When it comes to science and technology, Cyprus punches way above its weight. World-class research and innovative start-ups are firmly placing Cyprus on the global R&D map.
In recent years, Cyprus-based scientists have been responsible for some of the world’s most innovative experimental work – whether it is tackling the push factors behind mass migration, harnessing state-of-the-art technology to understand ancient civilisations, or pioneering techniques for the storage of renewable energy. Historically, research and development (R&D) in Cyprus has been minimal compared with the rest of Europe, but the trend has seen a complete reversal with the country’s renewed efforts to generate new models of economic development and foster know-how, innovation and start-ups.
Pioneering Scientific Research
The prestigious Cyprus Institute (CyI), the island’s leading science and technology research and educational institution, is at the forefront of much of today’s R&D coups. CyI’s longstanding collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on the development of solar-power and on monitoring climate change is well documented.
Less widely known, is its pioneering work in the relatively new field of heritage sciences. The institute’s Science and Technology for Archaeology Research Centre (STARC), brings together researchers from a broad subject spectrum including art history and archaeology, computer science, chemistry and physics, to preserve and understand cultural heritage.
More specifically, STARC employs bio-chemical-physical techniques to analyse works of art, ancient artefacts and archaeological discoveries. It has also led the way in the 3D documentation of heritage assets and the development of digital libraries. STARC’s contribution to this field was recognised recently with its designation as a regional partner in the newly established European Research Infrastructure for Heritage Sciences (RIHS).
Ending Water Poverty
Cyprus is about to take a leading role in an innovative EU-backed research project into water poverty and its impact on declining agricultural productivity. The €400 million Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area (PRIMA), seeks to develop sustainable systems of water management and food production in the Eastern Mediterranean – a region where around 180 million people are classed as ‘water poor’. The aim of the project is to find potential solutions to these problems, which may also help to resolve some of the resulting social issues, such as unemployment, rural poverty and mass migration.
Tapping into EU Funds
The Cyprus government has underlined its commitment to maximise the commercial potential of research and innovation, and for Cypriot enterprises to benefit from the knowledge transfer opportunities provided by EU-funded research initiatives. Today, there is a renewed impetus towards the development of such opportunities, and employers’ organisations and research consultancies are collaborating in efforts to capture more EU research funds. Over the past six years, Cyprus has spent nearly €80 million in EU funding for Cypriot-led research projects, but there is scope for this figure to increase if funding bids are further simplified and coordinated.
Harnessing Renewable Power
Cyprus R&D is also behind some particularly innovative work into the capture of renewable energy. The University of Cyprus’ FOSS Research Centre for Sustainable Energy recently secured a significant funding of €840,000 to further develop its remit in high-impact research ventures. Its first programme, called Generalized Operational FLEXibility for Integrating Renewables in the Distribution Grid (GOFLEX), will innovate, integrate, and further develop electricity smart-grid technologies. Its aim is to enable the cost-effective use of demand response in distribution grids, increasing the available adaptation capacity of the grid and safely supporting an increasing share of renewable electricity generation.
The University of Cyprus researchers had another scientific coup in 2016, when they identified an enzyme that controls ageing. The results are expected to be used to develop specialised medicines to slow down ageing and increase a healthy life expectancy.
Landmark R&D Project
Plans to launch Cyprus’ long-awaited Science and Technology Park (STP) in Limassol are gaining momentum. Under the terms of the public-private partnership, the government will cover the cost of installing €3.5 million of basic infrastructure, while investors will lease, develop and operate the park (ca 328,000 square metres) over a 50-year period. The aim of the project is to bring together foreign and domestic technology and communications companies, start-ups as well as science and technology departments of universities under one roof.
The planned STP will create applied research and development centres as well as office and support facilities, and promote business incubators to expand the range of opportunities for research and development investment. The tender notice was published in 2015 and has already garnered international interest. Cyprus also offers various incentives, such as tax breaks, greater flexibility in authorisation procedures, and easier application process for residence and employment permits. In addition, investors into the STP will have tax breaks for expenditure on acquiring patents or copyrights, buying shares in innovative businesses and start-ups, and additional breaks for the cost of buying fixed assets to be used in innovative operations.
Strong Entrepreneurial Spirit
Cyprus is fully aware of the importance of establishing creative partnerships between government, commerce and academic scientific research. Key players from each of these sectors are planning the establishment of a new kind of research centre branded RISE – short for Research into Interactive Media, Smart Systems and Emerging Technologies. The project involves academics from three public universities and the municipality of Nicosia, along with two international partners: the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrucken Germany, and University College in London.
RISE will con- tribute to the fostering of a strong entrepreneurial culture, one that encourages students and academics to develop their research in a user-focused direction, and harnessing innovation to solve real-world problems. The centre will be an incubator and accelerator for both established companies and start-ups, located within the old city of Nicosia. RISE is expected to be supported by a budget of around €40 million, with €15 million coming from the EU, another €15 million from the Cyprus government and the rest from other sources.
Top-Notch Nuclear and Space Tech
In further recognition of the island’s science and technology sector, two major European technology initiatives have partnered with Cypriot scientists. Cyprus is now an associated member of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), enabling its physicists to participate in meetings with CERN officials responsible for knowledge transfer and procurement.
The island’s exceptionally dry climate provides the perfect conditions for space observation. As part of its efforts to develop the fields of ICT and space technology into regional economic drivers, the communication ministry recently signed a landmark agreement with the European Space Agency (ESA), enabling Cypriot scientists to bid for agency funds worth €1.2 million for the development of innovative space technology services.
Although still in its infancy compared to neighbours like Israel, the Cyprus start-up landscape is rapidly developing and garnering accolades. The past few years have seen a leap in the provision of funding, support and mentoring opportunities to aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators. Start-up accelerators such as the Cyprus Business Angels Network, Cypriot Enterprise Link, Chrysalis Leap and Repower Cyprus have all boosted the environment, along with events such as Hack Cyprus Hackathons, the CleanLaunchpad Competition, as well as Startup Weekend and Startup Live. The ‘Big Four’ audit firms, such a PwC and KPMG, have also taken an active role in Cyprus to help build an ecosystem conducive for start-ups.
Despite the country’s rapid bounce back to economic growth, youth unemployment continues to be a serious challenge following the 2013 financial crisis. However, the silver lining is that it has also spurred more innovation in the ranks of the young. Home-grown talent and a burgeoning tech landscape have already launched some inspirational success stories to boost the sector. Clean tech is a rising theme amongst the younger generation of entrepreneurs, and Chrysalis Leap in particular has made its primary focus on fostering new products and services that ultimately help fight climate change.
Incentives for Innovators
In addition to Cyprus’ advantageous and cost-effective business operating environment, the country has also launched specific incentives for start-ups – with the rise of business angels and venture capitalists looking to invest risk capital in exchange for equity, in promising business ideas and products. Cyprus launched a new Start-Up Visa scheme, aiming to attract more international talent to establish innovative ventures with high-growth potential. There is still much progress to be made in establishing Cyprus as a veritable start-up hub, but with firm support from both government and the private sector, coupled with an expanding range of incentives, the country is taking firm steps in the right direction.
Investing in Knowledge
Renewed emphasis on research and development has resulted in the production of innovative research across a range of disciplines in Cyprus. Government and private sector investment, combined with careful strategic planning, has already produced impressive results in bolstering the island’s role as an ever-expanding knowledge hub.