04 May 2005

PRTEC Forum Surprises

Two more surprises emerged from the recent PRTEC (Puerto Rico TechnoEconomic Corridor) Forum. One is education-based; the other is a creative endeavor with great promise.

The University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez is expanding its Biotechnology Program, launched in 1997. Under the leadership of Dr. Rosa Buxeda, the Program is not only reaching out to commercial and industrial interests, it is also forging links to research and biotech facilities in the Western Hemisphere.

Two examples of the new scientists are Rosa and Carmen. Rosa is a sophomore from Villalba, a small town riven by long-term unemployment. Despite limitations other towns in Puerto Rico seldom see, Villalba has a strong science education program in its schools, testimony to the power of dedicated teachers.

Carmen is from San Juan and is on track to complete two Bachelor of Science degrees, in Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. Her passion for research is fueled by practical applications, not abstract conceptualizations limited to textbooks.

At the university level, women have long taken over as the dominant force, with higher graduation rates and total numbers in many fields. Hard sciences--biology, chemistry and physics--are one of the few bastions left where men can claim "superiority," but it's only a matter of time before that misconception, too, gets trampled into dust.

Using the concept of "innovation studios," Dr. Brian Thompson, Canadian, and Dr. Jaime Ramírez, Puerto Rican, are developing a model to combine academic and research resources with practical business applications to help create new products, services and opportunities.

For those familiar with IdeaLab, a similar "business innovation" project out of M.I.T. that once rode very high and has recently suffered the backlash of the dot-com implosion, the studio concept of Dr. Thompson and Ramírez has more of a "problem" focus than an "incubator" focus. It is designed to be a free-flowing work environment with clear goals, combining the "amorphous power" of creative and interdisciplinary brainstorming with an ultimate focus on "the bottom line."

Of the two surprises, the Biotech Program is the big winner at present, with a new facility on track for completion in 2007. The dynamo at the heart of this growth is Dr. Buxeda, a woman who simply refuses to take "no" for an answer. For the innovation studio concept to work, flexible and insightful minds must gather together to launch and sustain it. Fortunately, Dr. Thompson has established a similar project in Canada and Dr. Ramírez brings a decade of Silicon Valley experience to the (sadly barren) local table.

These three professionals are making a difference. Many others are too. Let's not forget that Truth as We shake Our heads and sigh when perusing the paltry present: it is these people--We self-selected few--who will truly make the difference in Our Future.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

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