An article that garnered little attention, about innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit in Brazil appeared in the May 2014 issue of the MIT Technology Review, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This was the first time that the publication produced a Brazilian version of its traditional international award that recognizes initiatives by innovators under the age of 35. On the list are 10 young Brazilians who have distinguished themselves in various fields and initiatives, ranging from a researcher who developed methods to cut the cost of clinical examinations and scientists who created start-ups or work at corporate research and development centers, to entrepreneurs who introduced new technologies such as a software program to diagnose genetic disorders and an educational platform that can be adapted to the needs of individual students. “The talents displayed and the quality of the work by these 10 winners demonstrates Brazil’s potential for innovation,” says Pedro Moneo, director of the Portuguese edition of MIT Technology Review. They are playing an important role in economic and social development and their projects are shaping the future of our society.”
“The quality of the work by the competitors was striking,” says Marcelo Knobel, professor at the Gleb Wataghin Physics Institute at the University of Campinas (Unicamp), a member of the panel who evaluated the 240 candidates for the award. “It is always important to reward people’s efforts and dedication, and it is even more meaningful because these are young entrepreneurs who are beginning their lives in the field of science, technology, and innovation,” says the professor, assistant coordinator of international collaborations at FAPESP. The international list of awardees has been published annually in the Technology Review since 1999. It foresaw the success of researchers and businessmen who are now household names, such as Sergey Brin, founder of Google, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and Konstantin Novoselov who, with a colleague, won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for experiments with graphene.
Researcher Wendell Coltro, 34, a professor at the Federal University of Goiás (UFG), was recognized for developing extremely low-cost methods for performing clinical analyses of biological samples, such as blood and urine. He developed two platforms. One of them, used to diagnose dengue fever, employs a plastic transparency on which small circles are engraved with printer ink. Dengue fever antigens and the blood sample are placed in the transparent areas at the center of the circles, resulting in a diagnosis. “It is very fast and requires very little material,” says Coltro. The second platform involves a small sheet of paraffin-coated paper and a tiny metallic stamp, the subject of three patents obtained by the researcher, that prints on the paraffin the microchannels through which the analyzed material will pass. The reagents needed for each kind of diagnosis are placed on the edges of the paper. This method has already been tested for examinations of glucose, uric acid, albumin, and nitrite. Coltro holds a degree from the State University of Maringá. He received a grant from FAPESP for his doctoral studies, conducted between 2004 and 2008 at the University of São Paulo (USP) Institute of Chemistry of São Carlos (IQSC) under the advisorship of Emanuel Carrilho, a specialist in bioanalytical chemistry and microfluidics (see Pesquisa FAPESP Issue No. 174). He had also been awarded a post-doctoral grant by FAPESP at IQSC. “But I had to give up that program after three months, after I successfully competed for the position at the UFG,” he says.
The Technology Review list is also informative in that it describes individuals whose careers, although firmly anchored at universities, have taken them to prominent positions in the business world or company laboratories. One example is Vanessa Testoni, 34, from Paraná State. Having received a master’s degree and PhD in electrical engineering from Unicamp, she has always had a particular affinity for research topics that interest companies. During her doctoral studies she had received a grant from Microsoft Research, the research arm of Microsoft, where she served two internships, working on image and video coding. From 2012 to 2013, she did post-doctorate work at the University of California San Diego, including an internship at InterDigital, a company that specializes in wireless technologies for networks and mobile devices. “This combination is common in the United States. The doctorate is connected with a university, but much of the research is done at a company,” she says. In October 2013, while still in the United States, she was invited to interview for a job at Samsung Research Institute Brazil in Campinas. Now she is working on signal processing, coding, and security. Testoni hopes to use her experience to inspire female electrical engineering and computer science students. She founded a group called Women in Engineering (WIE) at the Unicamp School of Electrical Engineering. The group is affiliated with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology. The WIE organizes meetings where undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students discuss problems faced by women engineers (see Pesquisa FAPESP Issue No. 185). “We always tell girls that their path should not be limited to handling administrative tasks and advancing in the profession by assuming a management role, as we see so often in Brazil. In other countries, it is quite common to see very good engineers actually doing research at companies, identifying trends, generating patents, and helping to develop new knowledge, Testoni says.
