Developing Brazilian Triple Helix Leadership


Guilherme Ary PlonskiGuilherme Ary Plonski

Research Director

Center for Technology Policy and Research University of São Paulo

*email address protected*




The Triple Helix of University‑Industry‑Government Relations(in short, Triple Helix), a concept that emerged in the mid-1990s, found fertile ground in Brazil. The reasons were threefold: intellectual, institutional, and practical.

From the intellectual perspective, two earlier pragmatic models akin to the Triple Helix(TH) had already established roots in the Brazilian academy and, through advanced education programs and professional mobility, reached public policy makers and company R&D managers.

The first, which became known as Sábato’s Triangle, was proposed in the late 1960’s by two Argentinean researchers: Jorge A Sábato, a unique combination of teacher, researcher, entrepreneur, journalist, and manager of the national nuclear program; and Natalio R Botana, a political scientist. They envisioned a dynamic triangle of interactions between the scientific infrastructure, the productive structure, and public policies as the sole way to lodge science and technology (S&T) into the mainstream of the developmental process, enabling Latin America to overcome its historic underdevelopment condition.

The other intellectual basis was the known National System of Innovationtheory, proposed in the late 1980’s by the British Professor Chris Freeman, based in part upon his work with the Professor Bengt-Åke Lundvall from Denmark. Contrary to the traditional linear innovation model, they affirmed that technology progress and innovation are results of a complex set of relationships among actors in the system, including enterprises, universities, and government.

Two initiatives reinforced the institutional base for TH in Brazil. The first was the issuing, by the then military authoritarian regime, of three editions of the national Basic Plan for S&T Development, in tandem with the respective National Development Plans, during the 1970’s and first part of the 1980’s. The other builder of the institutional base for TH was international cooperation, mainly from multilateral organizations, among them the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of American States and the Ibero-American Program of S&T for Development (acronym in Spanish: CYTED). With different nuances, numerous programs financed by these agencies during the 1970’s-1990’s were aimed at giving dynamism to the flow of knowledge between academia and industry, by means of smart public policies and initiatives.

In addition to these intellectual and institutional elements, representative cases of TH practice became visible. One major example was the  Deep Water Technology Capability Program(acronym in Portuguese: PROCAP), established in 1986 by the national oil company Petrobras, in order to explore and extract oil from below 400 meters of sea. As technologies for this complex challenge were unavailable at the time, the company devised a network of academic research groups, in areas ranging from Geophysics to Future Studies, coordinated by its R&D Center. This successful cooperation, which helped Petrobras to become and maintain the position of world leader in technologies for deep and ultra deep water oil exploitation, evolved into one of today’s largest and most sophisticated practices of the TH concept in the world.

2.  Leadership Matrix and Processes

As in several other areas, the main wellspring of leaders for science, technology, and innovation (ST&I) thinking, policy, practice, and management in Brazil has been the university. It is therefore natural that academia would be the hotbed for TH leaders avant la lettre.

Four key development processes were put in place since the timeframe of the intellectual, institutional, and practical evolutions highlighted in item 1: executive education, graduate studies, innovation habitats, and intermedial entities. Other key processes, such as professional mobility and coordinating organizations, have been associated with each one of the four described here.

2.1 Executive Education

The main program for advanced education relevant to THoriented leadership, established in the early 1970’s by the National Innovation Agency (acronym in Portuguese: FINEP), was operated, for almost three decades, by the Center for Technology Policy and Management(acronym in Portuguese: PGT), at University of São Paulo (USP). The original name, Training Program for Management of S&T Research(acronym in Portuguese: PROTAP), hints both at the perception of the need to professionally manage research in order to enhance its effectiveness, and at the linear innovation model then prevalent.

Several spin-offs arose from the Program, mainly: (i) the Training Program for Managers of industry-University and Research Institute Cooperation (acronym in Portuguese: PROTEU), also offered in partnership with CYTED, in other Latin American countries; (ii) the  Training Program in Management of Innovation Processes in Organizations, with international emphasis (acronym in Portuguese: PROTAPi), under contract of the Ministry of ST&I, in partnership with the Federal University of Bahia; (iii) open MBA courses, presented by the Institute of Management Foundation, a private not-for-profit organization created by USP Business School Management Department faculty; and (iv) the Advanced course in Management of Innovation Habitats, a pioneering initiative of the Brazilian Association of Science Parks and Business Incubators (acronym in Portuguese: ANPROTEC), which was recognized by the International Association of Science Parks, and supported by several governmental and quasi-governmental agencies.

The scheme shown (page 14) highlights the evolution of the executive educational activities carried out by USP, which are related to the advancement of TH in Brazil.

Approximately 1,600 professionals participated in the executive education programs. Some of them became key actors in the Brazilian TH scenario, occupying positions such as Deputy Minister of ST&I, CEO of the National Innovation Agency, and Chief Scientist of the main Brazilian aircraft manufacturer (#4 in the global ranking).

Some of the coordinators and faculty involved in the executive education initiatives achieved advanced positions, such as Rector of USP, the highest internationally ranked Latin America university, and CEO of the São Paulo State Research Institute (acronym in Portuguese: IPT), the most important Brazilian industrial research institute.

2.2 Graduate Studies

The first Brazilian graduate students interested in S&T Policy and Management got their degrees during the 1970’s and 1980’s in the USA or in the UK – in this case, mainly at the University of Sussex based Science Policy Research Group, led by Professor Freeman.

