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Federal government

The challenge of innovation

The Ministry of Science and Technology seeks the support of the BNDES, companies and universities for the national program for replacing imports

The Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT) is negotiating with the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES – state bank that fosters industrial ventures in Brazil) a program for supporting new ventures with a technological basis. The MCT will be mapping out the most important researches carried out at the universities and public research institutes, identifying prototypes and products with market potential and assessing their economic feasibility, to make up a database to be operated by the BNDES. The idea is not to fund the start up of these companies through loans, Minister Roberto Amaral discloses, but to seek, among the customers of the bank, possible partners in the projects.

Prospecting for research with market potential should start in mid-April. Amaral believes that the ministry will be ready to transform scientific projects into economic applications as soon as the end of the first half-year. “We intend to activate other finance agencies as well, like the Bank of the Northeast, the Bank of Amazonia, and venture capital investors, such as, for example, Votorantim Ventures”, the minister explained, when he visited FAPESP on March 21, to discuss forms of cooperation with the MCT.

The partnership with the BNDES, he underlined, is part of a set of measures that the MCT intends to adopt, to support the country’s economic growth. In the project developed with the bank, the strategy is to invest in innovation, so as to add value to the current items on the list of Brazilian exports. Another project, likewise under way, takes its inspiration from policy for the selective replacement of imports – defended by the program of the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – by means of the transfer of technologies developed in the universities for business applications.

The idea is to challenge universities and research institutes to develop prototypes of parts, equipment or services imported on a large scale for certain sectors of industry, to then look for a Brazilian company willing to produce them. The minister reckons that this liaison will form a virtuous circle where everyone wins: the university, which lodges the patent, the company with a demand for the product, which reduces spending on imports; and the Brazilian manufacturer of the equipment, which will have a guaranteed market.

“We will be carrying out an identification of the areas for which it is possible to do the replacement of imported parts or services”, the minister averred. This project – “as yet without a name” – has as its benchmark a successful partnership between the Federal University of Santa Maria and the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, with Forjas Taurus – a company that makes weapons – for the production of a part widely used in the production of petroleum and used by Petrobras.

Sectorial funds
At the same time that it is seeking new means of finance for technological innovation in businesses, the MCT also wants to expand the resources for investments in scientific and technological research in universities and research institutes. “There is no point in thinking of any S&T policy unless it comes from the Brazilian universities”, he stressed. In a scenario of budgetary restraint, the minister is studying the possibility of strengthening the participation of the sectorial funds in the investments in academic research. At the moment, the academic community can only count on the resources of the Infrastructure Fund (CT-Infra), and it shares the benefits of the Green-Yellow Fund in the projects carried out in partnership with business.

“We want all the funds to contribute, and with a bigger dose”, the minister revealed. A working party – in which a representative of the Single Workers’ Central (CUT – the largest labor federation in Brazil) takes part – is now studying measures for “better liaison” between the sectorial funds and the national policy for S&T. According to the minister, the group will be doing an assessment of the performance of the funds, and it is going to review the process for analyzing the projects. “We want to discuss the method for managing these resources and make it become more democratic. Our expectation is for the funds to collaborate with the reconstruction of the universities”, he specified. Any change is going to depend on the legislative branch. “We are going to discuss the proposal with the academic world, with society and with the government, because this is a reform that can only be done by the legislative route”, he explained.

Another theme that is now being analyzed by the Legislative branch is the Law on Innovation, forwarded to Congress as an urgent bill, at the end of last year. At the beginning of March, though, the current government took away from the matter its urgent nature. “We want to broaden the discussion of the new law with society”, the minister reasoned. He said that article 12th is creating a certain discomfort for Brazilian universities”. The article authorizes the researcher to request his release from his Scientific or Technological Institution (ICT) of origin, to render service in another institution, with all the safeguards of the remuneration of the full time job or public employment, or to take leave for a period of up to four years, to set up a Technology Based Company (EBT in the Portuguese acronym). “This measure may mean an emptying out of the universities, which are already suffering from the salary crisis, the brain drain, etc. The procedures will now follow their normal course for us to be able to make a better assessment”, said Amaral.

Recapitalizing Finep
On another front of action, the minister is beginning to review the policy for action of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and of the Financier of Studies and Projects (Finep). The first measure, already widely publicized, was the creation of another 4,400 scholarships supported by the CNPq, and of another 10,250 to support pupils from secondary schools and more experienced researchers, among others (see issue nº 85 of Pesquisa FAPESP).

“We want to work with a few principles, and one of them is to find ways for fixing the researcher in his region of origin”, said Amaral. FAPESP, by the way, should be collaborating in this policy of “deconcentrating” research: together with representatives of the CNPq, it is going to study a policy for common scholarships that “besides benefiting more needy regions, contributes towards the scholarship holder, once his course is concluded, going back to his university of origin”, the minister explained. He also said that he wants the Foundation’s support to take postgraduate courses from São Paulo to other states, so as to avoid the relocation of those studying for a doctorate, for a period of four or five years, from their own universities. “It is the start of a great collaboration that is going to help the MCT a lot”, he asserted.

Finep will carry on fulfilling its role of “completing the action started at the CNPq”, he stresses. But with a proviso: “In the last few years, Finep has been subjected to reckless administrations”, he said. “We came across inexplicable levels of 68% of nonperformance, which even threatens the institution’s survival. Our main task will be to save Finep, carrying out an effort to recapitalizing it.”

Strengthening the FAPs
The efforts to “deconcentrate” research in the country includes the strengthening of the action of the Research Support Foundations (FAPs). “We are going to press the states to get them to comply with the constitutional requirements – which oblige them to hand over a fixed percentage of the Sales and Services Circulation Tax (ICMS) to the area. We know that the states are in crisis and, let us have no illusions: there is no culture of investing in S&T in the country. “But we cannot carry on with the current investment structure: a lot from the public authorities, a little from the states, and almost nothing from private enterprise.”