A LIV­ING LAB

Qatar Today - - COVER STORY -

“TECH­NOL­OGY IS CON­STANTLY EVOLV­ING AND UNIVER­SI­TIES OF­TEN DON’T FOLLOW THE SAME RHYTHM. WE AT PORTO DIG­I­TAL FILL THIS GAP WITH FREE COUR­SES ON SUB­JECTS HIGH ON MAR­KET DE­MAND FOR OUR EM­PLOY­EES AND STU­DENTS FROM OUR PART­NER UNIVER­SI­TIES.” CID­INHA GOU­VEIA (right) Project Man­ager Porto Dig­i­tal and GUIL­HERME CAL­HEIROS Di­rec­tor of In­no­va­tion and Business Com­pet­i­tive­ness Porto Dig­i­tal

Porto Dig­i­tal is deeply in­vested in Brazil's IT and cre­ative econ­omy. One of the big­gest tech parks in the coun­try, sup­ports many sec­tors within the econ­omy, thanks to the scale of IT ser­vices that is be­ing ex­ported out of the park. Sit­u­ated just off the coast of Re­cife in north­ern Brazil, the STP has a whole is­land to it­self, where it rou­tinely rolls out and tests projects un­der de­vel­op­ment in its com­pa­nies. For ev­ery­one who works there, it's like liv­ing in an “uber” lab.

Guil­herme Cal­heiros, Di­rec­tor of In­no­va­tion and Business Com­pet­i­tive­ness, and his col­league and Project Man­ager Cid­inha Gou­veia ex­plain that Re­cife was a nat­u­ral choice for a dig­i­tal STP and it all hap­pened quite or­gan­i­cally. “The city has very good aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions and houses one of the most im­por­tant pub­lic univer­si­ties re­puted for its IT cour­ses, in par­tic­u­lar. And though some of the most bril­liant IT en­gi­neers were be­ing nur­tured there, the stu­dents would head to the more de­vel­oped south after grad­u­a­tion in search of bet­ter jobs. We wanted to keep those peo­ple in the re­gion and that's how Porto Dig­i­tal was born,” Gou­veia ex­plains.

Re­cife Cen­ter for Ad­vanced Stud­ies and Sys­tems, known by its Por­tuguese acro­nym, CE­SAR, their first company and the core of their R&D strength, was born out of sup­port­ing projects of univer­sity stu­dents after they grad­u­ated. In 2001 Porto Dig­i­tal was born and the many com­pa­nies that were start­ing to spin off from CE­SAR came un­der its um­brella. Gov­ern­ment fund­ing and tax ben­e­fits soon started at­tract­ing other tech com­pa­nies, both from within and out­side Brazil. While most of th­ese com­pa­nies deal in soft­ware ser­vices, CE­SAR con­tin­ues

to re­main a pow­er­house of in­no­va­tion and is of­ten con­tracted by com­pa­nies to de­velop projects from them. “Re­cently CE­SAR was con­tracted to de­velop drones that can mon­i­tor elec­tric lines and trans­mit data of dis­rup­tions and main­te­nance needs.” Gou­veia says. “The con­trac­tor is now look­ing to man­u­fac­ture those drones on a large scale.” If the con­tract stip­u­lates so, CE­SAR will hold par­tial own­er­ship of the in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty (IP) and choose to fur­ther im­prove on that tech­nol­ogy, churn­ing out more com­pa­nies. “More than 30 com­pa­nies have come into ex­is­tence this way,” Cal­heiros says.

Porto Dig­i­tal's job is to support the com­pa­nies to be­come more com­pet­i­tive and break into mar­kets in Brazil and abroad. And this is a tough job. Be­cause, though the Brazil­ian mar­ket for IT is very big, almost 70% of it is be­ing served by in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies and lo­cal com­pa­nies find it hard to com­pete with them, says Cal­heiros. Many of those tech MNCs like Ac­cen­ture, IBM and, Mi­crosoft have a pres­ence in Porto Dig­i­tal and, though they make up only a third of the com­pa­nies there, they em­ploy a large chunk of the peo­ple work­ing on the is­land. “They share space with grow­ing Brazil­ian tech firms like Ste­fanini and Sert­tel,” he says. Sert­tel is one of the STP's bet­ter known suc­cess sto­ries. The mo­bil­ity so­lu­tions provider be­gan op­er­a­tions in Porto Dig­i­tal and now earns an an­nual rev­enue to the tune of $100 mil­lion (QR365 mil­lion). “Their first prod­uct was a pub­lic shared bike sys­tem,” Gou­veia re­mem­bers. “They first rolled out ten sta­tions within the is­land to test the prod­uct and iron out the glitches. As a tech park, we love to con­tract th­ese tech­nolo­gies as it im­proves the en­vi­ron­ment of the STP and ben­e­fits other em­ploy­ees of the 250 com­pa­nies work­ing there.”

With a solid prod­uct in hand, Sert­tel sold the tech­nol­ogy first to the city of Re­cife, set­ting up 70 bike sta­tions, and soon ex­panded deeper into the coun­try, in ci­ties like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro .

It was the first-of-its-kind so­lu­tion in the coun­try and the res­i­dents of Porto Dig­i­tal got a taste of it be­fore any­one else. And this is not an iso­lated case ei­ther; rather it's the norm. Right now a car shar­ing sys­tem, a park­ing space lo­ca­tor and pub­lic trans­port in­for­ma­tion soft­ware are all be­ing tested on the is­land. The em­ploy­ees are con­stantly ex­posed to new in­no­va­tions be­ing de­vel­oped by their neigh­bours, be­fore they are fixed and im­ple­mented in the out­side world, and this has an en­er­gis­ing ef­fect on the whole com­mu­nity.

While th­ese sto­ries are ev­i­dence of what a valu­able jumping board Porto Dig­i­tal can be, the tri­als don't stop here. “The first prob­lem in try­ing to take our com­pa­nies in­ter­na­tional is the lan­guage,” Cal­heiros says. “It's not like in In­dia where ev­ery­one speaks English. Our en­gi­neers have to learn it and then trans­late their so­lu­tions to that lan­guage. This in­volves a lot of train­ing (which Porto Dig­i­tal pro­vides). The other prob­lem is funds. Brazil, and es­pe­cially our re­gion, doesn't have strong fund­ing mech­a­nisms. We give funds dur­ing the early stages but our com­pa­nies face prob­lems when they need more to scale up.”

But Porto Dig­i­tal's IT in­cu­ba­tor is al­ways fully oc­cu­pied and its other one - fo­cus­ing on cre­ative tech­nol­ogy – is start­ing to find big name part­ner­ships.

In its ef­forts to stim­u­late a cre­ative econ­omy in the re­gion, the STP is sup­port­ing artists and en­gi­neers who are into de­sign, gaming, film­mak­ing, etc. Gaming is one of the key fields with a lot of trac­tion; there are com­pa­nies work­ing along­side Mi­crosoft on Xbox games. “We cre­ated Proto Me­dia where we in­vested in a state-of-theart stu­dio that'll help film­mak­ers cre­ate high-qual­ity movies. This kind of equip­ment is avail­able at only one other place in Brazil, within the con­fines of the coun­try's largest TV net­work. But now, for a nom­i­nal price, any­one can use the fa­cil­i­ties to cre­ate pieces with in­ter­na­tional qual­ity audio and video,” Gou­veia says. “It's been very popular with stu­dents and am­a­teur film­mak­ers and 27 films and doc­u­men­taries were made here in one year alone.”

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