i3D top rated polish company in 2012
Poland’s top-ranked company, software developer i3D, reported a whopping 2,254 percent growth over the past five years, according to the ranking. Yet a number of reports and statistics show that Poland lags in the innovation stakes compared to the rest of the European Union.
Interactive applications and 3D visualization
The firm i3D is specialized in the development of interactive applications and 3D visualization. As a result, the development team is made up mostly of the university’s scientists and students and the lines of communication between the academic institution and the company are always open. One of the visible results of this cooperation is the Virtual Reality Laboratory, established at the university in 2007. This one-of-a-kind facility in Central and Eastern Europe is used for academic purposes.
The company has also reached beyond the borders of Poland and has now signed a contract with IBM Deep Computing in Houston for joint research and development projects. According to a statement provided by the company’s press office, its involvement in projects for global giants such as Boeing, ExxonMobil or Saudi Aramco helped to build valuable know-how for the construction of objects in virtual reality, a skill which is hard to find among researchers in the region.
Virtual reality technologies
Application and hardware solutions produced by i3D take users to virtual worlds where historic sites, industrial equipment or even museum exhibits can be reconstructed. The company’s recent success can certainly be attributed to the rapid development of virtual reality technologies. The firm is hoping not just to benefit from this, but to set new directions and standards in the field.
Polish difficulties and opportunities
Of course, the picture isn’t all that rosy. The biggest barrier was to convince potential customers in Poland that it is time for a more modern approach. Even beneficiaries of the company’s laboratory at the Silesian University of Technology admit they were skeptical at first, although today they cannot imagine not having the technology available.
The CEO of the company also added that the matter of financing is always an issue. Joint projects with academic institutions are financed in part by the company, in part through EU subsidies. Some may require government aid, while in some cases external sponsors are involved. The problem today is that academic institutions in Poland do not have dedicated funding for independent projects and the financial puzzle needs to be put together every single time.
Yet despite these barriers, the company has no intention of changing its direction and has its plate full of new projects and innovative ideas.
Poland not so innovative?
The 2012 Global Innovation Index ranking, prepared by the World Intellectual Property Organization, ranked Poland as the EU’s third-least innovative economy in 2012, with worse results recorded only by Greece and Romania.
In parallel, the 2012 edition of the Technology Fast 50 Central Europe ranking from consultancy Deloitte features an impressive number of Polish companies. In fact, six positions in the top 10 of the list are held by businesses based in Poland.
A shift to innovation?
For the past 20 years, Poland has been very successful at building economic growth through attracting investments such as assembly plants or off-shore outsourcing centers. Those, however, require low production and labor costs – but those are gradually approaching EU averages in Poland. To compete, Polish companies must therefore focus heavily on innovation.
But in his recent book, “The Rebellion of the Net,” Edwin Bendyk, criticized the overall lack of interest Polish businesspeople have in innovative activities and in developing lasting relationships between the academic and business worlds. He places blame on the short-term vision of Polish business owners. The country’s private sector has until now been successful at developing simple products and services, in which the creativity of employees has lower priority than, for example, professional discipline or clear procedures.
There is no escape from a knowledge-based economy. While we can avert a discussion or difficult decisions, we will sooner or later face the challenges this new reality is bringing.
This is not to say, though, that Polish businesses and institutions have no desire whatsoever to develop innovative ideas. Take the case of VIGO System, a company which produced infrared detectors for NASA’s Curiosity rover, which is now exploring Mars. To get a jump-start on a new project involving the production of high-tech sensors, the company sought financing from banks. The procedure took over a year and although VIGO did receive the necessary funds, the time-sensitive project was seriously delayed.
The Institute of Electronic Materials Technology (ITME) discovered a new method to produce a one-atom thick film of carbon known as graphene, which was classified as one of the nine most interesting findings in the field in 2010-2011 by technology consultancy Future Markets.
The material is strong, transparent and conducts electricity, which could make it a perfect material for touch screens for smartphones. The CEO told Reuters how his institute has been trying for nearly two years to get state funding for equipment to help research the discovery. He also said his institute was barred by the Economy Ministry, which oversees it, from entering a joint-venture with a foreign investor to commercialize graphene. For now it seems the state does not really care.
The general opinion of experts involved in Polish science is that when Poland made its first steps to becoming a market economy two decades ago, few people were interested in investing in a research project when it was much easier to just import foreign technology. The direct effect is a system that fails to support innovation.
