Highlights Workshops

Mobilizing local legislators to shield science and technology: the example of São Carlos

This text summarises the contribution of Prof. Yvonne Mascarenhas (IFSC-USP) to the V Workshop Metricas, held in December 2020. The text reports the long history of interaction between the university and society in the São Carlos region, in the state of São Paulo. This relation proved vital in the mobilisation of legislators to ensure public financing for higher education in 2021 and beyond.

I was invited to participate in this workshop due to my modest contribution in the fight to avoid some drastic cuts in the 2021 State of São Paulo Budget to the resources for the financing of São Paulo State Universities, USP, Unicamp and UNESP, and to the budget of our principal State Research Agency, FAPESP. 

I only did what was within my reach, living in the interior of the state of São Paulo and working at the São Carlos Campus of the University of São Paulo: I sent a protest text to all representatives of the São Paulo Legislative Assembly and encouraged other people to do the same. I also contacted one member of our county’s legislative assembly to ask for their support, and he told me that they had already sent a similar message unanimously approved by its members. 

I did it mainly because I bore witness to the effort to develop our State Universities and their crucial importance to the education of scientific and technological professionals, something extremely important for the social and economic development of the state of São Paulo and Brazil. This was achieved with the vital support of our National Research Council, CNPq founded in 1951, and later of FAPESP, the Foundation for the Support of Research of the State of São Paulo established in 1960. All the effort was then to lead the country’s university education to achieve not only the state of the art of knowledge in all areas, but to stimulate research and creativity in the direction of starting new companies.

This objective was then evident to a few members of our department, mainly our colleagues Silvio Goulart Rosa, a theoretical physicist, and Milton Ferreira de Souza, a solid-state physicist. For them, the creation of Centers for the incubation of new companies started by our graduating students educated in Brazil or abroad was essential. They dedicated a great effort to convince the administration of CNPq of the importance of their ideas. They succeeded in 1980 when Professor Linaldo Cavalcanti, then president of CNPq, created four business incubators, one in São Carlos.

The São Carlos incubator, the first in Latin America, started in 1984 under the guidance of Silvio Goulart Rosa and Milton Ferreira de Souza and was named São Carlos Park of High Technology, ParkTek. It soon hosted many start-ups both from USP and from UFSCar. 

A significant contribution to these ideas came in 1997, with the creation of the Program PIPE of  FAPESP (Innovation Program for Small Companies) that aimed to fund small companies that would progress in several phases, according to their achievements. This program was a major success and supported the creation of more than 1778 start-ups projects approved until 2017, when the program completed 20 years.

Official support from the Universities came in 2003 with the creation of USP Agency of Innovation (AUSPIN), and in 2008 the creation of both the Unicamp Agency of Innovation and  the UFSCar Agency of Innovation.

All these efforts produced excellent results showing that start-up companies supported at the early stages of growth by state funds can develop when hosted in Business Incubators and, later, become self-sustained companies attracting more considerable funding from busines  accelerators. In this way, only at São Carlos were created more than 150 companies based in modern technology incubated only at ParkTec.

A few examples of São Carlos new technologic companies: DNA Consult (biotechnology company that started Coronavirus testing as soon as the tests were available), NANOX (production of nano metallic particles for various applications), Brain4Care (a new medical equipment that uses a new method for the non-invasive measurement of intracranial pressure), RAZEQ Aerospace, instrumentation for satellites).

Similar results were produced in other regions of São Paulo State, mainly in Campinas, São Paulo, São José dos Campos, Piracicaba and Ribeirão Preto (applications of Microelectronics, Automation, Algorithms, Software to improve Medicine, Business, Agriculture, Pharmaceuticals).

 All the educational and research activities in our state universities and all new start-up companies were at risk if the proposed 2021 General State Budget cuts in the resources for the maintenance of FAPESP and Universities were approved by the State Legislative Assembly of our state. I, and the whole university community, could not watch this menace to our future development without a strong reaction.