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From the laboratory to the market

Researchers build a bridge between research and the business world

The growing numbers of micro and small companies incubators here in Brazil, is becoming the main source for the transfer of technology produced in university laboratories and research centers to products and services market. In a country unused to carrying out research in companies, the 35% growth in the number of installed incubators, between July of 1999 and this June, is without doubt excellent news. According to the recent survey of the National Association of Promoters of Advanced Technology Enterprise Entities (Anprotec), the total of these entrepreneurial condominiums has reached the mark of 135 units as against 100 computed over the previous similar period.

These figures have not stopped growing over the last two decades. In 1989 there were four incubators. Five years later, in 1994, the number had risen to 19, going on up to 60 by 1997. The accelerated leap in the installation of these complexes represents a new type of posture in the Brazilian industrial scenario. They guarantee a growing space in the as yet undersized group of Brazilian technologically based companies. A business sector which, throughout the world, is gaining more and more importance as a strong indicator of country competitiveness in this globalized world. Just look at the growing influence exercised on international investors by the Nasdaq index, centered in New York City, which deals shares of technologically based companies.

The data from Anprotec points to the existence of 1,100 companies inside the Brazilian incubator system, in phases that go from gestation to an emerging young company. All of them have less than 100 employees, and together they generate 5,200 jobs, including owners. This business movement was only possible due to a cultural change that was awakened in the academic world and supported through public organs. Federal and State universities, as well as city administrations and the Brazilian Service of Support to Micro and Small Companies (Sebrae) have picked the bill of setting up these condominiums. “The country’s economic stability also produce a calm environment to the structuring of the passage of scientific knowledge to the productivity sector”, says Luís Afonso Bermúdez, the president of Anprotec.

With an eye on investors
Of the total number of incubators, 57% maintain formal links with universities and research centers and 20 % informal links. In this case, even without a signed agreement, the laboratories, the professor consultants and other resources are incorporated into the knowledge necessary for the effective progress of the projects.

“Of our 15 incubating companies, around 50% have projects that began in the university, there being close to 75% of the company partners with doctorate degrees”, informs érgio Wigberto Risola, the manager of the Incubator Center of Technological Companies (Cietec), of São Paulo. He reveals as well, that over the last eight months, 19 groups of investors, among them individuals and banks, have sought out Cietec in search of information about the incubator and its companies. “Nothing so far has been agreed closed, but the prospects of new investments are great”, he evaluates.

Installed in a building ceded by the Nuclear Energy Research Institute (Ipen), on the University of São Paulo (USP) campus, the Cietec is following a common line of a large part of the incubators spread throughout the country. The spaces are ceded by universities, research centers and cities. The companies make use of the entire infrastructure, generally for free, such as telephone, Internet, water and electricity, as well as laboratories of the incubator itself or of the neighboring academic world. They pay a rent that varies from R$ 150.00 to R$ 600.00 or, depending on the incubator, everything may be free. All have available to them consultants in areas such as administration, marketing and law. The companies have a time scale that varies from two to six years to graduate and come out of the incubator.

For the growth of the company within the incubator, there is also the relationship between peers. “The synergism that exists between the enterprises installed in neighboring rooms or across the hall is very important. There is a constant exchange of information and of cooperation in the development of the projects”, tells Risola. “The companies help each other, both through the exchange of technological information and in the questions of bureaucracy”, explains Gerhard Ett, a owners with Anod-Arc, a company created in 1998. He is developing at the Cietec a series of experiments in the area of surface aluminum treatment, after having done his doctorate degree at the Ipen. Up until now, he has managed to improve threefold the coating of this metal in relation to the hardness of the process used in metallurgy, textile and aeronautic industries.

Financial support
Of the 15 existing companies, Anod-Arc is one of seven companies installed at the Cietec that is receiving financial support from FAPESP within the Program of Technological Innovation in Small Companies (PIPE). The maintenance of Cietec, in the same way as other incubators in the country, is carried out by Sebrae. Some, such as the Center of Support for the Development of Companies (Nade), and the incubator of the Company for Development of a Center of High Technology of Campinas (Ciatec), are financed through the prefecture of the town or city.

In the area of the Nade, FAPESP is financing projects for seven of its existing twenty companies. According to the administrative manager of the incubator, Décio Sirbone Júnior, 70% of the projects have come from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). Inaugurated in 1995, the Nade has four companies in the final phase of graduation. They are Orion, which manufactures physiotherapy apparatus, Geocamp, a market consulting company, and Mult Way and Well Done, IT companies.

