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Courses for innovative leaders

Small business researchers return from London and Oxford with new ideas for marketing their products

Pipes_060-065_Pipes_237-1v02Veridiana ScarpelliAn expanded vision of business and plenty of praise. That’s how one might sum up the opinion of the researchers and project coordinators from FAPESP’s Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (PIPE) who took part in the Leaders in Innovation Fellowships Programme offered by the Royal Academy of Engineering, with courses held in London and Oxford, England in March 2015, an event that will be repeated in December 2015. Its purpose is to train researchers in the entrepreneurial and marketing skills needed to market their technological products, as well as encourage them to create and participate in international innovation and technology networks.

The partnership was established by FAPESP and the Royal Academy of Engineering under the auspices of the Newton Fund, a program maintained by the British government to promote social and economic development through research and innovation. In Brazil, the fund is coordinated by the British Science and Innovation Network (SIN), which promotes scientific and technological collaboration between Brazil and the United Kingdom. For the recent program the Newton Fund contributed funds to cover the costs of travel and accommodations for 23 PIPE project coordinators for two weeks.

“In Brazil it’s rare for a startup company to be efficient in both developing and marketing technology. The PIPE has companies who are doing solid research, but their founders often do not have a good background in business. Those entrepreneurs need to apply modern methodologies in searching out their business model and adapting their products so as to develop them commercially,” says Fabio Kon, a professor at the Institute of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of São Paulo (IME-USP) and a member of the FAPESP Board of Scientific Directors Adjunct Panel on Research for Innovation.

“The success of a small business that is supported by FAPESP depends not only on the quality of its research project but on the ability of its leaders to develop the company. The Royal Academy of Engineering program helps us offer practical, objective training on how to develop business opportunities so that a small company can improve its chances for growth,” explains Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, FAPESP scientific director. “The course is designed for researchers who are just beginning to define their business model,” adds Kon. The companies chosen to make the trip are participants in Phase 1 of the PIPE, when the initial research is done that will show whether a project is technically viable.

Changing minds
The first week in England was devoted to training with British experts in the field of business model generation, public presentation of the business itself, and negotiating techniques. The group worked mainly with the Business Model Canvas, a system widely used to validate a company’s business concept and identify its potential suppliers and customers. “All that gave me insights as to alternatives to my business model,” says Roberto Speicys Cardoso, a partner in Scipopulis, a São Paulo company that develops applications and control systems for city buses. “Our application makes it possible to find out what time a bus on a specific line will pass a given point in São Paulo,” says Cardoso, who also has a contract with the city of São Paulo for analysis of bus speeds. “The British lecturers and mentors (professionals specialized in entrepreneurship, innovation, or a company’s field of business) made me see that my competitors could become my partners at some points in order to facilitate negotiating a deal with a city government or another, bigger company.”

To Val Fontanette, a partner and founder of Itera, a company that creates technological solutions for electronic documents management, one of the key contributions made by the courses in England was helping her see how to make her business work on an international level. “The practical classes in public speaking and the Canvas model prepared us for making presentations to foreign investors and thus gain access to funding that could help us build our business,” Fontanette says. Itera, with headquarters in the Center for Development of Infant Industries (CEDIN) in the city of São Carlos (SP) wants to be active in the Big Data market, where large volumes of data are gathered and processed in order to generate new information, principally on the Internet.

Marcos Valadares, a partner in Pluricell, was also shown how to see his company’s business from new angles during his stay in England. His company is incubated in the Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Technology (Cietec) in São Paulo. His company is developing technology that can differentiate induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) and convert them to cells of different organs in the body for use in in vitro scientific experiments and in the development of drugs and cosmetics. “I came back with a more critical commercial vision and realized that we need a tool for selling our technology,” Valadares explains. “My partners and I have strong academic backgrounds but have a lot of trouble thinking about the market, because we have been working mostly in the technological field,” He also enjoyed the second stage of the course given by Isis, a research and technology marketing company, at the University of Oxford. “With them we learned how to transform an idea into a business. There, almost 80% of the companies become successful,” he says.

Celso Tomazin Júnior described how he managed to improve the draft business and marketing plan for his company, Chimtec, incubated at EsalqTec, affiliated with the USP Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture in Piracicaba. He is developing a product based on orange oil that could replace synthetic antibiotics used in ethanol production when bacteria contaminate the process and compete with the yeast that converts the sugar from sugarcane must into alcohol. “I had already attended the Empretec course offered by the Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service (Sebrae), which was also very intense, but what they taught us in England was about their culture of entrepreneurship. My mentor helped me a lot in studying the financial and investment plan and ways to negotiate the technology,” Tomazin Júnior explains.

A new vision of business is also likely to bring about changes in the commercial life of Solstício Energia, in Campinas (SP), which in June 2015 left the Technology Business Incubator (Incamp) at the University of Campinas (Unicamp). “It was great to hear their opinion about what we are building,” says Bruno Wilmer Fontes Lima, a partner in Solstício. Our project is the development of a photovoltaic panel for solar energy that will be easier to install and that helps lower the cost of the structure itself,” Lima says. “Since we have been installing conventional systems for two years now, our British mentors think we should develop the technology but continue to provide good service. Innovation has to be integrated into what the company is already doing.”

