SMEs find ally in new S&T Chief

(First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sunday Biz, September 11, 2016)

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By Myrna Rodriguez Co

Change may have come at the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).  Not in the form of new, high-profile projects.  Nor of major organizational upheavals.  But rather in terms of quiet, deep-impact changes:  more resources to the regions, more sectors to be helped, and more focus on small enterprises and technology-based entrepreneurship..

New Science & Technology Secretary Fortunato T.de la Pena is an old hand in the Department, having served as Undersecretary from 2001 to 2014.  His familiarity with the territory enabled him to hit the ground running when he assumed the top post last July.

Thus, programs that worked well in the past will be continued.  The difference is wider regional and sectoral scope.

Secretary de la Pena also comes from the entrepreneurship development community, having been Director of  the UP Institute for Small-Scale Industries  (UP ISSI) and Executive Director of the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation (SERDEF).

He proposes to carry through this entrepreneurship orientation through intensified promotion of technology upgrading of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) for higher productivity and product quality.

“SMEs are high in the DOST priority list,” he says, “since we are aiming at faster development in the regions.  SMEs bring in income, employ people, participate in the value chain.”

DOST’s umbrella programs for small business are SETUP and MPEX.

SETUP is the Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program, designed to assist SMEs adopt technological innovations to improve their operations and raise their productivity and competitiveness,

Available under SETUP are manpower training, technical assistance and consultancy services, branding and packaging development.  SMEs can also avail of a seed fund for acquiring and upgrading equipment for up to P2 million under a refund without interest arrangement.

MPEX, which stands for Manufacturing Productivity for Productivity Extension, fields consultants to a company to do a productivity and operations audit.  They then recommend improvements in areas like capacity utilization.  This becomes a prelude to a SETUP intervention.

In the following interview, Secretary de la Pena discusses more of what SMEs can expect in terms of new scope, priorities, and approaches in S & T interventions:

What’s in store for SMEs?  What plans does the DOST have to intensify assistance to them?  

We will expand our coverage.  We would like to expand to new sectors other than what we traditionally cover like food processing, furniture, metals and engineering, gifts and houseware, aquaculture  and agriculture.  We would like to give stronger support for technology-based startups as well as continue assisting the graduates of SETUP in terms of training, new knowledge, and orientation to good manufacturing practices.

We now have a One-Lab Program for entrepreneurs and other clients in the region.  In Manila, we have different laboratory facilities – one for metal, another for food, for electronics, for textiles, and so on.  In the regions, these facilities are all in one center.  We make it easy for SMEs to have their products tested.  For example, an entrepreneur in Cagayan de Oro can submit a product and we take care of sending it to appropriate laboratories if the service is not available in the regional laboratory.  Results all go back to CdO for pick up by the entrepreneur.

We have already set up an e-market place for products for SMEs we have assisted and also for other SMEs. We will call this One-Store.  Once it is running well, we plan to turn it over to the private sector.

What are the challenges you anticipate as you pursue your mission to promote technology in the country?

Whatever new product or technology we develop through R&D, we hope that the sector concerned will pick it up.  This is not always easy. Our mission now is to maximize the utilization of R & D outcomes.

For example, we have a compendium of technologies and products we are trying to push for commercialization.  But we need other line agencies to roll them out to a wider market of technology users  These agencies are not only our promotional partners but are also themselves technology adaptors.

As an entrepreneurship development advocate, how do your propose to introduce the concept of entrepreneurship into DOST programs?

We want to maximize the generation of new and additional businesses.  The compendium I mentioned will be very helpful if it could be pushed and picked up by those who would be interested to make businesses out of the featured technologies.

For existing enterprises, we would like to capacitate them so they can meet standards and be able to take advantage of new market opportunities.

We will continue to help our inventors cross over from invention to commercialization.

We will also strengthen and expand our Technology Business Incubators (TBI) program.

Does government have enough resources for all these plans and programs?

According to the President, there will be sufficient resources for programs that will create significant impact.  In fact our budget in the 2017 National Expenditure Program has been substantially increased.

International or overseas development assistance also contribute to generating resources. Of course, there are favorite areas like disaster-risk reduction and nutrition.

Regional offices can also generate their own resources not necessarily in money but in expertise.

Are you going to be a conservative DOST  chief, as some quarters predicted you will be?

I am conservative in a way because I am very careful in using people’s money.  Also in  the sense that I utilize the advisory bodies of DOST when there are big issues —  the National Academy of Science and Technology and the Philippine Research and Development Council.  They help in assessing the situation to arrive at good decisions.

(For more entrepreneurship stories, visit the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation website at www.serdef.org.)

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