Another important contribution in the financing of the companies is provided through the Program of Training of Human Resources for Strategic Activities (RHAE), of the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), in the form of scholarships to ownerss and employees of these companies. Taking the Cietec as an example, the contribution by the CNPq has been R$ 1 million in study grants since 1998, when the incubator was created. During this same period FAPESP gave financial support totaling R$ 1.1 million in direct financing for the execution of the projects.

The Cietec has projects that have already resulted in products and services, such as the case of LaserTools (see story in Pesquisa FAPESP #50), which is even exporting. “We’re carrying out engravings using lasers on the radio panel of the American Ford car”, says Spero Penha Morato, one of the company’s partners. There is also Hormogen (see Notícias FAPESP N# 43) that is preparing its final tests for the approval of a growth hormone developed by it. Another company, named Pro-line, had already begun selling prosthesis of a ceramic compound for the reconstruction of the mouth. “We have a project in the first phase of PIPE that envisions the development of an innovative dental implant”, announces Laura Braga, one of the company’s partners. “Besides all of the the incubator‘s benefits, we have access to the various laboratories of Ipen and of the Biomedical Sciences Institute (ICB) of USP where tests on animals are carried out.”

Fast growth
The history of incubators in Brazil is short. The first was inaugurated in 1984, in São Carlos. “It was a pioneer”, says Sylvio Goulart Rosa Júnior, the president of the High Technology Park Foundation (Parqtec). “The profile of the local workforce contributed to this initiative and helped in the activity of the incubation”, explains Rosa. He was speaking about the universities and research centers in the region, including two Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation) units, the USP and the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar). “They are the basis of the differentiated formation of the entrepreneurs and the work.” In order to train these people in the world of business, the Parqtec set up a Business School for the training of these entrepreneurs to mount and administer companies.

Close to 40 companies have passed through the Parqtec during its 15 years of existence. of the current 12 incubating, three have projects financed through FAPESP. One of them is Sensis Eletrônica, a company founded in 1995 in the incubator itself by five post- graduate students of the Center of Advanced Manufacture of the Mechanical Engineering School of USP. They have developed electronic sensors capable of controlling with greater precision the working of industrial machinery. At the beginning they paid nothing for their space of 35 m2 and had available to them a telephone line and all of the infrastructure necessary for their work. Today they pay R$ 600.00 in rent and are close to graduation.

The incubators have been responsible for many novelties and the participation of universities is huge. But, not always has this support from the academic world been untroubled. “In the beginning, our activities were seen as subversive and we were accused of helping in the privatization of the university system”, recalls Professor Afrânio Aragão Craveiro, the manager of the Technology Development Park (Padetec) of the Federal University of Ceará (UFC). Some sectors believed that this type of activity had nothing to do with the academic world. “However, we managed to show that this is a world trend and that the university could not stay out of the sector with the highest value, which is the use of knowledge.”

Created in 1992, the incubator specializes in the area of foods, chemistry and natural products. Today, the ten incubating companies are responsible for an annual income of R$ 2.2 million, through the commercialization of their 19 products, such as capsules of chitin, a substance extracted from the shell of crustaceans, a by-product of the fishing industry of the state. It is a powder used in weight reduction, as it is a natural fiber that avoids the absorption of fat on the part of the human organism. Also commercial successful are the capsules of lyophilized vegetables (in powder), which substitute the daily consumption of vegetables, produced by the company Polimar. After three years in incubation, the company is in the phase of making itself independent.

Experiences in the field
The vocation of the incubator in Fortaleza for the area of natural products follows the profile of the local academic world. This is what has happened to Parqtec, as well as to Biominas Foundation, which ten years ago was created by professionals from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) to act in biotechnology. “Today, 90% of the incubating companies have as their shareholders doctors, masters or researchers who have studied or are studying at the UFMG”, informs Patrícia Mascarenhas, the manager of Biominas. Currently, the 13 incubating companies already have 69 products registered with the Ministry of Health and 31 are under development. Last year they had an average income of R$ 321,000 per month, producing a total of R$ 438,000 in paid taxes.

One of the successful companies of Biominas is the company named Katal, which produces reagents for the diagnosis of the examinations for cholesterol, glucose and another 21 types of laboratory analysis. The retired professor of the Biochemical and Immunology Department of UFMG, Leonides Rezende, a partner in Katal, developed a new technique for the production of these products by making use of his academic experience. “It is a novel technique in Brazil in which the reagents are lyophilized, thus giving a reduction in the production cost of 39%”, informs professor Rezende. With this, the company has reached a monthly income of R$ 60,000. “It was the incubator that allowed for the existence of the company, because I didn’t have the necessary capital to start off the business.”