Innovation management
Efforts by both the PIPE and Leaders of Innovation also involve participation by small companies that have been in the market for some time and are looking for a fresh approach to technological research. This is the case of Apis Flora, a 33-year old company in Ribeirão Preto (SP). “We work with pharmaceutical products made from propolis, honey and phytotherapeutic medications. Now we are developing a new drug derived from Brazilian biodiversity that can be used to treat the yeast infection known as Candidiasis,” explains Andresa Aparecida Berretta de Silva, a pharmacist and the company’s manager of Research, Development, and Innovation. She says that the courses were especially interesting because they promoted innovation management and showed, in language that was easy to understand, how to add value to a product. “This innovative medicine could be sold to another company or funded by investors on the market.”

At the end of the first week in London, each company gave a presentation for which the entrepreneurs had been trained. Academicians, professionals from various companies, and investors served as judges. In one of those presentations, where the Brazilians were divided into two groups, the winner was Rogério Junqueira Machado, one of the partners of Reciclapac, a company also incubated at Cietec. “The panel liked my presentation because I used a concept that was suggested to us: startups have to think big and their product must be scalable on a global standard,” says Machado. “I showed that packaging need not be wasted, it can be remanufactured and reused.

Reciclapac was founded after Machado left General Motors, where he had worked for 28 years in procurement and exports. He had become aware of the volume of waste left over from the packaging of automotive parts that moved in and out of Brazil and were often made of wood. “We created a process in which we took that packaging, recycled it and sold it to the company itself, which ultimately reduced costs and eliminated waste,” says Machado, who wants to expand that activity. “Remanufacturing the packaging can cut the consumption of energy and materials by 85%. These are complicated packaging units, such as the one used for shipping an automobile transmission weighing more than 100 kilos.”

In addition to the courses, mentoring sessions, and knowledge about intellectual property acquired in Oxford, PIPE project coordinators were able to experience fellowship with entrepreneurs from other countries, like Taiwan and Vietnam, who were participating in the same activities in separate classrooms. “I met and exchanged ideas with Nguyen Van Truc, director of the Center for Technology Training and Marketing of the Ministry of Science and Technology of Vietnam,” recalls Celso Tomazin, from Chimtec.

Another result that pleased the participants in the group of Brazilians that spent time in England was the chance to get to know each other, even though their projects were very different. Because of the friendships made and the need to continue the experience of exchanging information, they formed a discussion group on WhatsApp. “We came back from England highly motivated and the group gives us the opportunity to exchange ideas on various subject that involve the companies,” says Fontes Lima, from Solstício. “It’s also a way to help each other, says Berretta de Silva, of Apis Flora.

More information about the Newton Fund

1. Development of a medication to treat vulvovaginal Candiasis (nº 2013/50496-2); Grant Mechanism Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (PIPE); Principal Investigator Andresa Aparecida Berretta e Silva (Apis Flora); Investment R$425,262.37, $123,911.50 and R$33,282.60 (Scholarships).
2. A mobile application to retrieve real-time information about the public transportation network using the knowledge of the crowd. (nº 2013/50812-1); Grant Mechanism Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (PIPE); Principal Investigator Roberto Speicys Cardoso (Scipopulis); Investment R$47,152.87, $990.00 and R$111,970.80 (Scholarships).
3. Integrated Module–solar photovoltaic panel with attachment structure, wiring, and integrated micro-invertor (nº 2013/50662-0); Grant Mechanism Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (PIPE); Principal Investigator Bruno Wilmer Fontes Lima (Solstício Energia); Investment R$73,620.00 and R$2,928.00 (Scholarships).
4. Efficiency of bioactive citrus oil evaluation into bacteria control of ethanolic fermentation (nº 2013/50704-4); Grant Mechanism Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (PIPE); Principal Investigator Celso Tomazin Júnior (Chimtec); Investment R$33,600.00 and R$44,917.20 (Scholarships).
5. Hepatocyte differentiation of IPS cells and their characterization for use in drug screening tests (nº 2013/50263-8); Grant Mechanism Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (PIPE); Principal Investigator Marcos Costa Valadares (Pluricell); Investment  R$131,221.00, $4,750.00 and R$149,623.20 (Scholarships).
6. Technical and economical viability of wooden disposable packaging in the automotive sector (nº 2014/50399-0); Grant Mechanism Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (PIPE); Principal Investigator Rogério Junqueira Machado (Reciclapac); Investment R$ 85,313.20 and R$82,438.50 (Scholarships).
7. E-SHARE miner: information management supported by knowledge discovery via taxonomy of topics (nº 2012/51181-2); Grant Mechanism Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (PIPE); Principal Investigator Marco Antonio Pereira (Itera); Investment R$54,816.58 and R$76,283.40 (Scholarships).