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Fikri Işık

TURKEY - Industry

Flight to Innovation

Minister of Science, Industry, and Technology, Turkey

Bio

Fikri Işık was born in 1965. He received his Bachelor’s degree from the Department of Mathematics Education at the Middle East Technical University and went on to work as a Mathematics and English teacher at various private schools in Izmit and Istanbul. He also has experience in the private sector, working as a manager in the food industry. He became a Member of the Executive Board and Deputy-Chairman responsible for R&D issues at the provincial organization of the AK Party in Kocaeli on October 20, 2001. In 2003, he became Head of the Provincial Organization of the AK Party and served in the post for four years. He was elected to parliament as the Kocaeli Deputy in the 23rd and 24th terms. Between 2007 and 2013 he served as Regional Coordinator and Deputy-Chairman of the AK Party Central Organization, and was then elected Head of the Commission for National Education, Culture Youth, and Sports of the Turkish Grand National Assembly and served for one year at this post. He is currently the Minister of Science, Industry, and Technology.

"Our Ministry has determined supporting and improving R&D and innovation activities as its duty and prime field of activity."

The importance of innovation and technology for propelling Turkey’s economy forward has been clearly recognized by the current government. What programs or initiatives from the Ministry to increase the country’s technological capacity have seen the most success?

Our Ministry has determined supporting and improving R&D and innovation activities as its duty and prime field of activity in order to develop the technological capacity of the country. These activities are being supported by the many programs we have implemented. In this context, our Ministry is actively carrying out support programs such as technology development zones (TGB), an industrial thesis program (SAN-TEZ), R&D centers, a techno-entrepreneurship capital support program, and other support programs aimed at increasing visibility and encouraging marketing. Our Ministry not only provides infrastructure support for TGBs, which are established within or nearby universities as a platform-hosting collaboration between the university and industry, but also provides support and exemptions for the companies, entrepreneurs, and academics operating within the TGBs. A project contract is signed between the Ministry and the companies that carry out projects within the scope of the SAN-TEZ, which is implemented with the aim of institutionalizing public sector-industry-university collaboration and increasing R&D performance in the country in case the project is considered eligible for support by the Evaluation Committee. While projects are supported within the scope of the program at a rate of 75%, the cost of the remainder is covered by the enterprises themselves. Enterprises that perform R&D activities within the country carry out their innovation programs with a defined subject, duration, budget, and personnel requirements and employ at least 50 R&D personnel, becoming certified as R&D centers by the Evaluation Committee. These enterprises also benefit from the incentives and exemptions stated in the law. We have launched the techno-entrepreneurship capital support program in order to transform the business-related and technology- and innovation-oriented ideas of qualified young people into enterprises that create value-added and have the potential to create qualified employment, thus stimulating the culture of entrepreneurship. We grant a maximum TL100,000 a year to the entrepreneurs considered to be worthy of gaining support within the scope of Law No 5746. We also provide support for local enterprises in our country within the Technological Product Advertisement and Marketing Program in order to introduce and market the technological products that are developed as the result of R&D activities.

How would you assess your current position in the country’s ongoing e-transformation process, and what are the main obstacles that Turkey must still overcome?

An e-transformation generally enables information and communication technologies to be used more intensively in the exchange of information, services, and goods between public institutions and organizations and individuals and enterprises, while providing faster, more productive, and cost-efficient works and transactions. For a successful implementation of the e-transformation process, it is important to collect all public data in a single center.

“Our Ministry has determined supporting and improving R&D and innovation activities as its duty and prime field of activity.”

As Turkey’s energy demand grows, what role will technological advancements play in increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the country’s energy generation and distribution matrices?

Due to its geopolitical position and scientific, technological, and industrial development potential, as well as its fast growth and growing population, our country will have to increase its energy supply. It is crucial that the country’s energy investments take the lead in meeting the energy demands of the market and of households. Considering the share of energy costs in our country’s current account deficit, its importance in industrial production, and its role in global conjuncture, energy efficiency is the most significant actor in this field, along with diversification, localization, and cost reduction. It is crucial to make energy savings and ensure energy efficiency in all fields, from primary energy supply to consumption, in order to be able to be globally competitive. The role of technology in energy savings cannot be ignored, and the latest technological improvements ensure the best energy preservation. There are several measures being taken in order to ensure energy savings, such as the transfer of electricity distribution and generation lines underground and the use of aluminum cables instead of copper cables. Effective and efficient energy production and consumption should be one of the main goals of our country.

How is the Ministry working to implement the Smart Cities concept in Turkey?

