This region has the conditions to develop a “Chilicon Valley”

There’s a need here to stop being an economy dependent on natural resources, and become an economy of finished products, and this institute is a great opportunity to achieve it.

They learned about the competition for the Chilean Institute of Clean Technologies to be installed in Antofagasta less than a month before Corfo closed the request for information stage. Almost by chance, since the promotion of the government agenda has been focused on Europe and Asia.

With that margin, AUI (Associated Universities, Inc.) prepared a basic proposal which, as they expected, did not obtain the bonus associated with the second stage of the process that starts in the coming days.

Worried about that? No.

AUI was created 80 years ago by nine of the principal universities in the United States to promote research and scientific dissemination, becoming an important actor in that country’s National Laboratories system after World War II, the largest scientific system in the world.

Since then, the Nobel Prize has been awarded six times to researchers at its facilities. They have come to Chile with a thoughtful approach and serious intent, and this week a delegation of their top executives was in Antofagasta preparing their landing. Among them, Sanjiv Malhotra, executive director of the venture capital division of AUI, called PLUS, which is the “bridge” that links industry and research centers.

TRAJECTORY

Malhotra is also the founder and CEO of a venture capital firm called SPARKZ, and the founder and CEO of a new company that focuses on the circular economy.

In addition, he was the first director of the Center for Energy Investors (EIC) in the United States’ Department of Energy (DOE), where he worked from 2016 to January 2019.

The EIC led the commercialization efforts within the DOE, and of its National Laboratories, with the objective of improving private sector investment for the projects financed by this agency.

The annual budget of these laboratories is several billion dollars. However, the administration of Barack Obama felt that the private contribution was not enough and Malhotra had the mission of “leveraging” new resources from the private world.

The numbers are sidereal, and during his administration the private contributions grew by some hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Is it feasible that this capital-raising model could be applied to develop the Chilean Institute of Clean Technologies?

Absolutely. I have already strengthened relationships in this new role with former partners such as laboratories and universities with whom there are formed bonds and credibility, which is a capital that AUI has to offer to Chile.

We want to bring this model and make it work for the first time in this country.

What is the heart of the model?

The successful development of applied science and technology transfer requires an ecosystem where the research is focused on the needs of industry and markets, with an efficient resource management model that also has effective impact.

It must respond early to the demands of systems, technologies and solutions aligned with the needs of industry, provide value with high-value transformations, specialized human capital development, and job creation according to the challenges of the 21st century economy for the region and country

Why have you focused on Chile?

This country has a great advantage because it has three fundamental elements for technology transfer: market (mining, agriculture, construction, etc.); young human capital interested in entrepreneurship; and – with respect – it is recognized that there is a gap between what local universities produce and what the productive sector needs.

We visualize that there is a need here to stop being an economy dependent on natural resources, and to become an economy of finished products, and the institute is a great opportunity to achieve this.

The bidding rules establish minimum requirements for the startup momentum. Are they attainable?

The goal of 100 startups in a period of 10 years is a minimum goal that we’ve looked at with a lot of confidence. What we must do during the first five years is to import technologies that will be necessary to solve some problems more immediately, which will also help us to sustain the private contribution, while developing other solutions that may require more time.

In five years we could be working with 50 or 75 companies, and exceed 100 within 10 years.

Does this region really possess the conditions for the development of a world-class applied research center around clean technologies?

Yes. Antofagasta has the conditions for the development of what I have called “Chilicon Valley” and AUI can be a great articulator of that process, because we have the experience to do it. We partner universities. We are used to interacting with universities. We are born from the most prestigious universities in the United States, and we create effective networks. We have a lot of respect for the country’s network of universities, but we believe they need push in this area. Our proposal is radical, yet proven to work. We are an open platform for organizations whose objectives align with those defined for this institute.

Translated from “El Mercurio de Antofagasta,” Chile August 12, 2019. Written by Eugenio Sugg Gálvez [email protected]

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