaboration, and leverages the power of online social networks to create a more accessible approach to ICT innovation and entrepreneurship for middle-income emerging economies.
Triple Helix Model
The Triple Helix model states that for countries to move towards a knowledge economy, where the drivers are innovation and entrepreneurship instead of low-cost manufacturing or labor, three different sectors must collaborate—the government, academia, and industry. For emerging markets, this model can provide a strong framework for economic development if it is augmented with new thinking, an innovative technological platform, and cost effectiveness.
Figure 1. Triple Helix model of innovation
Social-Network Augmented Helix for ICT Innovation in Emerging Markets
As noted by Dzisah and Etzkowitz (2008):
"In all developing countries, the essential triple helix elements exist. The missing component is often the lack of a coherent strategy to integrate the fundamental ingredients necessary for socio-economic development. This is the purpose of integrating triple helix circulation into the core of development theory, policy and practice."
We believe that a specially designed social network can augment the Triple Helix by integrating all parties in a platform that helps chaperon a coherent strategy for ICT innovation and entrepreneurship. To investigate this, we propose the following research question:
Can we design and host a social networking platform that augments the Triple Helix model with a fourth, technology collaboration-driven pillar, in order to catalyze ICT innovation and entrepreneurship in emerging markets?
Figure 2. A New Helix Model for ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Middle Income Emerging Markets
We focus on information and communication technology for two reasons. First, given that it is talent based, the barrier to entry for this industry has steadily decreased, allowing individuals, small companies, and larger institutions in emerging markets to compete on equal footing with any other company in the world. Second, ICTs can be applied locally to improve productivity and competitiveness of local industry, strengthening and growing the regional economy that uses its applications, services, and innovations.
In these emerging markets, we will run a mobile applications course developed at MIT and offer access to a specially adapted social networking platform to augment the Triple Helix model. This course replicates many aspects of the NextLab course from MIT, which spun out a handful of startups over the years. By adapting this course to local conditions, we encourage universities to build relationships with local industry, expose students to market needs, connect young entrepreneurs and mentors, and create a framework for startups to transition from academia to the market. This innovative environment aims to catalyze this augmented Triple Helix model on a regional scale.
In this modified model, the following are the main actors.
- Federal government in each country provides seed funding and encourages collaboration
- MIT NextLab provides entrepreneurial expertise, technical experience, and mentorship, as well as designs and hosts the social networking platform
- Local industry provides funding to local universities and establishes the market need
- Local universities provide training and human capital
- Startup incubators and local entrepreneurs provide the engine for new technologies and new ventures
- A private social network connects all parties and builds social bonds that help spur cluster formation
We plan to conduct our initial research on these topics in Latin America, with the help of partners in industry, academia, and government. The following topics will be explored:
Figure 3. Research Topics that Stem from MIT NextLab
MIT NextLab has started working on two approaches towards this research. First, it has created an online social networking platform for entrepreneurs in Latin America and paired them with staff and students at MIT. This platform will enable NextLab to investigate how online collaboration can be used to augment sustainable ICT innovation and entrepreneurship in emerging markets. Second, it has organized a consortium of thirteen Mexican universities and generated interest from the Ministry of Economy to fund local Helix initiatives. The work with this consortium will help research all three of the main research topics mentioned above.
Social Platform for Entrepreneurs in Latin America
Previous research shows that an entrepreneur’s social network plays a significant factor in helping him or her find resources, technical assistance, mentors, etc., and these networks play different roles during different phases of a startup. We wish to look at a set of startups in emerging markets that have access to an established network of mentors and are all at first-round funding stages, to see how their activity on an online social networking platform correlates to several indicators of startup success. We will do this by using social network analysis tools on our private, online social platform at http://innovacion.mit.edu.
Using established visualization tools, such as IBM’s Many Eyes, or social network analysis software, such as Pajek, we will look for trends in the behavior of over one hundred and fifty entrepreneurs in four Wayra country offices. Wayra academies have been established in eight countries overall, with ten startups in each academy. All have received initial funding from Telefónica, the fourth largest telecom provider in the world.
Using these tools, we should be able to analyze the activities of specific industries, countries, and individual entrepreneurs. Some of the participants on the platform will be mentors from Wayra, MIT, and other innovation-focused universities. Data from the platform can be analyzed over time, to see trends during a Spring 2012 MIT course, when student strategy mentors from MIT and Harvard will work directly with a subset of Latin American entrepreneurs.
Using data from Wayra and the startup companies, we will look for a correlation between activity on the social platform and real-world indicators for business performance. Since not all Wayra startups will receive direct mentorship, we may be able to compare performance of those startups with student strategists against those without strategists. Over time, we may also be able to look at the correlation between successes of each startup participating in our platform versus their online social activity.
Businesses use many types of key performance indicators (KPIs); some are financial and some are not. We will take a few core indicators and apply them to this analysis, such as:
- Time to reach cashflow breakeven point
- Attracting additional investors (non-Wayra)
- Revenues and profit
The questions we are exploring with this line of research are:
- How can a social networking platform enable an online ecosystem to augment ICT innovation and entrepreneurship in Latin America? This can be divided up into two, more specific lines of inquiry:
- How does mentorship from staff and students from well-developed innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems augment ecosystems and startups in emerging markets?
- How does participation in an online ecosystem affect ICT startup performance in Latin America?
University Consortium in Mexico
MIT NextLab has assembled a consortium of thirteen Mexican universities where we will pilot the augmented Helix model (http://tricentenario.mit.edu). They have each signed on to find four local industry partners and integrate these partners into a NextLab-style local program focused on the design and launch of mobile applications. The Mexican Ministry of the Economy, through its FINNOVA fund, has expressed interest in financing this type of innovation and entrepreneurship model and its participation would complete the model. All participants would be invited into the online social networking platform to entice their collaboration. As the organizing figure, MIT NextLab will play a mentorship role to participants and help them identify locally appropriate ways to implement the augmented Helix.
The analysis of these pilot programs would run during an entire academic year. Student teams at each Mexican university will work closely with industry partners to create an innovative ICT solution to a forward-looking problem in that industry. Students will not be assigned to solve a specific problem, but rather will be presented with an open-ended topic area that the company would like to address. These teams will analyze the potential market and create a functional prototype of a solution.
By looking at the success of the student projects and the spin-off rate, we can analyze our effectiveness in fostering sustainable ICT innovation and entrepreneurship. As a mentor to each pillar of the Helix, NextLab would train-the-trainers instead of directly training entrepreneurs. In this manner, we hope to create sustainable change. Interviews and surveys of each stakeholder can also inform us of the effectiveness in bringing together the three components of the Triple Helix—government, academia, and industry. We will survey the industry partners to look at the use of these projects in industry and their effects on productivity.
This research thrust addresses the following research questions:
- Can we effectively bring together government, academia, and industry, through this Helix framework and a specially designed social networking platform?
- Through the ICT products created by student teams, can we measure a spillover effect on local industry productivity?
- Does mentoring of university “trainers” reposition Latin American universities and create regional centers of ICT innovation and entrepreneurship?
 Etzkowitz, Henry and Loet Leydesdorff. The dynamics of innovation: from National Systems and “Mode 2” to a Triple Helix of university-industry-government relations. Research Policy. Vol 29, No 2, pp 109-123. 2000.
 Dzisah, James and Henry Etzkowitz. Triple helix circulation: the heart of innovation and development. International Journal of Technology Management and Sustainable Development, Vol 7 No 2, pp 101-115. 2008.
 Greve, Arent and Janet W. Salaff. Social Networks and Entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship, Theory and Practice. Fall 2003, pps 1-22.