Technological competitiveness

“New knowledge and new contacts”

In 2008, InWEnt chose a new approach to promoting innovation and technology in Latin America and started InnoTALK. This project is now being run by GIZ. The goal is to facilitate the flow of information between universities, private-sector companies and institutions for technical and vocational training. Currently 22 participants, who were invited to Germany, are gathering experience at agencies involved in technology promotion. They will return home at the end of March. Four of them shared their impressions and expectations with D+C/E+Z.

By J. César, L. M. Andrekowisk Fioravanti, F. N. Vásquez Miranda and K. M. Rivas Saca

What kind of innovations does your country need?
Lívia Maria Andrekowisk Fioravanti: Brazil mostly exports commodities. That must change; we need to add more value in the entire production chain. Our nation’s competitiveness, moreover, will hinge on investments in promising fields like nano technology, biotechnology or renewable energy.

Fabiola Nayaret Vásquez Miranda: It is in the provinces, that Chile’s private-sector companies most lag behind in terms of international competitiveness. In those regions, investments in basic infrastructures as well as skills training are necessary. We also need enhanced financing models and have to improve the execution and evaluation of research and development. Our scientific strengths lie in biofuels and biomedicine, for instance. We have lots of technically skilled and creative young people, and we should encourage entrepreneurship.

Karen Milena Rivas Saca: Most companies in El Salvador – and in Central America in general – are small and medium-sized enterprises. In terms of natural resources, we only have rural commodities, and domestic firms do not do much manufacturing. Unfortunately, production tends to be quite traditional, so it is necessary to find ways to boost edu­cation and technology transfer to generate more value. Innovations are needed on many fronts. Relevant issues include the management of companies, education and training, the diversification of production and export orientation.

Janaína César: Brazil is an emerging force in higher education. 11,400 people completed their PhDs in 2009. Nonetheless, only five out of every 100,000 Brazilians gain such a degree. Germany, by comparison, has 31 doctoral students per 100,000 citizens. Our country is still investing too little in research and development, and most of that investment is concentrated in south-eastern Brazil. Universities, however, have been required to establish technology transfer centres since 2005, and the government supports innovative companies with grants and tax credits. Despite many talented researchers and sound policies, interaction and cooperation between scientists and the private sector remains weak. Companies should do more to gain strength through innovation.

What impressed you most about the way Germany promotes innovation?
Lívia Fioravanti: The applied-sciences approach of the Fraunhofer Institutes is very effective. I am impressed because the institutes’ funding only relies on about one third on government guarantees, the rest is mobilised through research assignments from private-sector companies and various publicly-funded agencies.

Fabiola Vásquez: First of all, I like the way modern architecture and infrastructure complement medieval structures in German cities. The mix is quite appealing. As for corporate innovations, I’d like to stress several aspects:
– the large and subsidised network of innovative actors,
– the total investment in research and development that makes up more than 2.6 % of gross domestic product,
– the multitude of knowledge-intensive products and services in various sectors,
– the fierce competition of innovation between the various German states,
– the strong interest small and medium-sized companies have in innovation, and
– the general awareness for entrepreneurship issues in society.

Karen Rivas: German society is geared to the future. Institutions cooperate even though they are in charge of things as diverse as infrastructure, education, research, public administration or public-sector companies. Their cooperation isn’t always easy, but all involved understand that it is necessary.

Janaína César: I’m impressed by the constructive relationships scientists have with the private sector. Both sides share a vibrant culture of innovation.

What kind of innovation do you plan to introduce at home?
Lívia Fioravanti: I’ll introduce the methodology of future scenarios when I return to Inventta, a consultancy that is active throughout Latin America. People try to imagine what life will look like in a few years and draft several scenarios. The benefits are numerous, they include motivating change and innovation; improving long-term decision making and achieving broad-based consensus and strategic commitments, for example.

Fabiola Vásquez: I’ll return to La Frontera University, where I coordinate technology transfer, with new knowledge and new contacts, and I gained insights into how to better network internationally. Moreover, I’m preparing to introduce ways to better utilise modern information and communications technology in the innovation process. That concerns information on intellectual property, for example, or the latest research results that can serve to boost innovations in companies. In Chile, we are on a promising road, and we’ll advance faster if we take into account Germany’s experiences. Researchers find it difficult to market their inventions, so we build alliances with companies in Chile and abroad to create new business opportunities.

Karen Rivas: At home, I work for a GIZ programme that supports innovations in small and medium-sized enterprises in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In Germany, I got new ideas about how to hook up universities with private-sector companies and other institutions, and I will implement those ideas. On top of that,
I want to strengthen exchange between universities in Germany and Central America.

Janaína César: I specialise in cost-benefit analysis. It is important to assess the business value of inventions before applying for patents. When I return to my job at INOVA UNICAMP, the office for technology transfer at the state-run University of Campinas, I hope to focus on technologies with a high potential for value creation. Actually, the way we work is quite similar to what Steinbeis does here in Germany, and it was very helpful to gain these insights personally. INOVA reviews the technical aspects of some 70 inventions every year and registers around 50 patents. The biggest challenge is to find a company to use the patents. We issued only 39 before 2009. That number should rise considerably once we assess innovations in regard to their commercial potential too.

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