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The Future – NOW

Brazilian junior companies have revenues of R$8.5 million from more than 2,000 projects

Representatives of Poli Júnior (left) which has 90 university students from 19 fields of engineering at the Polytechnic School of USP.

Eduardo Cesar Representatives of Poli Júnior which has 90 university students from 19 fields of engineering at the Polytechnic School of USP.Eduardo Cesar

University undergraduate students, average age 20, are managing to transform theories learned in the classroom into early experiences in the job market as members of junior companies. “The fact that we can actually live the professional experience from very early on enables us to gain a systematic view of the way the job market works; it prepares us for what we’ll be facing later on,” says Eduardo Amorim, 22, vice president of the Federation of Junior Companies of the state of São Paulo (Fejesp) and a fourth-year student at the São Carlos School of Engineering of the University of São Paulo (USP). The junior company movement, which began in France in 1967 and arrived in Brazil in 1988, has been gaining new adherents every year.

In 2004, there were 119 companies and 1,417 junior businesspeople. By 2011, according to the 2012 Census and Identity survey conducted by Brasil Júnior—a confederation that represents 14 state federations—the number of firms had reached 359 and the number of businesspeople who responded to the questionnaire was 4,444, but leadership estimates that this figure now exceeds 8,000. From the 2,185 completed projects, the companies had revenues of R$8.5 million. “The São Paulo and Minas Gerais federations are the strongest in the movement,” says Daniel Daibert Rocha, public relations advisor to Brasil Júnior. Established in 1990, Fejesp is the oldest of the Brazilian federations. It currently includes 37 junior companies, also known in Brazil as EJs, affiliated with 13 universities—five public and eight private—that offer about 93 undergraduate programs and have around 1,400 members. The Federation of Junior Companies of Minas Gerais (Fejemg), established in 1995, now has 49 companies and about 1,500 businesspeople. They represent 14 educational institutions, 10 public and 4 private.

The Junior Company of the Getúlio Vargas Foundation of São Paulo (EJFGV), and Poli Júnior of the Polytechnic School (Poli/USP) started the EJ movement in Brazil. Within the space of one month they established their respective companies–one in December 1988 and the other in January 1989, and they have been accumulating success stories ever since. The EJFGV cites as examples two projects that were finalized in 2012. One of them is the redesign of the logistical network of distribution center for a major food company in São Paulo, the name of which they agreed not to divulge. “The model we developed focused on cutting the logistical cost of delivering products to cities in the inland regions of São Paulo, southern Minas Gerais, and northern Paraná,” says Ricardo Takaki, 20, institutional director of the EJFGV and a fourth-semester student in business administration.

representatives of the EJFGV, with 60 students, mostly from the FGV business administration program

Eduardo cesar Representatives of the EJFGV, with 60 students, mostly from the FGV business administration program.Eduardo cesar

Working with the database and reports about the logistical network, used to service 444 cities, the EJ prepared models of various scenarios so that after refinement, they could arrive at the best proposals for the situation presented to them. “Our study and the solution we recommended were so well received by the client that the team that authored the project received an offer of employment in order to implement it.” Another project that had a good final outcome, with approval by the client, is the one for a school, also in São Paulo, that needed a brand valuation to help it attract investors. “It was our first brand valuation project, i.e., we had to quantify the value of the brand,” Takaki says.

Among the successes achieved by Poli Júnior is the modification of the layout of an inventory and distribution shed operated by Mazzaferro, a fishery products manufacturer in Diadema, a city near the state capital. It was carried out by production engineering students with the help of a professor from that same field. “Rearrangement of the factory layout and the production process resulted in a savings of R$1 million a month,” says Pedro Martinez, 20, CEO of Poli Júnior and a third-year student in computer engineering.

Another recently completed project—an assignment from the Foundation for the Technological Development of Engineering (FDTE)—is that of a surgical stapler used in gastrointestinal surgeries. The device will now enter the testing phase. The proposal is that the new product replace a disposable tool now being used, one imported from the United States at high cost. “We designed the entire device,” Martinez says. At the request of the General Services Department of the Polytecnic School, Poli Jr. also upgraded the ground floors of all the school’s buildings on its Butantã campus. “We added new elements like windows and doors, and corrected the design of the stairways,” he reports. In all, 15 buildings containing 2,351 rooms were evaluated, covering a total area of 105,000 square meters.

