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Stated by the Vice President for Science and Technology Affairs in an Interview with Hamshahri:

Return of elites due to the flourishing of startups

According to the public relations and information center of the Vice-Presidency for science and technology affairs,the detailed interview of Hamshahri newspaper with Sorena Sattari, the vice president for science and technology affairs, is presented below:

Hamshahri: it is extremely difficult to find a time for interview with Sorena Sattari, the vice president for science and technology affairs, in the middle of his great number of meetings and lectures. Aged 46 years, Sorena Sattari is also the president of the national elites foundation. Therefore, many young adults and activists of the startup area are familiarized with this name. There are some fighter aircraft models in his office, for which he has received the number one sign of art from the Supreme Leader, reminding the memory of his father to most of the people. Over the past five years, Sorena Sattari has dedicated extensive efforts to support knowledge-based economy. Something that he was made fun of in the beginning of the road. Since 2013 that Sorena Sattari with a PhD in mechanical engineering from Sharif University of Technology has been allocated this position, he has prioritized the support of creativity and innovation, opposing the injection of money earned from selling oil and raw crudes many times. Exclusive interview with Hamshahri criticizes inaccurate measures taken by various sections, whether in economy or industry. Sattari pointed out that traditional businesses are doomed to failure against startups unless they are willing to adjust themselves to the new environment. He rejected the odd statistics on brain drain and stated that the proper startup ecosystem is the most important solution for return of elites to the country.

Various statistics exist on emigration of Iranian students or, better put, higher education. Some express their concern about this issue. Do we have accurate and precise statistics on the level of exit of students from the country?

There has been great tyranny to the country due to the presence of inaccurate statistics on emigration. I always try to talk about this issue while relying on foreign resources. We also assess the number of students in the national elites foundation every year, for which a new report will be soon published. In the beginning of the Islamic revolution, there were 170 thousand students in the country and 100 outside the country. It means that more than 30% of Iranian students were studying abroad. From the 100 thousand students outside the country, 57 thousand individuals were in America. In other words, the Iranian students of that time were the largest foreign colony of America. Today, we have four million and 700 thousand students, 48 thousands of whom are studying abroad. It means that one percent of 57 thousand Iranian students in America has reduced to 10 thousand and 500 individuals. We have been ranked 13th in terms of the number of students in America. On the other hand, China has 330 thousand students and Saudi Arabia has five times more students than Iran in America. Generally, the main destination of our students are America, Canada and Australia. Statistics on this issue are not hidden, and all of the statistics exist on emigration websites.

Statistics of this issue are also clear and all the statistics, for example in the emigration websites, are available. In the years 2010-2015, the total emigration from Iran was estimated at 135 thousand individuals, meaning that a mean of below 30 thousand individuals have emigrated from Iran in a year (the whole family, including, children and parents). A part of these individuals are students. Should we really be concerned with the exist of this number of students? Our main issue with the emigration of students is not that they leave the country. Emigration itself is not a bad phenomenon and must actually happen for the country. It is impossible not to exchange with foreign educational systems. In agriculture, if you completely close a garden, it will be destroyed after a while. There must be exchanges and it must be even expanded. There must be a condition for our students to come and go. Our main issue is their permanent residence in foreign countries. It means that they leave and never come back. The main goal of the elites foundation in the past few years has been the return of elites and top talents to the country. Today, more than one thousand individuals have returned to the country. For a year, our emphasis has been on 100 top universities of the country. Our main issue is not financial support even though small amount of financial resources has been spent on this area. It is important to be able to provide a network for our children outside the country, so that they are able to come and hold workshops and lectures. Our goal has been the occurrence of rotation of brains in the world. The only issue might be the fact that most of those who leave the country for higher education never return to their homeland. Many are concerned with the fact that most of our elites become residents of other countries instead of being a help for the country.

The fact is that Iran lacks a proper condition regarding the percentage of return of elites. If we specifically talk about America, we see that it has the highest settlement rate. The percentage of settlement of engineering students in this system is the highest and around 65%. In general, 65% of foreign PhD students in fields of engineering and basic sciences have been remained in America. This number is 23% for Taiwanese. This number is 85% for Chinese and a little higher than that for Iran. This problem must be solved by providing the foundation for return of these individuals to the country. The issue is not money. The most important return platform for our children is startups. I can name many people who have been among the Iranian elites and returned to the country, especially for startups. We could not use these individuals in our academic system, so that they could be faculty members. We have elites who return to the country and work in startups even with annual income of 600 thousand dollars. Our business environment must be corrected. This is our conflict with the traditional environment.

Do you think the new business environment and startups can solve this problem?

