Agribusiness researchers and entrepreneurs will launched officially on Thursday last the AgTech Valley – Vale do Piracicaba seal, a sort of designation of origin that the Brazilian tech hub aimed exclusively at agricultural innovation intends to use as a brand.
The intention is to take advantage of the knowledge environment of the São Paulo state city, fostered by the campus of the Higher School of Agriculture Luiz de Queiroz of the University of São Paulo (Esalq/USP) and by the agricultural companies already set up in the region, to create a brand that adds value to the products and services developed there.
“We are among the five best colleges in the world in tropical agricultural studies and have today in the valley of the Piracicaba River dozens of innovation firms researching from second-generation ethanol to microorganisms that capture carbon. We are the agribusiness Silicon Valley. We need to use that in our favor,” says Mateus Mondin, professor of Esalq’s Department of Genetics and one of the minds behind the initiative. “It is not possible that we are in the 21st century and we are still known in the country for the pamonha,” he adds, referring to the traditional sweet-corn food, a paste wrapped in corn husks.
Talks for the creation of a brand for the agricultural innovation of Piracicaba began at a room of CanaTec Coworking, downtown space where startups make projects for the sugar and ethanol industry, still the leading research sector. In addition to sharing desks, young professionals seek there “the synergy that comes when talented people generate an exchange of ideas and experiences.” In a way, a synthesis of the current entrepreneurial spirit of the city.
It is not only the name that refers to the Silicon Valley. Like in Piracicaba, the startups of Palo Alto are attracted by the activity of the Stanford University, which fosters entrepreneurship and innovation. With 3,000 students, 250 teachers and 150 labs, Esalq has been exerting a similar influence in the formation of Brazil’s agribusiness. An initial survey conducted by Mr. Mondin identified 89 agricultural companies in the valley, including startups incubated at EsalqTec and large companies such as Raízen, an ethanol producer and fuel distributor, located in the Tech Park. But there are more, he says, and the seal will also have the advantage of connecting ends, introducing suppliers to buyers, creating a local innovation and business network.
“There is no other region in Brazil with this concentration of intelligence in agribusiness, but this concentration is disorganized. With Vale do Piracicaba we will change that, to present ourselves in a different way,” says Sérgio Barbosa, executive manager of EsalqTec, Esalq’s incubator. “We want foreigners not to see any possibility other than coming here when they want to operate agribusiness in the country.” The two-language name suggests that goal — AgTech Valley for foreigners, Vale do Piracicaba for locals. With ten companies already “graduated” since the incubator’s creation in 2006, and more than 50 active projects, the seal comes as extra support to those emerging now. That is the case of startups Pragas.com, of insects for research, and @Tech, for cattle-raising for meat and milk production. “Not only will the ‘Vale do Piracicaba’ help our company’s image, but it will reduce costs and optimize results, as it strengthens a group with equal objective and in the same place,” says Cristiane Tibola, director of Pragas.com. In the central campus of Esalq, the “Vale do Piracicaba” banners are already seen everywhere. The logo can be downloaded from the initiative’s web portal (www.valedopiracicaba.org or www.agtechvalley.org), as long as the company operates in agribusiness innovation in the region. The possibility of attracting new brains to the city raises expectations also in the real-estate industry. Angelo Farias Neto, director of Piracicaba’s Secovi, the trade group of the construction industry, says the city has offerings of housing and plots for warehouses and industrial facilities, but there are projects shelved waiting positive market signs. “Our expectation is that the systematic publicity of this hub will boost the economy and land purchases”.
Founded in 1767, Piracicaba has in its history marks such as the first central sugar mill, in the 19th century, and the arrival in the 1920s of Dedini, which became the largest manufacturer of machinery for the sugar and ethanol industry — today, like many companies in the sector, in bankruptcy reorganization. But it is the pamonha that Esalq people and farm entrepreneurs see when they think of the “Vale do Piracicaba” future. The São Paulo municipality leveraged the concept of mobile sale of the dish, with cars taking it to residential neighborhoods and loudly announcing “Pamonha, pamonha, pamonha. Fresh pamonhas from Piracicaba.” The slogan came by accident, when a local family, in dire financial situation, sold the idea of the product coming from a place that doesn’t even produce corn. “This is the best marketing case. We want to repeat that at AgTech, but now it’s really true and planned” Mr. Mondin says.