The Chancellors, Vice Chancellors, Presidents, Vice Presidents, and other representatives of the University Incubators Consortium pose before the press conference on May 27, 2024 at Citystate Asturias Hotel. (PN photo)

The 2024 University Incubator Consortium (UNIIC) Ideathon, which took place on May 27-28 at Citystate Asturias Hotel, provided a venue for students from 17 universities around Southeast Asia, India, and South Africa to showcase their STEM-focused startup ventures.

Through the efforts of their respective universities, the students’ innovations are wholly theirs, subject to their country’s own intellectual property laws.

The UNIIC Ideathon 2024 combined school-based incubators, which were named after the program’s unique approach to support from higher education institutions (HEI). Students, mostly undergraduates who studies at the institution, but might also be independent entrepreneurs from outside the HEIs who joined the program, would create inventions and business ideas in science and technology with the HEI’s funding and support.

Dr. Angelina Yee Seow Voon of Asia Pacific University of Technology and Innovation, the consortium’s founder, stated that the UNIIC’s purpose was to organize the activation program for the 156 participants who had prepared for the physical demo day in Palawan by participating in a series of online Ideathon events.

“We also come together in the undertaking of joint research and innovations. We support our students’ products and hope that they can actually scale around to the next level. (…) This is an opportunity for our students to picture the idea and hopefully they can have a startup someday, and hopefully they can become a unicorn,” Yee added, mentioning the term used to define the rarest startup companies – privately-owned business ventures valued at 1 billion dollars. Examples of these unicorns include SpaceX, Discord, and Grammarly, among others.

The participants came from seven countries, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, India, Cambodia, and South Africa. The UNIIC Ideathon 2024 itself held competitions among those students pitching their startups, ranking them within various categories called “verticals”, including climate action, smart cities, health and wellness as well as food innovation and agriculture.

Local IP law
Dr. Ma. Josefina Abilay, regional director for the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in Mimaropa, shared that the consortiums’ incubators provided funding and support for these students, who “graduate” from their respective incubator programs once their ventures become self-sustaining.

However, Abilay noted that they would still be affected by laws on intellectual property, which operate on a 60-40 split between the university and the student, whose innovations were brought about due to the help or funding of the HEI.

“In the Philippines, according to the law it is the university who owns the intellectual property [of the innovation], but there is another part of the law, that the new technology- and the technology can be a process, a product or any system wherein the researcher or the student will have a bigger share. That’s as far as the Philippines is concerned,” she noted.

Abilay also stated that once the products or innovations are taken beyond national borders, they will also be registered in different countries, subject to different intellectual property rights (IPRs) wherever they are shipped.

This was affirmed by Dr. Venusmar Quevedo, vice president of Adamson University, who shared that they changed the IP ownership (IPO) split policy for their students.

“Because our technology is commercialized, not only in limited areas but all over the Philippines. The guideline in general is 60-40, 60 goes to the university who owns the IP, 40 goes to the vendor. But in Adamson we reversed it, we awarded 60%. Now it’s already 70 percent to the inventors because we would like to encourage them and the rest goes back to the university which goes back to research and innovation,” Quevedo shared.

“As to the sharing in royalties, that is the negotiation between the students because we also commercialize the logos and trademarks, and not just the inventions… knowing that they get so much from their inventions, this is helping our culture of innovation and research to prosper and become dynamic,” she said.

International investments and policy
IP laws vary across the other members of the consortiums. Dr. Madhu Chitkara, co-founder and pro chancellor of Chitkara University stated that their HEI does have control of the IP, but the stakeholders’ share for the royalties was much more liberal.

“When it comes to the national admission stage, 90% of the stake goes to the student, (…) 90% goes to them, and 10% goes back to the university,” she said.

Chitkara also mentioned their HEI’s practice of letting their incubators figure out their own financial management.

“Once they have the venture capitalists there, and the students took funding in Indian money. (…) It is too early to get the funding, because the students become very excited when the venture capitalists come since this is the time they get the funding for them. We take that funding, because suggesting [a student] not to do that as they were still pitching his idea. But after the kid was in travel, and he again came to the university and he said that (…) they used the money less,” Chitkara said.

Afterwards, the excess money was given back to the investors and the student concentrated on the business. “It is an incubation that’s for the student, if our child is not comfortable with the budget, we always handle their check.”

Dr. Rajeshwari Armugam, principal of the Coimbatore Institute of Technology, noted that their HEI had a different policy.

“The students in India either have 50-50 or 60-40 [IP ownership], depending on what bedrock is their design in, so the share is between both the college as well as the incubators,” she added.

However, some universities had a looser IP policy than their regional neighbors, as Dr. Leng Phirom, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Cambodia Technology University noted.

“In Cambodia we don’t really have a policy about IP yet, the government gives more property to HEIs due to innovation (…) We also might [update the policy] as the years go on, depending on the actual integration of the university, and the faculty members, and the students. I think this is good especially within the context of digital technology development,” he said.

Phirom also added that their country’s policies made it a better spawning ground for speedy technological developments.

“My observations when I came in and just landed, I had to find a Malayan exchange because I went to carry the cash and coins. In Cambodia now, you only need cellphone. We just go on and scan and pay. I think that is the benefits of not having so any policy and regulation we can allow, we have the flexibility and weakness, we go very fast in terms of financial technology. Even when you go buy a coconut on the street, you just scan and pay.”

Technology-business incubation
Incubation does not stop once the students graduate. Chitkara shared the experience of one of their students’ business growth.

“That particular group of incubation was in the field of hospitality. The product was in the market before 2020, so when the pandemic happened there was a problem with this product and we had to really help that particular incubatee for a tender point. Now, 2023, he is self-sufficient and he has 22 outlets across the country,” Chitkara said.

Divya Mohana Kanumilli, Coordinator at Coimbatore Institute of Technology impressed the importance of the consortium members’ sharing resources and investors.

“Global village, so sharing resources should be about them. I think the most possible communication is that we can help to raise the resources of other universities as well with their angel investors. It’s not that it’s supposed to model, it innovates, (…) they will support the student who has the good idea. (…) I think colleges all around the world will be very much helpful to the students when it comes to the resource exchange and I think students signing into the exhibition is an example of that,” Kanumilli remarked.

Dr. Murali Raman, professor and deputy vice chancellor of Asia Pacific University closed the round by emphasizing the importance of the HEI’s support with these students.

“The sustainability of an institution in producing the number of an incubator is also a function of how fast a child can survive on its own. It’s not meant to just grow there and grow there until there is no more incubatees left in the organization. The mode of the chair now is connecting themselves with other funding agencies, co agencies to get the startup initiatives integrated into the ecosystem of the country. That’s how we have success,” Raman said.

“But they should not be left in the cold, they must be stable. You are now graduated, you no longer need the support of an incubator. You are well established, go on and have fun,” he said.