The EJFGV is made up of degree candidates in the fields of business administration, economics, and law. “Because students can become members of the EJ as early as the first semester, our focus in making the selections is more heavily based on the candidates’ backgrounds than on their technical knowledge,” Takaki says. And so, like some EJs, that of the FGV has on staff a human resources consultant to help in the recruitment process. Before participating in the company’s consulting projects, recruits undergo training and take professional development courses. “After acceptance, they have a career ladder that involves several stages of preparation before they become consultants.”

Members of Mecatron, composed of 25 students from the control and automation program offered at the School of Mechanical Engineering – Unicamp

Mecatron Members of Mecatron, composed of 25 students from the control and automation program offered at the School of Mechanical Engineering – Unicamp.Mecatron

Currently, 60 students from the first through sixth semester are members of the EJFGV. Most are from the business administration program. Since its foundation, the company has already completed more than 300 consulting projects. “Every project has the assistance of at least one professor on the faculty, but normally we get support from two or three professors,” Takaki says. The EJFGV has partnerships with Bain & Company, a management consulting firm; MBA Empresarial, a human resources consulting firm, and with Mandalah, which focuses on innovations that have a sustainability component. “Our projects are oriented toward sustainability; they seek higher profits, but with an environmental and social filter,” says Takaki.

At Poli Júnior, a company composed of a team of 90 university students from 19 fields of engineering at the USP Polytechnic School, the selection process is conducted twice a year. “Our company is composed primarily of first and second-year students, but we also have some from the third and fourth years,” Martinez says. The training period lasts for two to three months, after which a trainee is promoted to analyst and participates in projects and events. From analyst, students are promoted to junior manager, level at which they will work on research and development projects at the company. The next step on the ladder is promotion to senior manager, and there they are responsible for supervising the juniors. After completing all these phases, a participant may compete for election to an executive position.

“Since we cannot accept every polytechnic student as a member, we hold events, such as a week of lectures and courses aimed at first and second year students, to demonstrate the possible job opportunities at the company in the future,” says Martinez. We also hold a recruitment workshop for the third, fourth, and fifth year students that is attended by companies such as Itaú, Odebrecht, Shell, and other major firms, and by about 6,000 people. Since the EJs are not-for-profit civil associations, all their revenues are used to defray the expenses of maintaining company infrastructure and training their members via courses, attendance at events, and lectures.

With ten years of activity in the market, Mecatron—composed of 25 students from the control and automation program offered by the School of Mechanical Engineering of the University of Campinas (Unicamp)—conducts projects in the field of control and automation for various laboratories and institutes of that university as well as for microenterprises and small businesses in the Campinas region. “All members are involved in every phase of a project, which means everything from management and marketing to customer support,” says Guilherme Plazza, 20, director of marketing at Mecatron and a second-year student at the school. At present the company has about 20 projects under way. In cases that demand specific types of knowledge, students from other engineering courses at Unicamp, such as computer science, also lend a hand.

Some of the projects recently carried out by Mecatron deserve special mention, such as a piece of equipment it developed for a doctoral candidate from the Chemistry Institute. The device automatically controls the valves of a chemical substance purification experiment. “There was a 30% increase in the volume of purified substance and a 1% increase in the purity of the reaction product, as well as a reduction of six hours per day in the time needed to do the work,” Plazza reports. The company also developed a temperature control system for a room that houses a large collection of insects maintained by a professor at the Biology Institute. “The system sends a text message by mobile phone when there is an abnormal change in temperature.”

Microenterprises in the region also seek out Mecatron. For example, a laundry placed an order for automation of the machines it uses. “We developed software for a Petrobras refinery that displays the progress of the production process on a computer screen,” reports Plazza, who since his first semester in the course has been a member of the junior company at Unicamp. “When I started with the company, my idea was to find out how a company works and is organized, and to better understand the job market so that I could become a better professional in the future,” he says. He says the experience has certainly surpassed his expectations. “My view of the world has expanded and, through contacts with clients and other people, I’ve learned to deal with people better and work as part of a team.” Victor Stefanelli, who until June 2013 held the post of vice president of Ayra Consultoria, which operates in the field of business management at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), shares Plazza’s opinion. “It was the most useful team-building experience I’ve had since I entered the university,” says Stefanelli, 20, a sixth-semester student in the School of Economics at UFRJ. “To learn to work with people from different backgrounds, under tight deadlines, to achieve audacious goals with limited resources, was a daily challenge.”

