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Associated scientists

A group of professionals unite in forming a small and innovative company in the entrepreneurial manner

The desire and the dream of carrying out technology within a company made two friends, Antonio Valério Netto, 33 years of age, and Cláudio Adriano Policastro, 35 years of age, start up a type of enterprise that simultaneously gathers various professionals in distinct projects with the objective of producing innovation. The two partners, with post-graduate degrees in computing and mathematical computation from the Sciences, Mathematics and Computing Institute (ICMC) of the University of São Paulo (USP), set up the company in 2003 in the town of São Carlos as soon as they had obtained approval of their first project, within FAPESP’s Small Business Innovation Research (PIPE) program, which forecast the development of software to assist in the reduction of losses in electrical energy distribution networks by using advanced 3-dimensional computational systems based on virtual reality.

After this they managed to obtain PIPE funding for four more projects, three post-doctorate entrepreneurial grants from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), as well as another six grants through the Human Resources Training for Strategic Activities Program (RHAE), also from the CNPq. In total the company has 32 professionals, of whom eight hold doctorate degrees and four master’s degrees. Between 2005 and 2006, the company is going to receive investments of around R$ 1.5 million from the Foundation and almost R$ 200,000 from CNPq and the Financier of Studies and Projects (Finep).

“The company also has three emeritus partners who, as well as coordinating specific projects, participate in all of the strategic planning”, explains Valério Netto. With the objective of carrying out science and technology, the company received, right at its very conception, the ambitious name of Cientistas Associados Desenvolvimento Tecnológico (Associated Scientists Development Technology). “We received lots of criticism for this, including for being a non-commercial name, but our intention is to transform scientific knowledge into technology and consequently wealth.”

Installed at the Incubator Center for Technological Companies (Cinet) of the Parqtec Foundation, the company is developing, as the project to be placed on the market the sooner, a robot football game that is going to cover educational, entertainment and research areas. There will be two versions. The first will be targeted at high school and university students. The objective is that they program all of the system using specific software, with each robot player previously having a function on the field of play, with tactics and strategies. “These robots serve for programming initiation, and also as a platform for access to robotics.” The other version will be offered to the market as a table football game, a game also called foosball, in which the rods that sustain the players will be substituted by joysticks. “Within a few months we’re going to put them out for tests in arcades, in a shopping mall”, says partner Valério Netto.

The idea of the entrepreneurs-scientists is not to manufacture the robots and their systems. “This isn’t in our business plan. Our function is to prospect technology and its possible applications. After the product is ready, we’ll attract investors, license it or even sell all of the project to another company. We don’t want to be 100% owners of robots.” In this sense, the company is open to those who have a project in their head and would like to transform it into a business. “We receive professionals who have an idea and we set about having a wide ranging analysis. If the results show to be commercially positive, we make a business plan, and when necessary, secure capital for its development. As the project matures, it can be transformed into a business unit within the company.”

For now, the partners do not receive salaries and the majority of the collaborators are paid in  grants. “Firstly we have to make the company viable.” The company also has a business and alliances department, responsible for prospecting research and development (R&D) projects, as well as offering a technology consulting to business. Over the last few months they have been hired for short term projects of 30 to 60 days, whose financial income has served for the payment of the company’s fixed costs.

The partners know that the path to success is long, as seen by their past rights and wrongs. “We began with no clear focus. Even with my professional experience, in two international companies, alongside that of Claudio, who had a software development company and provided third party service in information technology, we began to develop and produce software and equipment that had no demand in the market. Then we changed our parameters and we looked at what the market offers or what would be its needs over the next few years.” In this manner the diversity of projects is large but is concentrated on information technology. One of the most recent is in the area of bioinformatics, where we have as partners the Butantan Foundation and the Molecular Structure Biotechnology Center of USP’s Physics Institute of Sao Carlos, one of FAPESP’s ten Research, Innovation and Diffusion Centers (Cepids). The project is a suggestion from the Butantan researchers and was given the name AbEvo, standing for Antibody Evolution. The first antibodies to be generated by this methodology will be directed against the toxins of the bacterium Escherichia coli and against a toxin of the rattlesnake’s poison.

“When we complete this work we?ll have a prototype of a software that could be reworked and offered to industrial pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, in the form of a service or product”, says Valério Netto. In the area of biotechnological instrumentation, the company is developing miniaturized equipment for DNA analysis in partnership with the Optical and Photoptical Center (Cepof), another of FAPESP’s Cepids, and USP’s Chemical Institute of Sao Carlos. The equipment has to be cheaper and should present innovations in relation to similar equipment imported for use in paternity, criminal examinations and in the detections of transgenics. This project was presented to the company and is coordinated by the emeritus partner Sandro Hillebrand, a chemist with a doctorate degree in physics from USP.

The company still maintains partnerships by way of projects with the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) and the Federal University of Paraíba. With all of this, the associated entrepreneurs-scientists want to demonstrate that they can develop technology in an innovative entrepreneurial format. “We also want to show that it’s not for lack of job options in the academic world, or even entrepreneurial world, that these people work in the company. The vast majority of our collaborators have the objective of generating technology within a Brazilian company.”