Sunday, May 31, 2009

TABCON 2009, a Success

TABCON is the annual gathering for the Turkish-American business community in Silicon Valley. The event is organized by TABC (Turkish American Business Connection). This year's TABCON(the 5th one) was successfully held yesterday at Parc 55 Hotel in San Francisco.

Among the several hundred attendees were representatives of high profile organizations such as Istanbul Chamber of Commerce (ITO) and Turkish Ministry of Defence, as well as successful Turkish American entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley. Ali Kutay, one of the greatest Turkish American success stories in The Valley was presented with a well-deserved outstanding achievement award. Mr. Kutay has been in key hi-tech management positions including his experience as CEO of WebLogic, the company that pioneered the application server technology that became one of the major building blocks of web-enabled applications. WebLogic later merged with BEA Systems.

I was personally honored to contribute to the event as the moderator of the general session panel titled: "Comparison of Strategies for Technological Advancement in Developing Economies. Why Some Countries Succeed and Others Fail?" We had a colorful discussion on this crucially interesting topic with panel participation from Vish Mishra of Clearstone Ventures and Dr. Arnold Reisman - the prolific author of "Turkey's Modernization - Refugees from Nazism and Atatürk's Vision".

I set the stage with an introductory presentation comparing and contrasting the nation states of India, China, Turkey, Israel, South Korea and Germany based on what I deemed were key metrics explaining each nation's current standing in the race for technological advancement. Borrowing to some extent from the National Innovative Capacity model of Harvard Business School's Global Competitiveness Report published in 2002, I also provided a conceptual framework tying these metrics together in order for the audience to see the big picture.

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Dr. Reisman's speech put in perspective the historical trajectory Turkey has followed in adopting new technologies through technology transfer. His conclusion is that the Turkish industrialization experience has taken a "licensing on a turnkey basis" approach to technology transfer resulting in meager demand for local technical innovation, which in turn has intensified the Turkish brain-drain.

Following through with Dr. Reisman's views, Vish Mishra gave the audience more color on the topic based on his experience with the Indian software miracle. He credited nurturing state policies starting with Rajiv Gandhi's rule and the strong tradition of India's technical universities that benefited from what Vish referred to as the "best thing the Brits left behind in India: The British education system".

Despite some serious catching up to do on Turkey's behalf, there are however signs of a more proactive approach being adopted by the Turkish government and (perhaps to a lesser extent) by Turkish private industry to help nurture local R&D as more resources are being diverted to the effort. To date there are few success stories that stand a chance to make international headlines, but then again few countries have been able to get right the alchemy that produces Google's and Cisco's on a consistent basis. The complex interactions between the policy environment, the connective tissue of research organizations and venture capital firms along with the specialized subject matter industry clusters make systematic innovation "a long term challenge", that can not be easily fast-cycled but can be rather quickly disturbed -- especially in the presence of policy actions damaging much needed incentive structures (e.g. IP protection, R&D tax credits etc.). Indeed, innovation remains this most delicious and nutritious fruit of a very delicate and notoriously difficult to grow tree. Happy gardening to all of humanity on that front :)

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