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South Summit Brazil: Innovation districts encourage local economies and gain relevance by connecting environments to the population

South Summit Brazil: Innovation districts encourage local economies and gain relevance by connecting environments to the population

South Summit Brazil 2024: Innovation districts encourage local economies and gain relevance in Brazil by connecting environments to the population

Pedro Valério, from Instituto Caldeira, Mariana Pincovsky, from Porto Digital, and Martim Velez, from Unicorn Factory, in Lisbon, debated the topic in a panel this Wednesday (20)

Investment in new talent, good governance, and an alliance with the creative economy: these are the ingredients for building a successful innovation district, according to the experts who debated the subject on a panel at South Summit Brazil this Wednesday afternoon ( 20). Pedro Valério, executive director of Instituto Caldeira, located in Porto Alegre (RS), Mariana Pincovsky, executive director of Porto Digital, based in Recife (PE), and Martim Velez, program director for Scaleups & International Growth at Unicorn Factory, from Lisbon, Portugal, participated in the panel Building Global Innovation Districts, in which they shared and compared the experiences of the three institutions.

Panel moderator, Pedro Valério, from Caldeira, raised the question of what, exactly, defines an innovation district – in comparison to other nomenclatures commonly used in the technology ecosystem, such as “hub”. At Porto Digital, according to Mariana Pincovsky, the different denominations indicate varying scales within a large platform: “At Porto Digital, we only have one environment that we consider a district, which is the Porto Digital of Recife. It is a more robust and more mature structure than a hub, for example. In the district, we have the participation of other initiatives, including education and public authorities”, she explains. “In other cities, we have what we call ‘projects’, with a smaller structure. And we have just opened our first office, outside of Brazil, in Portugal, with an even simpler structure. In the case of Porto Digital, it took twenty few years to build what we call ‘district’.”

Martim Velez, from Unicorn Factory, agrees: “Although there is no ‘scientific criteria’ to define what a hub or a district is, in our logic, the district involves several other services in addition to startups: we have the participation of corporates, partnerships with Portuguese and North American universities, as well as service areas, such as events and gastronomy”, he points out. Velez also highlights another essential aspect of an innovation district: free access for the population. “Anyone can visit and experience the Unicorn Factory,” he says. “Involving the community makes all the difference.”

Last Monday (18), the Instituto Caldeira announced a new expansion: the hub will now occupy the structure of the old buildings of the Tecidos Guahyba factory, a space measuring around 33 thousand m², expanding the total area of the Caldeira for 55 thousand m². The planned investment for the new area is around R$120 million. The movement, according to Pedro Valério, is an important step precisely in the construction of an innovation district in the capital of Rio Grande do Sul: “Combining the areas of Instituto Caldeira with the areas located in the surrounding area and offering gastronomy, culture and entertainment services, there will be more than 140 thousand m² destined for the new economy and the formation of an urban environment where new companies can establish themselves and generate value for society”, he states. “We want our city to be increasingly known globally as a fertile environment for entrepreneurship and innovation.”

The direct involvement of the creative economy is also considered by the three experts to be fundamental in the development of innovation districts. “The creative economy is a catalyst for innovation: one without the other makes no sense”, says Martim Velez. Mariana Pincovsky, from Porto Digital, adds: “Culture is very present in the daily lives of people from Pernambuco: it is impossible to travel around Recife and not be impacted by local culture in its various forms. At Porto Digital’s events and content, we rarely just talk of technology: we always address current topics to show that technology permeates everything and is for everyone, and culture and creativity are part of these themes.”