Another name on the list, physician David Schlesinger, 34, founded a company, Mendelics, a genomics analysis laboratory that diagnoses rare diseases. He is a graduate of the University of São Paulo School of Medicine, did doctoral work in genetics at the Human Genome Research Center, one of FAPESP’s Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers. After he received his PhD, he was invited to do genetic research at São Paulo’s Albert Einstein Hospital, and so abandoned his academic career. In 2011, he and a group of colleagues who had been trained in genetics and bioinformatics had the idea of setting up a service for the diagnosis of hereditary disorders. Talks with Fernando Reinach from the Pitanga Fund, which invests in innovative companies, encouraged the group to go forward. “Reinach convinced us to develop a business plan. Ultimately we did not close a deal with Pitanga, but the discussions were decisive.” Other members of the group were João Paulo Kitajima, a specialist in bioinformatics who had left the biotech company Allelyx, and neurologist Fernando Kok, who had worked at Laboratórios Fleury. With funding from businessman Laércio Cosentino, Mendelics was born. It now has a staff of 20 and has served more than a thousand patients. “There are more than 5,000 known genetic disorders, and each patient needs a specific test to detect the problem, which can take quite awhile if the clinical hypothesis is wrong. We proposed sequencing all the genes. That shifts the bottleneck to the next stage, which involves an excess of information. And so we set up a bioinformatics structure that can process data and analyze genetic mutations,” says Schlesinger. The company developed a diagnostic tool that is more efficient than those available on the market. A software application dubbed Abracadabra detects significant mutations and delivers the results. “This is a tremendous benefit to the patient, since it means getting treated in daylight rather than in the dark. Patients no longer need to undergo invasive examinations and if the disease is treatable, they may be cured,” he says.
Emergency Medical Cases
In the case of Mario Sérgio Adolfi Júnior, 27, the plunge into the business world occurred while he was still an undergraduate. In 2009, when he had just one year left in order to get his degree in biomedical informatics at USP from the Riberão Preto Faculty of Philosophy, Science and Languages and Literature and the Ribeirão Preto School of Medicine, Adolfi developed a pilot program for computerized coordination of emergency medical situations. This led to the founding of Kidopi, a company incubated in the Supera technological park in Riberão Preto. Kidopi sells an online system for managing urgent and emergency cases. It enables hospital administrators to make real-time decisions on the basis of a series of indicators. In order to provide scientific support that would help his company grow, Adolfi started working toward his doctorate in 2011 at USP-Riberão Preto, a course he has not yet completed, in order to create managerial indicators for use in health care. In 2012 his company received support from FAPESP under its Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (PIPE) to be used to develop applications for cell phones that would be connected to the urgent cases system. “Support from FAPESP was important when the company decided to invest in mobile technologies,” Adolfi says. The company offers management systems to clinics and physicians’ offices that will function on the web, using tablets or computers. It has also focused on developing a system known as Clever Care, a management tool that operates by exchanging messages between the program and the patient. “The system uses algorithms and artificial intelligence resources to maintain a direct channel with the patient. Everything is done by SMS. The system programs the transmission of questions about the development of symptoms, feeds the responses into a database, and predicts how the patient will fare. If a response deviates from what is expected, the health manager is warned about the possibility of an incident and can intervene,” he says. Adolfi plans to sell Clever Care technology to hospitals and health insurance plans that are interested in remote monitoring of patient health.
One of the objectives of the MIT Technology Review is to highlight creative projects that provide practical technological solutions to real problems. The tools developed by Adolfi are one example, but there are others on the list of innovators. Economist Guilherme Lichand, of the consulting firm MGov Brasil, developed a system that supplies data collected from voice calls and SMS messages for use in public policy management. The platform is used, for example, by farmers in 53 cities in Ceará State who share local information about meteorology. MGov consults them via automatic voice response systems. Whoever makes the most accurate prediction of rainfall volume receives cell phone credits. In southern Brazil, Lucas Strasburg Ferreira, 22, a mechanical engineering student at Feevale University in the city of Novo Hamburgo in Rio Grande do Sul State, has designed an innovative prosthesis for legs, called Revo Foot, made out of recycled plastic. It can be a cheap and highly functional substitute for a prosthetic limb made of carbon fiber, which would cost at least $1,500.