The incubators support in the creation and strengthening of small companies is fundamental so that they can survive in the future, after they have graduated. According to Anprotec, the survival rate of the companies that are born in the incubator system is 84%. This data is inversely proportional to the survey made by Sebrae that shows an index of mortality of 80% for small and medium companies (non-incubated) over the first two years of their existence. “The incubators bring together advantages that minimize the mortality rate of these enterprises”, explains the production engineer Maurício Guedes, coordinator of the incubator of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

Created in 1994 in the Technology Park of Rio de Janeiro, located in an area of the   UFRJ, the incubator today houses 12 companies. Another 12 have already passed through its installations before consolidating themselves in the marketplace. The incubator is responsible for around 200 jobs and has developed 40 products and services of technological innovation. The total income of the companies installed within it last year was of R$ 5 million.

Guedes believes that the high survival rate is due to the rigorous process of selection of participating companies. Or that is, the selection indicates what is and what is not feasible. Several items are checked during selection. The possibility of the interaction with the university, the technical and economic viability, the profile of the people involved and the impact of the technology on the market. “We don’t support dreams. We choose the companies with ideas that will better make use of the environment of the incubator”, explains Guedes. “Half of the companies here would have died if it hadn’t been for the incubator”, he assures.

The Oceansat company – which carries out environmental consultancy through remote sensors – was one of the companies recently chosen through the selection process for the incubator. It is directed by researchers who worked in the area of sensors at the National Space Research Institute (Inpe). The company’s computers are fed with information from satellites about the environmental conditions of the Brazilian coast. These are bulletins that bring together data such as the temperature of the sea, the sea currents speed and even the appearance of oil slicks at sea, in rivers or in lagoons. “The fishing industry uses this data to locate and capture fish, and the petrochemical companies for monitoring oil leaks”, explains the oceanographer Reynaldo Solewicz, of Oceansat.

Selection process
To have good ideas is not enough for acceptance into an incubator. Much more is needed. “The enterprises are analyzed under criteria such as degree of innovation of the products, potential market acceptance and management capacity, as well the interaction with the university”, explains Sheila Oliveira Pires, the manager of the Company Incubator of the Center of Support for Technology Development (CDT) of the University of Brasilia (UnB). “The process of selection takes place once a year and is carried out by a technical commission that judges the applications.”

Through its 11 years of existence, the UnB incubator has supported 45 companies that have produced some 154 new products. Today there are 13 companies that are in the process of gestation. Between 1997 and 1999, these companies created 160 jobs in information technology, mechanical engineering, telecommunications, biotechnology, energy rationalizing and geophysics.

Some of the UnB laboratories are used in the development of research into technological innovation, with professors giving consultations and the graduating students are invited to carry out their training. Of the owners and employees of the incubating companies, 68.5% are graduates, 14.2% have their masters and/or doctorate and 17% are undergraduates.

Close to 70% of the projects assisted through the incubator are presented by students or ex-students of the UnB, such as is the case of “hybrid pasteurization” thought up by Rubens Júnior in his final paper of his course in Mechanical Engineering. With the help of his fellow students Weyder Jorge and Jovelino Júnior, the invention took shape and called the attention of small milk producers.  The pasteurizer is cheap and gets rid of the risk of contamination. “It is 100% safe”, emphasizes Jorge. In an hour and a half, the equipment raises the temperature of up to 50 liters of milk and afterwards it is quickly reduced in order to kill the microorganisms harmful to human health. One detail: this process is carried out with the milk already bottled. Normally the bottling is done after pasteurization – a procedure that the new pasteurization system can also carry out, and hence it is called a hybrid.

The equipment costs R$ 10,000, half of the price of a conventional pasteurizer, and it is being tested at the Department of Agriculture of the Federal District. In the cases the result of the work is commercialized, the UnB has the right to 1% of the income of the product through royalties.

New stage
“The incubator has ambitious plans for the future”, says the manager. A new building for the enterprise in the technology park of the UnB will be constructed. This will increase CDT’S housing capacity to close to 25 companies. This is one more phase in the life of this incubator that last year received the title of the best project of its kind in the country, awarded by Anprotec “It was recognition of the work carried out over the years”, comments Sheila.

Another incubator recognized for its efforts during the last few years is the Entrepreneurial Center for the Elaboration of Advanced Technologies (Celta), in Florianópolis, Santa Catarina State. The embryo of this incubator came about in the early 80s when large companies such as Cônsul, Metal Leve, Weg and Embraco installed themselves in the State and sought out the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) in search of solutions to technological problems. From this was born, in 1984, the Certi Foundation – Centers of Reference in Innovative Technologies, a non-profit private institution. The idea was to intensify the transfer of technology from the university to the private sector, with gains for both sides.