Turkey aims to carry out its development goal of increasing social welfare and increasing its industrial sector to a level at which it can be competitive in the international arena. This paves the way for a considerable increase in energy demand. It is estimated that this tendency will continue to increase in the following years in our country, which aims to become one of the top-10 economies in the world by 2023. It is anticipated that the problems regarding energy production and consumption will decrease through the introduction of advanced technological solutions like smart grids. A smart grid can be defined as a smart electric grid that coordinates the behavior and activities of all stakeholders to ensure more reliable, economic, and safer electric services. Smart grids are integrated systems that provide situation analysis, prevent power cuts through automatic scaling systems, control overloads and fault conditions, and regulate energy consumption and loss. Considering the fact that approximately TL100 billion is clocked on utility meters used by subscribers annually, a great amount of electricity could be saved through the prevention of energy loss. Furthermore, the use of smart grids will catalyze energy production from natural resources such as sun and wind, and decrease the use of environmentally hazardous and extraneous fossil fuels like petrol and natural gas. The First International Istanbul Smart Grid Congress and Exhibition (ICSG 2013) was held by the Ministry of Science, Industry and Technology on May 9-10, 2013 in Istanbul with the participation of PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in order to introduce the latest developments in smart grid systems in our country and in the international arena and to determine a road map for the period ahead. More than 1,200 local and foreign participants attended the ICSG 2013. Several sessions on smart grids, as well as a comprehensive panel, were held during the two-day congress, while local and foreign companies exhibited their products at the fairground. The Second Istanbul International Smart Grid Congress and Exhibition (ICSG 2014) will be organized at the WOW Hotel Congress and Exhibition Hall in Istanbul on May 8-9, 2014. It is estimated that the event will make a huge contribution to the more rational management of increasing energy demand in the world, as well as related policies and strategies on smart meters, smart facilities, and automation systems. With this event, we intend to create a more effective, powerful, and prestigious Turkey on the global platform by upgrading to a smart meter system in the direction of our country’s 2023 strategic vision. There are 36 million electric meters, 23 million water meters, and 10 million gas meters in our country. The Utility Meters Commission (SAYKOM) was established within the body of our Ministry upon the publication of the relevant legislation in the Turkish Official Gazette No. 28,603 dated March 30, 2013. Technical working groups were established within the body of the commission with the participation of the representatives of related public institutions, associations, universities, and importers and exporters. As a phase of upgrading to smart meters in 2014 in accordance with Vision 2023, activities are ongoing in several areas, such as the setting of minimum criteria for electric meters, gas meters, water meters, as well as for communication equipment and criteria for data security and interoperability.

In 2013, Turkey saw many international companies establishing or expanding their R&D centers in the country. How would you characterize the level of foreign interest in Turkey as an R&D base?

Economic growth and a positive environment has triggered an increase in foreign investment. Many of these investments have been made in the field of R&D. Within the scope of Law No. 5746, companies that carry out R&D activities in the country, employ at least 50 full-time equivalent personnel, and fulfill several other requirements, are certified as R&D centers. These enterprises also utilize other incentives and exemptions. This law also directly aims to attract foreign investment to the country. Around 26 of the 153 currently active R&D centers have foreign origins.

How is the Ministry working to reverse the effects of brain drain and increase Turkey’s domestic human capital?

The political determination of the government concerning the fields of science, technology, and innovation over the last decade has reflected on science and technology indicators, which are also internationally recognized. Legal regulations, along with the support and exemptions that we have recently put into force in the national and public innovation system, have primarily had an impact on the share of R&D expenditures in GDP. This rate, recorded at 0.48% in 2003, has increased to 0.92% as of 2012. The budgets of public institutions and organizations providing R&D and innovation support mechanisms have increased year after year. The budgets of support programs implemented by the Ministry of Science, Industry, and Technology have also increased day by day, while new support programs have been added to existing programs, particularly with the aim of boosting the commercialization of technological products in order to meet requirements. This increases the amount of R&D expenditures. Also, the Ministry is taking steps to increase the share of the private sector in R&D expenditures and enable the private sector to invest in R&D. Exemptions and incentives provided for R&D centers and technology development zones are the primary elements that foster private sector growth. Our country needs a qualified workforce to increase the industrial profile of low and medium-low technology to such an industrial level whereby these enterprises can produce high value-added products and exports. We need to keep the human resources required to create value in sectors within the high and medium-high technology class and to introduce sustainable success in these fields. This is key to countering the loss of qualified people who went abroad for education in these fields over the past years. Our Ministry has been organizing Target Turkey Workshops for the past four years through the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) in order to bring back scientists to Turkey. There are also Europe-based works in addition to US-based ones. The last Target Turkey Workshop was held in Berlin. Furthermore, Law No. 2232, pertaining to the returning-home research fellowship program, is intended to accelerate the process of reverse brain drain, especially for Turkish citizens who have research experience in the fields of natural sciences, engineering and technology, social and human sciences, medical sciences, and agricultural sciences, and thus enable them to continue their studies in Turkey. Within the scope of this program, researchers are granted a monthly scholarship of TL3,250 for two years and researchers working for universities and units of public R&D units are granted research support up to TL30,000. Hence, all of our efforts have provided the desired results, and 248 researchers have returned to the country while 717 scientists have temporarily studied in Turkey for joint works.

What are the Ministry’s goals and expectations for 2014?

We intend to support well-grounded economics by developing our technology and products in the fields that have significant impact on the foreign trade deficit and by creating an industry that is based on R&D and innovation. We have already embedded the issue of the technological transformation of companies into the policies of the Industrial Strategy. We wish to empower our presence in the world markets with high value-added technologies and competitive trademarks through supporting R&D and innovation. In this direction, we form and support interfaces that will contribute to the development of cooperation and the infrastructure required for innovation, while also intending to enable our society and industrialists, including SMEs and large-scale corporates, to be more innovation orientated. Moreover, we wish to carry out our activities effectively by conducting some studies like impact analysis in order to see to what extent our support programs have reached their goals.

© The Business Year – February 2014

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