Qatar has officially opened its US$800 million science park, hoping to attract start-up enterprises in the fields of energy, environment, health sciences, and information and communication technology.
The park, in capital city Doha, provides premises and support for technology-oriented businesses. So far six local and 15 international companies have signed up, whose research will include the assessment of solar energy technologies and stem cell therapies.
"The inauguration is a powerful signal of the ambition that this small but pivotal country has for a high-tech, post-carbon future," says James Wilsdon, director of the Science Policy Centre at the Royal Society, United Kingdom.
The park has an innovation and technology transfer centre and an emerging technology centre, which aim to encourage the transfer of technology, knowledge and skills to technology-based companies, and incubate start-up enterprises.
The park will also provide grants of US$100,000–500,000 to Qatari researchers to move innovations from the laboratory to commercialisation, and a US$30 million fund will support international organisations and entrepreneurs to commercialise their technology in Qatar.
"The Qatar Science and Technology Park is an integral part of Qatar's National Vision 2030, which aims to transform Qatar into one of the world's most advanced countries within two decades," says Abdul Sattar Al-Taie, director of the Qatar National Research Fund and a member of the Qatar Foundation.
"It will take time for their vision to translate into a vibrant, sustainable reality, but have no doubt — Qatar is serious about science, and it will be a place to watch closely over the next 10–15 years," says Wilsdon.
But Tarek Saif, a researcher at Egypt's National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries and a consultant on private sector investment in science and technology, says that oil-rich gulf states should be tackling their scientific workforce shortage by establishing world-class institutions, not "spending money in creating palatial parks built by foreign construction companies for the benefit of western companies and managed by imported researchers".
The park is part of the Qatar Foundation, created in 1995 to improve Qatar's educational, scientific and social infrastructure. It has been partially operational since 2004 and the inauguration this month (16 March) marks the official opening of its new campus.