Juan Méndez
Director General
View from the Top

R&D Funding Must Come from Within

Thu, 09/01/2016 - 11:02

Q: How has a lack of private sector investment hampered research and what needs to be done to bring about change?

A: In developed countries, the public-private composition of investment in science and research is approximately 30:70. In Mexico, up to 75 percent of total investment in science and technology is offered by the state. This shows the private sector relies too heavily on the government to fund research initiatives. If the local industry hopes to grow, companies must provide more funding toward establishing patents instead of acquiring them or paying royalties to innovators. The local culture does not encourage Mexican companies to create their own research centers so we must transform this mindset. Foreign direct investment will not fill this gap. Change must be internal and state-motivated.

Q: To what extent is CIMAV focused on either applied or fundamental research?

A: We carry out both fundamental and applied research commissioned by CONACYT or other important bodies. Similarly, the center has been directly assigned projects by private companies to solve specific problems. The Program to Stimulate Innovation (PEI) manages MX$4 billion (US$235 million) so companies can subcontract our research services. The Research Center of Advanced Materials (CIMAV) is proud to have the second-most projects contracted thanks to this program. PEI projects awarded to our center totaled 177 over the last six years, catering to various industries.

Q: How does CIMAV ensure its study plans prepare students to cater to industry needs?

A: CIMAV has 205 staff members, two-thirds of which work in Chihuahua and the other third in Monterrey. We have 65 PhD graduates and offer five postgraduate programs in materials, nanomaterials, energy and environment. Two of these programs have demonstrated such quality that CONACYT awarded them the highest international ranking achievable. Our study plans are created according to international tendencies. The country must begin moving toward these trends to keep up with international competition, taking universities such as Stanford, Yale and MIT as inspiration for developing leadership. An encouraging number of trained professionals in Mexico hold Master’s Degrees and PhDs.

We are confident the human capital supply will support our center’s expected growth. In fact, qualified professionals outnumber spaces in the center.

Q: How will CIMAV expand to meet growing demand?

A: Our facilities will expand by 50 percent in the medium term thanks to a 12,000m2 development. We have reached 20 percent of the complex’s potential but more laboratories will be created and staff will be hired over the next five years to reach our full potential.

CONACYT offers CIMAV a fixed budget of MX$200 million (US$12 million), which we administer alongside an additional MX$100 million (US$6 million) generated by our internal activities. Our goal is to increase our own resource generation by 10-15 percent each year until we match CONACYT’s grant. Analytical indicators show we have the greatest quality, productivity and best fiscal resources as a ratio of generated revenue. The center has also moved toward creating more satellite branches, such as a recently opened location in Monterrey, which will work to the same standards as our Chihuahua center. We have our eyes set on Durango and have sent representatives to investigate the potential for a new center.

Through a consortium with the Research Center of Industrial Developments (CIDESI), three sister centers are allying to create a new branch specifically focused on advanced manufacturing. Although Tijuana and Guadalajara are potential locations, any expansion depends on funding. Abundant opportunities exist in Mexico but we are reliant on a stable economy and a steady increase in investment.

Depending on governmental circumstances and the legislative environment, we will either strengthen existing research centers or open more locations. We must adhere to our original mission and follow international standards of quality to be perceived as research leaders. We are one of the top three institutions of CONACYT’s 27 centers. Though CIMAV is only a medium-sized research center, we have aspired to and have achieved excellence in advanced material innovation.