By Ali A. Jenabzadeh & Faranak Bakhtiari

Iran is pioneer in biotechnology, ICT, and artificial intelligence in region: VP

September 1, 2020 - 23:52

TEHRAN – Iran is playing the leading role in the region in the fields of fintech, ICT, stem cell, aerospace, and is unrivaled in artificial intelligence, Sourena Sattari, the vice president for science and technology, told the Tehran Times in an exclusive interview on Saturday.

He went on to say that in terms of biotechnology Iran is at the forefront by producing 24 biomedicines.

U.S. sanctions caused exports of knowledge-based companies to decline three years ago, however, it has returned to growth and is projected to reach the pre-sanctions level of more than $1 billion by the end of the current [Iranian calendar] year (March 20, 2021), he emphasized.

 Production of COVID-19 test kits

Referring to the domestic production of COVID-19 test kits, Sattari highlighted that some of the knowledge-based companies reached a production capacity of more than 200-300 thousand diagnostic kits per day.

Currently, 6 companies have been approved to produce these kits, and a newly-approved company recently was tasked with the production of 1.5 million kits, he added.

Pointing out that multiplying the production of COVID-19 equipment led to a significant foreign currency saving for the country, he said “it also helped us cope with problems and not to run out of equipment because no matter how much money we gave, no country had the equipment to sell.

“In such a condition, we were not only able to quickly adapt and produce all needed equipment, but to produce some manufacturing machines, and considerably reduce imports.”

He went on to emphasize that the country not only can fully meet its need for diagnostic kits, but there is a great export potential.

Export-oriented firms supported

“We have so far sent medical and self-protective equipment to many countries for fighting COVID-19,” Sattari said, adding, there are 30 centers in other countries to follow up on export confirmation, as some knowledge-based products take up to 10 years to receive export approval.

“So far, over six medicines have received export confirmation in Russia and are being exported, he noted, stating that, due to the complexities of exporting knowledge-based products, we have prepared plans to support export-oriented startups.

To support exporters, we pay up to 90 percent of the cost of obtaining standards and patent registration, the cost of registering products in foreign countries, as well as provision of significant financial assistance for participation in foreign exhibitions, in addition to granting them low-interest loans, and most importantly, we analyze export opportunities for the companies and help them find the proper export market. In other words, we provide them with comprehensive information,” he explained.

Students abroad highly supported to return

Unfortunately, there is not a large number of Iranian students abroad, only a total of 50,000 students, which is over 1 percent of our total student population, and this number is not satisfactory, but the quality of students abroad is good and that is why we have been working hard on policies to bring them back since the past four years, he stated.

Sattari went on to note that so far, more than 1,800 students have returned from the top 100 universities in the world, nearly 400 of whom have been graduated from the world’s top 20 universities. “Our supports are in the form of a different package of features, and we provide all the communications for them before they return.”

The return trend has intensified after the pandemic, previously 1.5 people returned to the country per day, but now it has reached more than 2 people, he highlighted.

There is another issue, for example, some students decide to return for a short period and hold various workshops and courses in universities and research centers, for whom we also provide financial support, Sattari noted.

Record sale of $28.5 billion

"Knowledge-based companies promoted a new culture in the country that does not have physical assets but generates millions of dollars through producing knowledge.

Fortunately, last year, companies achieved a record sale of 1.2 quadrillion rials (nearly $28.5 billion at the official rate of 42,000 rials), which is expected to increase by 40 percent this year.

To date, 42 knowledge-based companies with a total value of 2.8 quadrillion rials (nearly $66.6 billion) have been listed on the stock exchange and they will soon turn into the biggest businesses in the county," Sattari said.

Potential to produce eco-friendly cars

Car manufacturing has been a monopolized system and breaking it was not that easy, since the beginning, the country's car manufacturing was more of a factory or assembly system so that it has not been moving toward an innovative approach.

“But the most important thing in automobile production is a strong research and development department, and we are taking measures to help them produce some auto parts that have been previously imported, yet there would be no reform in the country’s car manufacturing industry.”

“We are working on smart and electric cars and two active sections are conducting research and development in this field, and we are seriously pursuing it.

Knowledge-based companies have the potential to produce eco-friendly cars, but it takes time to make changes in the industry.”

Dealing with environmental issues 

Pointing to the activities taken to counter environmental problems, Sattari stated that the firms have so far been developing advanced technologies to address different environmental issues, such as wastewater treatment, water purification, fighting sand and dust storms, alternative cultivation patterns, etc.

Hi-tech tackling environmental issues highly depend on environmental economics which is a sub-category of economics concerned with environmental issues. Particular issues include the costs and benefits of alternative environmental policies to deal with air pollution, water quality, toxic substances, solid waste, and global warming, he suggested.

Environmental economics emphasizes on strong sustainability and rejects the proposition that human-made (physical) capital can substitute for natural capital, he added.

“We can never have an environment-based economy if we do not price environmental problems, and the government must enter to tackle any issues, but when there is an economic solution, people will engage and the issue is solved sustainably.

For example, to control a sand and dust storm hotspot, if the government enters, it can solve the problem by mulching for a while, but if businesses enter, an economic aspect will be formed and they can generate revenue and counter the environmental problems.”

Knowledge-based economy is key to success

Referring to the vision for the next ten years, he said that “we are changing the orientation and attitude of universities, and they have changed dramatically in the last five years. The orientation of universities must be solving people's daily problems while earning a significant portion of their revenue from selling technological advances to industries.

“We win when the knowledge-based economy becomes the first economy of the country. If this happens, universities will also find their place in society. The difference between a creative and educated person and an ordinary one gets more clear. In a knowledge-based economy, the foundation of change is human, not underground resources,” he highlighted.

Sattari went on to emphasize that “we are vigorously developing technology centers and expanding all knowledge-based elements, concluding. We have made a serious change in science and technology, but in the next ten years, these changes must be evident in people's daily lives, more importantly, moving towards smart cities.”

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