Technology in the field of education was the basis for selection of two of the names on the list. Eduardo Bontempo, 30, helped create Geekie Lab, a teaching platform that identifies individual students’ weak and strong points and suggests study plans to meet their needs. Bontempo and partner Claudio Sassaki founded the Geekie company in 2011 and introduced a product called Geekie Teste, a tool for evaluating students at all grade levels, as well as for teaching languages, developed with the aid of algorithms based on artificial intelligence and mathematical models. Geekie Teste is also used to prepare students for the National High School Examination (ENEM). Using the ENEM test format, it poses questions in the fields of knowledge covered by the exam and offers a weekly study plan so that students can overcome their difficulties. “The method proposes that technology be used to support classroom instruction by creating an integrated, personalized learning experience for each student,” says Bontempo who holds a degree in business administration from the Getúlio Vargas Foundation and an MBA from MIT.
Martin Restrepo, 32, is a Colombian electrical engineer, now living in São Paulo, who developed a study method that uses mobile technologies. He founded a transmedia publishing house, Editacuja, which produces content that is accessible from cell phones or tablets. He has also trained creators of content, applications, and digital solutions. During a field trip, for example, students can check their cell phones to obtain information on the surrounding areas, such as the species on exhibit in a Botanical Garden—produced with the aid of mapping or GPS technologies. Another example: on a visit to a cemetery, people can use their cell phones to find information about the people who are buried there, and can take part in a game that uses technology and location points. Any scenario, notes Restrepo, can become a virtual classroom. Students may also become creators of information. Editacuja has set up training programs that teach students how to produce content, conduct educational experiments, and develop applications by using authorship tools. Another front that Restrepo is working on are the so-called “appiaries,” spaces in which young people are trained in programming, design, content management, and digital business management. The first of these was introduced in a community of fishermen in Santa Cruz Cabrália, Bahia State. It encourages students to design projects about tourism and fishing, the vocation in that region. “Connecting to the real world using digital platforms is an educational experience that we fervently believe in,” says Restrepo.
In other cases, the achievements that led to the receipt of an award involved creating innovative paradigms for solutions that had already been proposed. Minas Gerais native Gustavo Caetano founded Samba Tech five years ago when he was studying at the Rio de Janeiro College of Advertising and Marketing. His company produces an online platform for the transmission of videos, primarily those used in corporate environments. Samba Tech started out as a distributor of games to be played on cell phones but Caetano, perceiving the trend in the market, decided to change the focus of his company to the online video market. He built a neutral platform that can be used by companies that cannot or do not want to use the Google channel.
Another example is Lorrana Scarpioni, 23, from Bahia State. She created the social network Bliive, over which more than 24,000 people are swapping units of time and sharing talents, skills, and knowledge. A network participant may, for example, offer an hour of cooking class and win a bond to exchange for a service that interests him or her: an hour of English class, for example. However, the idea goes beyond the programs that have existed ever since the 1980s and were based on the swapping of professional services. Because Bliive functions as a social network it is possible, says Scarpioni, “to share experiences and enrich people’s social lives.” One of its products is Bliive for Organizations; the social network is installed at companies and institutions so that employees can exchange time and experiences. Another product is designed for cafés, museums, and bars that remunerate Bliive in exchange for recommending them as safe places where network participants can meet and share their time. Scarpioni, who coordinates a team of seven people and has two partners in her enterprise, will now spend some time in England because her network has been selected from among thousands of competitors by the Sirius acceleration program, which supports 30 companies in various countries. In the U.K., she and her team will receive funding for strengthening their business model. Holder of degrees in law and public relations, Scarpioni reports how her training has helped her set up Bliive. “Familiarity with public relations helped me create my business model. And the law degree helped set up the initial structure of the company.”
These ten young Brazilian innovators have been invited to participate in the next international competition sponsored by the MIT Technology Review, which will recognize the 35 most talented innovators in the world from among those who won other regional awards in countries like India, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Turkey, and Colombia.Republish