Look at the management of taxi management organization and see who was the manager of this department in the past and who is responsible here today. This environment is constantly being corrected. Those selected as the head of these departments are our elites, those who came first on the entrance exam of university and Olympiads of the country. It is the new business environment that leads to the return of students; an environment with the economy based on the brain and intelligence of human beings. This is the only way to return our elites to the country. They will not return because of money and we need to acknowledge their worth. Those returning to the country have received 20-30 billion IRR from America. Most of them have received scholarships. In contrast to Saudi Arabia, 35-36% of our students have received full funds. In addition, most of them have worked in Google, IBM, Microsoft and Uber. It means that they have brought an important science to the country, which is the basis of future economy. 

So, you think we have an almost favorable situation in this area?

We have had a rate of emigration of students, sometimes high and sometimes low. However, the sum of this amount is extremely below the total number of our students. It means that we have 10 thousand and 500 students in America, which is very low. This is not an acceptable rank in my opinion. I say why are there no more students in America? Having just 48 thousand students outside the country is very low.

Therefore, leaving the country and studying abroad is not a problem and you even welcome this issue. So, what is the issue of brain drain that has been discussed for many years?

The issue is not leaving of students. We need to create a structure for our students to come and go. It means that they bring knowledge to the country. This does not mean brain drain, which has been turned into a political issue instead of scientific issue. Why this was not the case when 30% of our students were studying abroad? We need to consider this issue from the scientific aspect. No one says this phenomenon does not exist. However, it must be evaluated according to accurate and precise statistics. We need to increase our exchanges. Our scholarships have been significantly limited since the issue of brain drain has been turned into a political matter. Yes, what is the problem of having some students abroad? We need to create the foundation for students to come and go and cooperate with other countries. We can reach the normal index of the world when we have two-three times more students outside the country.

Do you mean that we can hope that progress in this area will reduce the time our students stay in foreign countries?

You see, in the past, the Silicon Valley only existed in California. Now it exists in Bangalore of India, Suzhou and Beijing. This is because of the return of elites to their own countries, which has made problems for America. Currently, it has been emphasized in one of the foreign policy strategies of Trump that this country restricts the entrance of foreign students since they obtain the knowledge of this country and return it to their own country. In the past, students would not return from America. Today, this process has been reversed. Today, most of the power of America is related to its technological companies. Today, no one is proud about their industry of metal, cement or petrochemical in the world. Everyone talk about their expertise in tech areas. Many high-tech companies in the America have foreign CEOs and founders.

However, there is a great concern about the elites with high intelligence, who have existed the country and never came back. An example would be your former classmate, Maryam Mirzakhani. When she passed away, everyone wished that she would have come back to his homeland. Another group believed that she would only become a professor if she returned to Iran and could make no further progress. What are the plans of the Vice-Presidency for these children to not be discouraged to come back to their homeland?

As you mentioned, I knew her in the university. She was an angle and an exception in our country. No interview can be found with her. The first that comes to mind when thinking about Mirzakhani is her elite ethics. She always advised us against entering the politics and showing off. She said it is ridiculous to show a person on TV and claim that he/she is an elite. Those who take a letter that reveals their intelligence and announce on the media that they have no job, have mocked themselves. The first thing that we learn from Mirzakhani is this elite ethics. She was so generous that she did not consider herself an elite. There is a lump in my throat every time I think about her innocence. She was also famous in the university when we were students. She was the only female students with two gold medals in Olympiads. She was only focused on her job and paid no attention to controversies. Her main problem during receiving treatment for her cancer was her reduced focus. There is a wrong perception of elite in the society. Some people think that they can come with a letter that confirms their intelligence and demand everything from the community, wanting their share of oil since they had a great university rank. Our main goal in the elites foundation is to change this type of thinking. We have no member in the elites foundation. We only provide awards and recommendations and it is the elites themselves that must work. Mirzakhani received no money from the government and even spent her fund in other places. She gained her position on her own without the help of others. We need to promote this ethic. I feel really down when see that the IRIB undermines these issues. How does someone dare to undermine his own country and even threat it? They say if you do not give me a job, I will leave and work in another country. How dare you threat your homeland? This country needs none of us. It is us that desperately need our homeland. This country has a five-six-thousand-year history and has faced many problems. How can we demand a share? What have we done for this country? We did not become elites to demand a share; we became elites to do something for our homeland.

However, a group of these elites believe that in contrast to foreign countries, elites are not appreciated inside the country. That is why they prefer not to return to the country.

