Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Big-Business Brazil Taps into Its Young Entrepreneurs

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Big-Business Brazil Taps into Its Young Entrepreneurs

Article excerpt

Brazil, a country familiar with big business is now nurturing a growing network of small business incubators, tapping universities for young entrepreneurs with a start-up spirit.

The Genesis Institute in Rio de Janeiro looks nothing like the high-tech offices that grew amid the boom in Silicon Valley.

But this incubator, where about two dozen start-ups are divided into tiny offices with shared bathrooms down the hall, has helped young entrepreneurs create operational software for bus companies, new equipment for maintaining oil and gas pipelines, and robotics technology to measure environmental damage associated with petroleum exploration.

In doing so, the Genesis Institute is helping to grow a new class of technological entrepreneurs in Brazil.

The news about Brazil's booming economy is dominated by big business, foreign investment, a huge consumer appetite, and the prospects of oil. But Brazil has also blazed forward as an entrepreneurial leader. And while entrepreneurs here face a bureaucracy that could deter the most determined go-getter, they are also being nurtured by a government that sees them as a key engine of job growth. The government's Financing Agency for Projects & Studies (FINEP) has launched its largest project ever to support start-ups.

"We are betting this will have a transformative effect on the country," says Eduardo Costa, FINEP's innovation chief.

Creating job creators

Brazil is, in many ways, poised to transform. The country has led the region in R&D, investing in it the recommended 1 percent of GDP, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). A 2007 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor shows Brazil as a leading entrepreneurial country, with 13 of 100 residents involved in a start-up.

And its incubator network has grown from 136 in 2000 to 400 today. Most are affiliated with universities, says Ary Plonski, head of the Brazilian Association of Science Parks and Business Incubators. "The idea is to create new opportunities for students so they don't leave university fighting for a job, but being job creators," Mr. Plonski says.

That's what Paulo Lerner, an industrial engineer, and Andre Averbug, an MBA graduate, did. The two friends could have joined an established company. Instead, in 2004, they set out to build a public phone for buses to benefit commuters. During a visit to a garage to test the product, they saw how complicated managing a bus fleet is, and began developing software to help managers track vehicles. …

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