Innovation Central to Professional DevelopmentTue, 09/01/2015 - 11:16
During 2011, the Governor of Chihuahua decided to increase admissions to state universities, a measure that saw the Autonomous University of Chihuahua (UACH) increase its enrollment by 25%, while admission to the Chihuahua Institute of Technology (ITCH) increased by around 15%, and the Chihuahua Technology University (UTCH) saw a 30% rise. The state is collectively promoting the effective education of more students so that the high demand for professionals within the various industries in Mexico can be met. As a result, the Innovation and Transfer Technology Park (PITT) at the Chihuahua campus of Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM) has been capitalizing on this influx of talent to promote innovation and collaboration within the automotive industry. With around 15-20% of the state’s professional offering composed of engineers, PITT is working on exposing professionals to new environments, such as new laboratories, startup programs, and additional innovation techniques, as well as introducing many innovation professionals from the US and Europe in order to promote new methods of local testing, prototyping, and development. In terms of operations, the center focuses on incubation companies, acceleration companies, and entailment companies. The process begins with a program called Use of Ideas, which is developed through collaboration and startup procedures. Companies begin as ideas that are later developed, a business model is created, and the project is introduced into the incubation program. By this stage, the business model has already been drafted, so PITT provides support in terms of fiscal, accounting, economic, and financial counseling. These incubation programs tend to last between two to three months, but the timeframe is contingent to the type of project that is going to be developed. Lasting approximately one year, the acceleration stage refers to companies that are already operational but wish to expand capabilities, at which point counseling and expert validation of internal processes is provided. The incubation stage also contains important subdivisions, including the basic incubation program, which is dedicated to traditional companies, the high technology incubation program, where companies are geared specifically toward that industrial sector, and incubation for social companies, including those with no guarantee of profitability. Companies are offered access to an impressive infrastructure and additional incentives such as collaboration opportunities with the innovative minds of the future.
During the entailment stage, collaborative programs are created to promote entrepreneurship or social service plans with companies that are already well-established. This stage also connects university professor companies so that they can develop ideas or products. Each company has the freedom to enter at any given stage of the development process. Even though the center has now reached 100% of its capabilities, demand has not increased to a level that forces the researchers to deny access to ideas during the incubation process. “During the acceleration and entailment stages, there is a need for physical space that leads to availability problems,” says Antonio Ríos, Director General of PITT. Consequently, PITT is considering expanding its capacity if the project proves to be a success among local companies and university students.
The center tries to promote the local market, but even though companies and individuals from other states and other countries are integrated in the program, it has set a record in that 2016 will be the first year in history when there will be a surplus of professionals. For this reason, Ríos foresees investment in Chihuahua increasing significantly. “If the surplus of professionals proves to be too high for recruitment into existing companies, those professionals may be able to start their own businesses,” he explains. “ITESM has signed an agreement with automotive and aerospace clusters because we want them to provide support to professionals, such as engineers, so they can be developed as suppliers.” PITT is capitalizing on the opportunity to channel engineers into the automotive cluster by the end of their college studies. As an additional incentive, the institute is developing a three-month training program within those clusters, where each student spends between eight to ten hours training every day in order to gain experience. Another program is being developed to incorporate a variety of universities within the state.
Students from each partnering institution will be able to use the facilities and laboratories of others in order to receive a fuller and more complete specialized education. “We already have the space, the people, and all the right labs but we must have the appropriate infrastructure if the program is to function properly,” states Ríos. In order to achieve this goal, the center’s main relationships come from Arizona State University and Oklahoma State University, both of which have prestigious research projects for the automotive industry. Additionally, PITT has entered into an agreement with MIT, and is currently developing some projects in conjunction with the university. Although initially aiming to remain within the remit of the automotive and aerospace industries, work is currently being developed on medical devices and nanotechnology, due in part to close relationships with CONACYT and the Investigation Center of Automotive Mechatronics (CIMA).
The center not only looks to innovate in terms of technology, but also in terms of teaching methods. In 2014, challenge projects were set for students, which comprised of the center’s staff reaching out to well-established companies like Ford and Visteon for information about challenges that OEMs had previously faced. This helped to prepare students on the methodology of problem solving for real situations. During the first half of 2015, PITT was given between 15-20 challenges by such companies, but is going ahead with the plan to have 100 further challenge projects for the beginning of its next phase at the end of 2015. These programs not only extend to automotive, but to all disciplines, helping greatly in the creation of a highlyqualified and innovative workforce for every sector of the Mexican economy