Upon their return, they created centers for S&T Policy and Management Studies, with diverse nuances, in some of the leading Brazilian universities, which have operated continuously for more than three decades: Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Federal University of Bahia, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, State University of Campinas, and USP.

These centers received a boost, during their early stage, from the S&T Development Support Program, established with funds from a World Bank loan taken by the Brazilian Government.

The students graduated from these pioneering centers, established centers, or other forms of organized research groups in several other Brazilian universities.

The aggregate production of master, doctoral, and post-doctoral works, by scores of graduate students generated a wealth of knowledge about virtually every aspect of TH and ST&I related subjects in Brazil. Some of the graduates became important actors in the national TH scenario as, for example, Deputy Minister of Development, Industry, and Foreign Trade. Some of the faculty members of these centers also achieved relevant positions, such as Vice-President of the Brazilian Development Bank.

A spin-off of the USP group was the creation of the National Association of Innovative Companies Research and Development (acronym in Portuguese: ANPEI) in 1984, inspired by the US Industrial Research Institute model. This Association has been very active in pursuing a TH agenda for Brazil.

2.3 Innovation Habitats

In 1984, the National S&T Development Council (acronym in Portuguese: CNPq) established a Brazilian Technology Park Program, in order to boost university-industry cooperation. For several reasons, only two of the six intended Parks took off. On the other hand, this pioneering initiative inspired two spin-offs that are relevant to TH.

The first was a series of technology-intensive business incubators, a model more suited to the objective conditions of the ST&I area in Brazil at that point in time. From a yearly average of 1.3 during the first ten years, the number of incubators grew exponentially after 1994, the year when inflation was finally reduced from levels as high as 85% per month to less than 6% per year.

The second spin-off was the coalescence of a small group of young university graduates who believed in innovation habitats as a keystone to transforming the Brazilian industry and leading the country to becoming a knowledge-based economy. In 1987, they created ANPROTEC, a thriving association, described at length in another section of the present issue of Hélice.

As a result of the introduction of innovation in the Brazilian agenda, mobilized by the landmark II National Conference of ST&I in 2001, several Technology Parks initiatives were established. The current number of innovation habitats is 384 business incubators, and circa 25 operating Technology Parks (with several others in different stages of planning and implementation).

Most of these innovation habitats were established by universities. This has had an enormous impact on the academic ethos, as attractive companies – both dynamic start-ups and R&D centers from emblematic corporations  – are now within or nearby campuses. This has generated a bilateral flow of students and researchers. Entrepreneurship became a desirable characteristic of students, at least in some university schools. The decade-long debate about cooperating or not with industry became superseded by the facts in the field.

The presence of business incubators enabled the completion of the so-called Knowledge Triangle: students who learned how knowledge is transmitted (in the classroom) and produced (in the laboratory), are now also exposed to the intricacies of transforming knowledge in innovations (in the incubator).

Supporting innovation habitats is an important public policy of the Federal, State, and some Municipal administrations. There is a National Program of Support of Technology Parks and Business Incubators, led by the Ministry of ST&I, which serves as a platform to articulate actions of several institutions.

The Brazilian innovation habitats movement became a classic case of TH in action. In addition, several managers of technology parks and business incubators became important actors in the TH scenery, occupying positions such as Minister of ST&I, State Secretary of S&T, Municipal Secretary of S&T, and University Rector or Vice-Rector.

2.4 Intermedial Entities

The TH context in Brazil has been gradually enriched by complementary entities – financial (angels, venture capital, soft loans providers … ), NGOs (industry associations, professional societies …), media (professional journals, mass media … ), specialized professional services (legal, accounting, marketing, consulting … ), and others.

In addition, intermedial entities have played a relevant role in increasing the interactions inside the TH. One very important category comprises circa seventy public or not for profit private research institutes, the former pertaining either to the Federal or to State Government. Usually specialized (e.g. agriculture, biotechnology, energy, health, industry, information technology), they are vital for transposing the, frequently, wide abyss between institutions that produce technical knowledge and the ones that need it. This is due to the fact that they are positioned in what can be called an optimal cognitive distancebetween universities and business.

There has also been a flow of professionals from research institutes to key positions in the Brazilian TH – to universities (e.g. as ViceRector), to industry (e.g. as Vice-President for R&D), and government (e.g. as Congressperson, leading the S&T interest group).


Brazil easily accepted the evolution from university-industry cooperation to a TH model, because the role of Government has been recognized since the 1970’s, as a result of the intellectual presence of what became known as the Latin American School of S&T Policy, epitomized by  Sábato’s Triangle. A deeper understanding of the socio-political dimensions of innovation was achieved in the 1990’s, through the diffusion of the holistic concept of National Innovation System.

The TH concept, which became widely known in Brazil in the 2000’s after the Third TH Conference, titled  The Endless Transition, and held in Rio de Janeiro, helped to advance the dynamics of cooperation among the different actors. One concrete expression was the enactment of the Federal Innovation Law, in December 2004, followed by a similar law in most of the twenty-seven Brazilian states and Federal Districts.

In spite of the obvious advances during the last decades, there is still widespread dissatisfaction among the Brazilian TH actors with the status of innovation in the country, with each actor blaming the others.

This paper, written by an academic who worked in business and held a Government appointment, states that, contrary to the usual discourse of isolationism and self-centeredness, the university has been a main agent for the promotion of TH, far beyond its generally assigned role of original Science knowledgeproducer. Four of the means developed for this purpose were briefly described: executive education, graduate studies, innovation habitats, and strong connections to intermedial entities.