Proof of concept! A patentable innovation! Securing the next stage of support
“First of all, we need to prove the idea. We are making the parts and will then test our first actual prototype of an innovative rotary combustion engine.” According to the calculations of a local innovator from Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, this novel engine will be distinguished by a very high power-to-weight ratio, which could also ultimately run with hydrogen as fuel. This would offer unparalleled comparative advantages for application in a number of market sectors such as unmanned autonomous vehicles, marine propulsion, and gas turbines. Mladen Kostić, who is Chief Technology Officer the INTERA Technology Park is supporting this complex PoC project ‘RIC Engine’. To-date, a local investor was found for the design phase, a prior art patent search was carried out (yes, it seems patentable!) and the prototype is being produced as we speak with support from EU4TECH PoC . After this exciting phase, where the testing hopefully confirms the assumptions and the performance of the prototype is measured, the next stage of funding needs to be approached. “In order to develop a more advanced version with more functionalities, different materials and technological expertise are needed”, says Mladen. While he insists on taking one step at a time, it is obvious that higher investments will be needed. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, without a national innovation agency or dedicated innovation funds, this is more difficult than elsewhere. “People who innovate need to have a door to knock on to receive support for their ideas” asserts Mladen. “It is high time” for the country to develop more instruments and institutions.
It is indeed easier for innovators in other parts of the region. Mladjan Stojanovic, for example, is programme manager at the Serbian Innovation Fund, which now, 10 years after its establishment, can offer several programmes for start-ups as well as more mature R&D projects, including a Proof of Concept programme which was launched at about the same time as the EU4TECH PoC project. It helps early stage projects and leads them towards the more advanced stages providing financial support for experimentation and design work as well as mentoring and advice for the consolidation of IP ownership. Currently, there are 100 projects in the Serbian programme, with the first batch finalising and soon graduating to the next step. Grants are available for inventions developed in public research organisations to commercialise and transfer the technology to the private sector. The R&D happening at public research organisations “is sophisticated, riskier and more long-term. And teams are less aware of how to make products available”, Mladjan observed, “but researchers are really eager to make more out of their work, finding a place on the market”. Some projects have already been commercialised, so there are examples that demonstrate that inventions from R&D organisations from Serbia can be realised with support from the Innovation Fund. Serbia and North Macedonia with its fund, FITD, demonstrate that innovation support and dedicated grants and financing schemes are taken up strongly and have impact.
Montenegro is now also following suit: It legally established an Innovation Fund in September 2021 and an executive director currently being hired. Already in the past years, innovative projects were supported based on competitions launched by the Ministry of Economic Development, such as pre-acceleration programmes for start-ups and cluster development. Velibor Boskovic from the S&T Park also highlights work on innovative legislation which will bear fruits in the next years. “A lot is happening, but it could be more streamlined and systematic, the puzzle is not yet complete”, he finds. Cooperation between the national and international sources is also an important topic, as they are sometimes overlapping or leaving gaps.
In this light, the European Commission and regional stakeholders co-developed and launched the Western Balkans Innovation Agenda and the Economic and Investment Plan, and strive for synergies to be exploited under the focus of the green and digital (twin) transitions.
The rotary combustion engine from Bosnia and Herzegovina might be one of the contributions to greener aeronautics, vessels and more. As EU4TECH PoC comes to an end, it is to be hoped that this and other highly innovative projects will continue to move towards the market and not disappear due to a lack of further financial support or expertise.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: https://www.intera.ba/ and more about the RIC engine project: https://eu4tech.eu/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/EU4Tech-PoC-2021-46-RIC-engine.pdf
Serbian Innovation Fund: https://www.inovacionifond.rs
Support from Montenegro: https://www.gov.me/en/mek and https://www.ntpark.me