In 1986, the Certi proposed the creation of an incubator in Florianópolis with the mission of giving support to the creation and growth of new technologically based enterprises.  Today, the Celta is housed in a building of 10,500 m2, where close to 600 people work. In the incubator, the entrepreneurs have available all the necessary production infrastructure, including secretary, cleaning, security, office-boy, post office, banks, restaurants and shops. They can also count upon various advisors. “We only need to leave here to sleep”, asserted the Business Manager, Tony Chierighini.

Innovation for the country
In order to be a candidate for a place in an incubator, one needs to present a business plan in the areas of electro-electronics, telecommunications, information technology, biomedical engineering, precision mechanics or new material mechanical engineering. In any case, the plan must include a fair dose of innovation, at least for Brazil.

The profile of the incubator personnel is of a young students or recent graduates, originating from universities, mainly from the UFSC. “This happens because previously the university courses were set up to form employees. Today the emphasis is to generate entrepreneurs”, is Chierighini’ evaluation. He is proud of saying that the Celta is self-sustaining. “In the initial stage the State government financed one third of the operational costs and also constructed this building. But today we live off our own resources.”

The Celta also is responsible for the search for partners with capital for “good and new” ideas. Over the last few months, with the creation of the Alavanke (Leverage) program, the incubator paved the way for an investment of R$ 1 million from a private bank in an incubating company. The names could not as yet be released at the beginning of August. There are five other investments of this magnitude under negotiation.

In total, 21 companies have left the Celta. Of these, 15 were liberated between 1986 and 1995, when the incubator occupied an area of only 1,000 m2 and could hold, at the maximum, ten companies. Currently there are 30 companies being incubated and the expectation is that ten of them will leave by March of 2001. Of the 51 companies that have passed through the Celta, 23 were born with technology generated within the UFSC. According to Chierighini, the mortality rate of the companies after leaving the Celta is zero. “We have had companies that have died here. The rate is 10%. But after leaving, up until now, not one has closed up shop.”

One that is going very nicely, thank you very much, is the company Conversores Estáticos Brasileiros (Cebra), a company born in the incubator where it remained from 1990 to 1994. The initial investment of the four partners, all with masters degrees from the UFSC in the area of Electronic Power in the Electrical Engineering course, was of only R$ 6,000. They decided to try their luck as entrepreneurs during their master’s course. They received no kind of financing. Between 1992 and 1994, they only received the incentive of two RHAI scholarships (RHAI is the Program for Technical Capacitation For Human Resources in Strategic Activities) for two hired technicians. Today those two are among the 35 employees of the company that had an income of R$ 2.5 million in 1999 and has a forecast income of R$ 3.5 million for this year.

Other focus
Cebra produces sources of electrical feeding switches for the telecommunication areas, automatic and commercial banking. Among its clients are large companies such as Siemens, Intelbrás, IBM, Itautec, Olivetti and Bematec. “Our intention when we went into the incubator was to manufacture computer parts, but today they can be found for R$ 35,00 in any computer shop. For this reason we re-directed our focus and went on to produce, under specific orders, special sources with the most up-to-date technology available”, explains Alexandre da Cunha, 36 years of age, and one of the four Cebra partners. “We looked for niches of the market that needed special products, to be produced on a small scale”, he revealed.

Certainly many success stories are present in the history of this type of entrepreneurial condominium, with academic prevalence, which begun during the decade of the 50s in the United States and Europe. The most famous are the information technology companies of Silicon Valley in California, and those of electronics of Boston, formed by professionals coming from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Today there are close to one thousand incubators spread throughout the world. A little over 500 are in the United States. Now it is the turn of incubators to gain ground here in Brazil.

* With collaboration from: Wagner de Oliveira (RJ), Silvana Pisani (SC), Rodrigo Caetano (DF) and Lucas Echimenco (São Carlos)

Unicamp will have an incubator on campus
The newest incubator in the state of São Paulo is going to be born in the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). It expected to be in operation by the beginning of 2001. “Campinas needs another incubator”, explains Davi Sales, the technical advisor of the Office of Diffusion and Technological Services (Edistec) at Unicamp and the future manager of the incubator. “Our idea is to get together with the Center of Support for the Development of Companies (Nade) and to create more space for graduates who leave the university with a good idea and an entrepreneurial spirit.” The infrastructure of the new incubator will be installed within the Technology Center of Unicamp and will have ten box areas each of 30 m2.

Without space, for two years the Nade has not published instructions for the selection of new applicants to be installed in its incubator. The Nade reached 22 companies in less than a year after its inauguration in 1995. In a region with such a high demand for technology based companies as Campinas, a new incubator is most welcome.

In the future incubator a new idea should attract new entrepreneurs. The university is going to place at the incubating companies’ disposition, its 142 patents that are owned by it, for those who would be prepared to license and to develop the products.