End of the tunnel?
But change may be on the way. According to recent data published by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, business spending on research and development has jumped by over 800 percent this year. The ministry explains that the leap in R&D expenditure comes as a result of recently implemented programs that encourage cooperation between business and academic circles.
The ministry itself is also contributing more. At a press conference at the end of October, Science and Higher Education Minister Barbara Kudrycka announced that the government plans to create a venture capital fund which would provide financing for Polish inventions. The program will be called Polish Innovations and aims to focus on providing financial support for private companies and institutions looking to introduce Polish technology to the market.
Do girls need special attention to science?
In response, some readers strongly refuted the notion that girls need the extra nudge. But according to Claude Steele, author of Whistling Vivaldi and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us, it’s not that girls aren’t necessarily interested in science and math, it’s whether they’re discouraged from following their interests because of the persistent stereotype that girls aren’t good at that sort of thing.
Claude Steele has examined this very phenomenon closely for years and has identified it as a stereotype threat. The issue is much more complex than the very basic tendencies of what naturally interests either gender. He pinpoints the problem to what happens after girls follow their interests in science and math studies, when inevitable obstacles come up. He says it’s a subtle but crucial mindset that can make the difference between a girl choosing to go into a STEM (for Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematic) field — or trying harder on a math or science test — and choosing not to.
Is Math a Gift?
Stanford researcher Carol Dweck, who wrote Is Math a Gift? Beliefs That Put Females at Risk, takes it one step further. Carol Dweck has researched the topic of stereotypes, natural aptitude, and how praising effort or intelligence can be harmful, and she’s come up with a thought-provoking conclusion.
She writes. “Can anyone say for sure that there isn’t some gift that makes males better at math and science? What we can say is that many females have all the ability they need for successful careers in math-related and scientific fields and that the idea of the ‘gift-that-girls-don’t-have’ is likely to be a key part of what’s keeping them from pursuing those careers.”
Where do these stereotypes come from?
Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, has also researched the phenomenon and says these detrimental stereotypes are enmeshed in our culture. “It’s pervasive in our cultural narrative,” he said at the Innovative Learning Conference. “‘I’m not this kind of learner or that kind of learner. I’m good at words, but not math.’… It’s a theory about how the world works.”
Societies without these stereotypes don’t impose the same burden, Claude Steele says, and as a result, there are a great deal more women engaging in science and math-based fields. “Poland, India, parts of Asia, where there are many more women participating in math and STEM fields, the stereotype is much weaker. The girls going into those fields don’t experience the same pressure they do in a society like ours where relatively few women participate in these fields. That strengthens the stereotype and the pressure they can feel.”
Where do these stereotypes come from? Cues from the environment that suggest there aren’t many women in this field, Claude Steele says. In short, a self-fulfilling prophecy. “The pictures on the wall don’t show many women as famous mathematicians,” Claude Steele says. “Examples used in math classes are more boy-oriented than girl-oriented.”
How to fix it?
It all comes down to our understanding (and thus, kids’ understanding) that it’s not about a fixed set of abilities, but about what can be learned. Carol Dweck observed in her study that, by the end of eighth grade, “there is a considerable gap between females and males in their math grades— but only for those students who believed that intellectual skills are a gift. When we look at students who believed that intellectual ability could be expanded, the gap is almost gone.”
If we as a society understand that ability is expandable and incrementable, and subject to deliberate practice, the impact of being stereotyped can be dramatically reduced, Claude Steele adds. Schools should practice this strategy, and parents should create an atmosphere at home that learning math and science can be as challenging for girls as for boys — and that the fun lives in solving the challenge.
At Techbridge, the after-school science and math program for girls, founder Linda Kekellis says the exposure to women role models has gone a long way in making careers in STEM fields a real possibility for students. She says more than 95 percent of girls believe engineering is a good career choice for women.
- Girls and math busting the stereotype (blogs.kqed.org)
- Chicks in Science inspires young girls in areas of STEM (billingsgazette.com)
- Don’t Be That Girl: Black Women And Stereotype Threat (madamenoire.com)
- Workshop shows girls beauty of engineering career (sfgate.com)
- Competitive Timed Tests Might Be Contributing to the Gender Gap in Math (theatlantic.com)
- STEM Sewing: The Merging of Art & STEM for Young Girls (prweb.com)