Porto Alegre’s Innovation Ecosystem blossomed

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Text by Cesar Paz, Business Partner at Pipeline Capital.

To move forward in the affirmative of the title of this text, we first need to understand at least what an innovation ecosystem would be.

With all the risk of simplification, I could say that an innovation ecosystem brings with it the ecosystemic vision, which presupposes an integrated and articulated action of several actors dedicated to creating a culture of innovation. In addition, we also need to consider that an innovation ecosystem needs to be built through a favorable context and its own local dynamics, producing innovation in its different perspectives, such as product, service, organizational, social innovation, etc.

The engine of all this is the entrepreneurial attitude that must appear not only in the creativity and practical sense of entrepreneurs who bring ideas to life with their “startups”, but also in the understanding and implementation of new dynamics by all actors in this ecosystem.

I can say, as a digital transformation entrepreneur who has worked on this topic since the 1990s, that when we talk about the innovation ecosystem in Porto Alegre, we were born in 2018 and blossomed after the pandemic.

The city of Porto Alegre has always had plenty of raw material for innovation. Here, a lot of knowledge and talents have always been produced in all areas. Already in the 90s, we had the first technology parks, the initial movements of “venture capital” and the first wave of internet entrepreneurs, but 2018 is certainly the moment of our “tipping point” (Gladwell, 2006).

That year, with the protagonism of the three main universities present in Porto Alegre (UFRGS, PUCRS and Unisinos), the Alliance for Innovation is created and then the Pacto Alegre, a proposal for a pact in favor of innovation, full of symbolism and mobilizing capacity. In 2018, we started our turning point in a unique process of articulation of different actors that transformed isolated innovative initiatives into part of a systemic proposal for local articulation.

It was crucial to validate a systemic vision of innovation, the participation of the Municipal Government, the Private Initiative, Academia and Civil Society, including several associations and collectives that started to act in the common vision of building a true world-class ecosystem.

Recently, our ecosystem was portrayed in mappings produced by national companies such as Pipeline Capital and Distrito. These mappings show us the evolution of an ecosystem with more than 600 technology-based startups in verticals as diverse as education, health, agro, marketing, advertising, logistics, construction, retail, human resources, finance, among many others. Just as a reference, a 2016 Sebrae study spoke of 101 startups in the metropolitan region.

The initiative, which has 42 founding companies, in a few years has become an innovation hub with international standards and a unique dynamic. In its 22,000 m2, which in 2018 were abandoned, the Institute now houses hundreds of startups and numerous programs to support entrepreneurship and talent training. The South Summit was born in 2021 as the main innovation event in the south of the country and is rushing to enter the global agenda in its second year.

The success of the innovation ecosystem in Porto Alegre naturally positively influenced several other regions and cities in the state that are mobilizing to create their own innovation ecosystems. This is the case of initiatives in Caxias, Lajeado, Passo Fundo, Rio Grande, Gravataí, Pelotas, just to name a few other cities in RS.

A preliminary survey of the “Startup Guide”, a global publication that emphasizes and highlights the main players in various ecosystems in the world, identified with high relevance in the gaucho ecosystem, in addition to many startups, more than 15 investment companies and/or startup accelerators, more 20 acceleration programs, at least 15 schools or universities that systematically work with the ecosystem, more than 20 hub spaces or physical spaces exclusively created to house innovative companies and more than 20 founders, who stand out as full-cycle entrepreneurs in our ecosystem . Soon we should have in this guide the story of the RS innovation ecosystem told from the perspective of these actors.

Anyway, our innovation ecosystem has definitely blossomed, but I think that not everything is flowers. We will have a lot of work to do in the coming years to create a clear identity for our ecosystem and live up to all the recognition it has been getting.

We need to understand, as we evolve the ecosystem, that Innovation is a means and never an end. Innovation is a path, perhaps the only one, to sustainable and inclusive growth.

Perhaps our next step will be to build a clear thesis about which ecosystem we are creating and what its purpose is within the context of the future of our city and our state in order to make it more inclusive, more sustainable, more diverse and more transforming of our reality.

Text by Cesar Paz, Business Partner at Pipeline Capital.

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