X-ray of innovation

Innovative potential of universities and research institutes begins to be assessed

Starting in 2004, the Financier of Studies and Projects (Finep) will begin to make its finance policy by using, amongst other criteria, the innovative potential of the various sectors of production in Brazil. It will take as a point of reference the parameters of the industrial policy that are being defined by the current government and the results of a wide-ranging survey, which started at the end of 2001, that analyzes in detail the performance and the degree of commitment to innovation of 150 companies from different productive chains, one hundred technology based companies (TBCs) and another hundred non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The project involves 50 researchers from 12 universities and research institutes all over the country, brought together in a great virtual network, named, to start with, as Private Research Directory (DPP in the Portuguese acronym), accessible through the website By the end of this year, Finep is going to extend this X-ray of innovation to research institutes and centers as well. “We want to understand the way these institutes work and their strategy”, explains Antonio Cândido Daguer Moreira, Finep’s director of Innovation for Economic and Social Development. With the mapping expanded, the DPP will then be called Observatory of Strategies for Innovation. The intention is to identify synergies and complementary features in the supply of technology of the country, in such a way as to stimulate working in a network. “We want to support the recovery of competitiveness and to contribute towards the expansion of exports, without forgetting the development of the ample Brazilian market”, says Daguer Moreira.

Adhering to innovation
The survey with the private companies and the NGOs wound up its first stage with a big seminar on Industrial Economics, held at the São Paulo State University (Unesp) of Araraquara, which enjoyed support from FAPESP. “The first results are impressive”, sums up João Furtado, from Unesp in Araraquara, the project’s coordinator. The preliminary data reveals that Brazilian companies take up innovation in a higher volume than that identified by the Technological Innovation Survey (Pintec), of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), made public in 2002, which identified 31.5% of innovative companies amongst the 12,000 consulted. The survey coordinated by Furtado indicates that this adhesion is not restricted to the specialized sectors like the aeronautical or microelectronic ones. On the contrary: traditional industries, like coffee growing, are investing in innovation. He gives the example of the Guaxupé Coffee Growers Cooperative (Cooxupé), which has discovered how to put the equivalentof 360 bags of coffee into one container when the normal is 320 bags without damaging the grains. More than this: the cooperative combined Brazilian grains from various origins to make a blend, currently exported to 180 customers, in their majority small European coffee roasters. “In the last 20 years, the needs of the country have pushed companies to place their bets on innovation”, he explains. In the specific case of coffee, innovation is for guaranteeing competitiveness, meeting international standards to ensure the expansion of exports, and because the consumer demands quality, according to what is set out in the preliminary sector report.

In the meat chain, the performance of the various sectors is different. The poultry sector is the one that shows the greatest level of innovation, because of technologies used in planning production. In the beef industry, many companies use techniques for the genetic improvement of the herds. But some have still not mastered technologies for processing, marketing and production of inputs, according to a report on the sector. The survey also revealed that, from the point of view of research and development, the pharmaceutical industry in Brazil falls far short of what is expected for a sector with intense technological activity. The preliminary sector report, signed by Mara Pinto, of the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences of Unesp in Araraquara, registers that transnational companies are not investing in research in Brazil, and when they do so, these are limited to clinical researches.

Accordingly, when a company mentions the item research as one of its strategies, it may be indicating that it carries out tests, already standardized, to assess the effects of new drugs on animals and human beings. In the case of the Brazilian companies, few are those that have successful projects, which in the majority of times resulted from the initiative of university professors or were developed with research institutions.Information is not yet available on the work of the NGOs, but Furtado informs that “they use, broadcast and blend the technology that is to be found around them”. An example of this is the work of 800 NGOs in the semi-arid region of the Northeast: they work in the areas of phytotherapy, reforestation, replenishing the native fauna, using methods that make it possible to slaughter and sell meat even in supermarkets, which generates employment and income.

Competitive strategy
Furtado considers that this difference in results, compared with the data made public by the IBGE, lies in the methodology for collection. He is a member of Pintec’s monitoring and assessment group and explains that, in the case of his project, the information is obtained in long, detailed interviews, carried out by the researchers themselves, in which, besides information on technology, procedures regarded as innovative are observed. “We chose the productive chains and identified the most important sectors, which allows us to find out what the role of technology is in its competitive strategy”, he stresses. Being close to the sectors and companies makes it possible to arrive at a level of detailing with a frequency impossible to be achieved using a questionnaire. “We would often ask a businessperson if he or she invests in innovation, and they say that they don’t. In the course of the conversation, we realize that the company is really is adopting innovative procedures. That was the case of Cooxupé”, he recalls.

For Furtado, the results of the survey will make it possible to identify the sectors already “inoculated with the virus of innovation”, as he says, and the sectors where “contagion” has to be stimulated. “The survey tries to identify the market structures in which technology now plays an active role, and this information has to lie behind policies for incentive”, he explains. The second stage of the diagnosis of the various sectors has already started. The researchers are going to expand the number of sectors and companies, and will try to identify, in the universities and research institutes, potential partners for projects in innovation. “In the third stage, the results will be discussed, for demarcating the funds of finance”, says Furtado.