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Special

Celebrating 20 years of the FAPESP Technological Innovation in Small Businesses (PIPE) program

Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz | Scientific Director, FAPESP

In December 1997, in a ceremony attended by governor Mario Covas, FAPESP announced the first batch of 30 projects selected within its Technological Innovation in Small Businesses (PIPE) program. PIPE was, at the onset, entirely unique in Brazil’s research funding landscape in that it offered funding to researchers linked to small businesses—rather than to universities or research institutes—in São Paulo State, supporting the in-company research needed to drive competitiveness. The underlying concept was that businesses should be a venue for research just as much as, or more so than, universities and research institutes.

José Fernando Perez—then scientific director—and his team demonstrated extraordinary capability and determination in developing the program and putting it into operation, with resounding success. In creating the program, FAPESP outlined objectives that included “driving competitive advantage and fostering a ‘culture of continuous innovation’.” This special supplement tells the story of how the program began thanks to the international connections of the late professor Alcir Monticelli (1946–2001) (see article on page 6), then a professor in the School of Engineering at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP).

Today, twenty years later, PIPE continues to support small business research more actively than ever thanks to FAPESP’s institutional strength and a prudent State fiscal policy that ensures a balanced budget while continuing to support the Foundation as mandated under article 271 of the São Paulo State Constitution, which reads: “The state shall allocate a minimum of one percent of its tax revenue to the São Paulo Research Foundation as funding for use at its sole discretion toward scientific and technological development.”

PIPE project outcomes have provided a pivotal boost to scientific, technological, economic, and social development in São Paulo. A program assessment carried out in 2009 by researchers from the Department of Science and Technology Policy at UNICAMP found that companies with supported projects have reported:

• a 29% increase in workforce headcount;
• a 60% increase in employees with university degrees;
• a 91% increase in employees with PhDs;
• matched investment (out of company funds, revenue or other sources) of R$10.50 for every R$1 awarded by FAPESP.

PIPE’s tremendous success as a program attests that its objectives are being met: from January to November 2017 alone approximately 900 funding applications were submitted and 300 were accepted, working out to more than one award per business day. As would be expected, small businesses receiving support are largely clustered in areas hosting top universities or research institutes where entrepreneurs are trained to leverage the latest science and technology to create competitive business opportunities. FAPESP now also offers opportunities for small businesses to collaborate internationally and for project leadership to receive business training either in Brazil through the PIPE Entrepreneur program or internationally under an agreement with the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering, with support from the Newton Fund.

Job creation at supported businesses has increasingly grown (see chart on page 10) and, as noted in this supplement, funded projects have ranged widely from bovine embryos, medical devices, and tethered balloons for internet and security applications to biological control, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, precision agriculture, radars and satellite propulsion—all led by researchers working at companies in the state of São Paulo. The small businesses receiving program funding—many of which are startups, and all of which are technology-based firms—continue to create job opportunities, value, and wealth for Brazil. PIPE is paralleled by few other programs in Brazil or globally.

  1. BRITO CRUZ, C. H. Bacon, Smith, a universidade e a empresa. Folha de S.Paulo, p. 3, Dec. 24, 1997.
  2. SALLES-FILHO, S. et al. Evaluation of ST&I programs: a methodological approach to the Brazilian Small Business Program and some comparisons with the SBIR program. Research Evaluation. 20(2), June 2011, p. 159–71.
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