We have some serious cultural problems regarding elite ethics, all of which are related to our oil reserves. Oil is a rent in the economy of country. It means that five-dollar oil is extracted and is sold to 50-140 dollars. By the way, higher price of oil has been associated with more corruption and worsen situation of occupation in the country. This is due to the fact that a rent is entered into the economy and everyone try to get closer to it. Everything will be the same. Those who have a family in the media come to TV programs and attend some interviews, which is also for the rents in our economy. An elite is a person who is able to recruit a few people for a job, create occupations and solve some of the problems of the country. These people should not look for their share and claim that they must receive a job. That is why our policies have undergone some changes in four-five years. It is important to prepare the society for return of elites. We make this society, not the government. The government is just a facilitator. If there is no one to treat elites respectfully, if there is no elite-oriented economy, if there is no elite culture, our situation will not be changed. Without a doubt, the best platform for recruit of elites, whether inside or outside of the country, is startups. Over the past four-five years, we have aimed to create an infrastructure that attracts elites, making them return to Iran. In the past, I was mocked when talking about this issue. However, today we have more than three thousand and 500 knowledge-based companies. Last year, the sale rate of these companies was 400 thousand billion IRR. Currently, banks have provided loans of four thousand billion IRR for these companies. Many of our startups also growth by 10% every week.

Is this the same condition for return of elites that you have talked about many times, which is having an appropriate startup ecosystem?

I ordered a study to be performed by the best activists in the Silicon Valley. My main question was regarding the existence of Silicon Valley in California and why it is not based on New York or Dubai. The answer was one word: ecosystem. Money is not a concern here. Our ecosystem must be established in a way that our elites could grow and any idea could be implemented. When we talk about creative city, we are actually talking about the ability of implementation of any idea. As far as this problem exists, we cannot improve our condition. This ecosystem currently has serious cultural, financial and economic problems in its infrastructures. About 40-505 of our investment must be spent on venture capitals. In addition, direction of universities must be changed. While there are many issues in this area, the condition is being changed with a fast pace. We just need to compare the condition of this year with the previous year. The new generation of entrepreneurs that has entered the country will soon be turned into one of the largest companies of the country. The petrochemical, automobile manufacturing, and even steel will be soon get passed by these companies. It should be noted that the foundation of this generation is people and knowledge. The new generation must be accepted by the society since they cause change in the country and attraction of elites. However, there is a conflict between the traditional section and startups in the country. For instance, an office of a startup is invaded or the government section writes a letter not to cooperate with startups. This resistance of the traditional section is useless. I say to all of them that they will be defeated by startups. It is not in my or your hands. This is something that is happening in the world. They should not think that the issue is related to one or two companies. I have said many times to those that oppose startups that not to think that defeating one startup means the end of it. There will be 10 more startups, which will be turned to a thousand. They cannot defeat the startups. The only solution is to invest in startups by the traditional section. This way, venture capitals will be developed. Those working in traditional businesses must enter the area of venture capitals. What better area to invest than a startup with 10% weekly growth? There will be no benefits in investing in gold coins and foreign currency. The traditional section will be definitely defeated if it does not change its direction. Things might be able to postponed, but the final destination is failure. Gandhi says: first they laugh at you, then they ignore you and beat you, and then you win. Whenever I see a startup has reached the beating stage, I know that it will be successful.

What kind of measures could be taken by the government to facilitate this area? This is mainly because the similar problems of startups and lack of responsiveness of old laws.

We have tried to develop the law of support of knowledge-based companies to solve these problems. Today, we can provide 130 services for companies, all of which facilitate their business. Some companies can receive tax and customs exemption. However, our emphasis is on the facilitation of businesses. In the area of insurance and tax, the main issue is for organizations to know that they are responsible for their actions. They need to come to agreement with us. They cannot just enter a company and be treated the same way the non-knowledge-based companies are treated. The main issue is increasing the cost of closing a business. You cannot just come and proudly close a business forever. Some people proudly say that they put some barriers to a business to prevent its growth, and they even obtain benefits for this action. We think that the cost of closing knowledge-based companies has increased drastically.

Do you mean that not everyone can filter startups and online companies without determining the violation?

It is approved in the area of startups that elimination of an online business inside the government requires a previous discussion in the committee of deputy of law. A general director cannot just send a letter to close an online business. The reasons for this action must be presented in the committee and then measures can be taken in this regard. While there are some violations, we need to increase the cost of closing businesses, which is a serious betrayal to the country. In the next year, our main focus will be on startups that provide services in areas of health, healthy food, agriculture, environment and waste. You can receive relevant services at an equal level even if you have medical service in any part of the country. The market is associated with technological progress of companies.

Soon, the Vice-Presidency for science and technology affairs is supposed to hold the new round of Made in Iran exhibition. Given the fact that the new year has been named the year of support of Iranian products, how do you think we can encourage the people to buy domestically produced products?

In my opinion, it is a completely cultural issue. It is a fact that our people cannot deal with domestically produced products, a part of which is due to the damage caused by oil money. Inefficiency in some parts of the industry, such as automobile manufacturing, is caused by oil, which has led to reduced value of Iranian products. However, this should not be generalized to other products as well. For instance, why is there no similar problems in the area of carpets or handicrafts? We win when we extract industry from the government system. Our issue is not slogans but culture. Our product must not need donations. No one must buy Iranian products out of pity. Its quality must be so high that people choose to buy these products.


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