Mecatron has been recognized as one of the four best EJS in Brazil, earning the highest category of award from the Brasil Júnior Management Excellence Program in July of this year. And it was also chosen as the best not-for-profit organization in the state of São Paulo, within Level I of the 2013 edition quality awards given out by the Paulista Institute for Management Excellence (Ipeg). PJ Consultoria e Assessoria, formed by students from the production engineering and mechanical engineering courses at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), is another of the four EJs that received the highest category of awards from Brasil Júnior this year. “The award attests to both the quality of the services we provide and our internal management practices,” says Arllen Jorge, 21, director of operations for the junior company. In addition to these two, Ayra Consultoria and FCAP Jr. Consultoria, from the School of Administration Sciences of Pernambuco, also received awards.

Established in 1995, PJ now has 60 members. “The selection process is fully planned in advance and executed by our human resources department,” says Jorge. Most of the clients for our projects are microenterprises and small businesses in Belo Horizonte and the metropolitan region. “As of September this year, we already had 20 projects underway, while in all of last year we had just 23,” reports Jorge, a sixth-semester student in production engineering. Last year, the junior company at UFMG earned R$115,000. “In 2013, our goal is to get to R$140,000.” The selection process is open to undergraduates from all over the university, regardless of their semester of enrollment. But the great majority of the members of the EJ are students in the second and fourth semesters. The company has 10 partners, among them Bain & Company, Amcham Brasil (The American Chamber of Commerce), and the Federation of Industries of the state of Minas Gerais (Fiemg).

Among PJ’s successes are the installation of a quality management system at a construction company in Belo Horizonte that resulted in a 200% increase in the number of works projects completed. After that project, PJ Consultoria received, in only six months, orders for four more projects to install similar systems. Another assignment that was considered a success was the management of processes and planning of a layout for the shed owned by PMC, a microenterprise in Nova Lima (MG) that was founded in 2011 and makes interlocking concrete floor tiles. After 12 months, the company’s partners decided to retain PJ to map out the production processes and work on the design of a factory that would accommodate a second tile manufacturing line.

Poli Júnior, Mecatron, and PJ Consultoria represent a sample of the way EJs are composed. “Engineering work accounts for 30.08% of the area of EJ activities in Brazil,” says Rocha, of Brasil Júnior. But applied social sciences—that include consulting services provided by students in programs such as business administration, architecture, and urban planning, accounting, media, law, and economics—are also well represented, at 23.12%. In São Paulo State, about 70% of EJs are made up of students from the exact sciences. The other 30% are made up of students in chemistry, pharmacy, international relations, and law. In 2012 alone, companies affiliated with Fejesp were responsible for more than 380 commercial projects and had revenues of about R$4.4 million. “That means that, although we represent only about 10% of the EJs in Brazil, we account for more than 50% of revenues,” says Amorim, of Fejesp, a junior businessman since 2011.

At the Minas Gerais Federation, the situation is basically the same. “Here, too, more than 70% of the students come from programs in engineering and business administration,” says Ryoichi Penna, CEO of Fejemg. The others are studying communications, economics, accounting, pharmacy, psychology and information technology. Penna, who is finishing the business administration program at the University of Juiz de Fora, entered the university’s junior company in January 2010 and stayed for two years. “I left to coordinate the world conference of EJs in Brazil last year, and then I ran for president of the Minas federation,” he says. The world conference is held every two years. The one in 2012, in Paraty in Rio de Janeiro State, attracted 2,100 people from 15 countries. “And it helped create the first junior company in the United States, at the University of Illinois,” Penna says. That came to pass because a professor from that university was present at the conference and became enthusiastic about what he saw. The next conference will be in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2014.

“The EJ movement, in addition to the one in Europe, is very strong in Brazil,” Penna says. “Here we’ve managed to mobilize a huge number of companies to attend the events.” Proof of this are the national meetings held annually, each attended by about 1,700 participants. This year, the meeting was held in Porto Alegre and the next one will be in Aracruz, in Espírito Santo. “We also work toward forging closer ties with the European confederation, which is based in Brussels,” he remarks. Every semester, Brasil Júnior sends two or three members over there. In Europe, the most active confederations are, besides the French, the Germans, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Rumanian.

Not only are the federations responsible for promoting coordination activities that will strengthen the movement here in Brazil, they also take care of the regulations that apply to junior companies. “Today in Brazil, we have the EJ seal, which is awarded annually,” Penna says. To receive it, companies must go through an audit. Federations would like the seal to be regulated by proposed legislation that is now pending in the Brazilian Senate.