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There Is No Way to Think of Innovation Without Universities

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Prof. Gabriel Mario Rodrigues

Gabriel Mario Rodrigues – Chairman of the Advisory Board at Kroton Educacional and Chairman of the Board of Directors of ABMES (The Association of Owners of Private Higher Education Institutions)

“Our great challenge is to promote university-company integration in the process of appropriation of scientific knowledge, because if there is no application, there is no demand, that is, there is no business interest and, consequently, no innovation.” (Benedito Guimarães Aguiar Neto , Rector of the Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie)

Last year Isto é Dinheiro magazine published a story about “The Most Promising Startups in Brazil,” which recounted the history of companies that are worth more than a billion dollars in the market, as a result of balances of entrepreneurs who created their startups from unusual situations, taking advantage of opportunities in poorly explored markets, with persistence and obstinacy for an idea.

Netshoes is one such company. Two cousins, Marcio Kumruian and Hagop Chabab, back in 2000, had a 49m2 shop near Mackenzie University, where they sold sports shoes to students. The business was going slowly until they had the idea of ​​trading sporting goods online. The success was immediate and in a short time they were able to reach the Latin American countries. By 2015 it was already considered the largest e-commerce store of sporting goods in the world and today sells a wide variety of products.

Of course, these entrepreneurs needed help. Having good ideas is important, but that alone does not solve anything. Ideas need to be accepted by the market. They need compatible human resources as well as financial resources to grow. This is where accelerators come to support start-ups and, most importantly, bring investor resources into believing businesses.

Accelerators are usually companies with capacity for investments of their own, which depend on their surroundings entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, business mentors and investment funds. They offer programs oriented to the development of startups, such as physical infrastructure, mentoring, legal and accounting advice and access to risk capital, through their network of relationships.

Yuri Gitahy, founder of Accelerator (the first startups accelerator in Brazil) explains the distinction between the incubator and the accelerator:

  1. Incubators seek to support small businesses according to some governmental or regional orientation. For example, they encourage biotechnology projects because of the proximity of some research center in this area, or foster the telecommunications industry in a region that needs to expand in that sector.
  2. Accelerators are focused not on a prior need, but on companies that have the potential to grow very fast. Precisely for this reason, accelerators are looking for scalable startups (not just a promising small business).
  3. Incubators will ask for business plans, and the accelerators will study the business model. Public funding to support incubators calls for greater formality and transparency in project evaluation.
  4. Accelerators use private capital and are led by experienced entrepreneurs or investors, while incubators, have government funds to mediate public power, universities and companies.
  5. While accelerators are supported by mentors – whether in lectures or personal conversations between entrepreneur and mentor – incubators are based on the traditional model of contracted consultants.

Everyone knows that Brazil stands out in the postgraduate courselevel for its participation in the number of published  papers. The problem is that we do not know how to turn knowledge into wealth. The university does not value entrepreneurship in its activities. But one factor is certain: there is no way to think of innovation without universities.

I mentioned in my previous article (Incubators and Innovative Entrepreneurs) the instigating initiative of Anhembi Morumbi, guided by the accelerator AmazonasCap. But in the USA, entrepreneurship is the cause of innovation.

Babson College, considered one of the most enterprising schools in the world, is an example that demonstrates this. For many years their students have had the most learning based on their own business idea. They use the methodology of Thinking and Business Action® as a central proposal of the curriculum. Students are immersed in the business from day one on campus.

To make the entrepreneurial methodology more real and practical, it has structured the Babson College Fund (BCF), a US$2 million investment fund based on donor funding managed by the students themselves, funding laboratories and contributing to startups created by themselves. A bold, creative and inspiring ecosystem for other higher education institutions around the world to articulate initiatives in this promising line of action.

In Brazil it is also possible to have an entrepreneurial teaching model in which the student learns, from the first day of school, to make his own business viable, participating in an ecosystem that includes mentoring, management and technological guidance, access to a network of laboratories research and development centers, innovation centers and technology parks, as well as structured investment funds to provide development and financing.

Our aim here is always to stimulate new ideas and stimulate reflection on the role of higher education institutions in the new global context. We know that for innovation to happen and for “factories” to arise, it is not enough to write an article. It takes political will and daring and that government, companies and universities join their efforts together.