Reflections on turning 40 – Chapter Two: Life

May 23rd, 2017

Since I was little, my parents made a lot of sacrifice to keep my brother and I in private schools in Brazil since we were not rich. I was always one of the best in the classroom and I was able to get into one of the best Universities in Brazil when I was only 17 years old. After completing my Bachelor’s in Science with a Major in Biochemistry, I lived alone since I was 21 years old when I went to the biggest city in Brazil, Sao Paulo, where I did my Ph.D. I have always been a perfectionist by nature and I like things to be the way I plan. Unfortunately, life has taught me that it is never like this and this still bothers me. Life is supposed to be imperfect, I’ve learned. I am full of “to do lists” both professionally and personally and I try to follow everything. I always have several goals and most of the time I can’t do everything in the long run. BUT, planning is very important to me. I’ve learned this from my father since he is always planning everything. However, I’ve learned that my best experiences in life just happened without a “plan”. I am a person who has become frustrated by the circumstances of life. Many things have happened in my life in the last years, many good, but many bad. I have learned a lot with all this, but some things I do not accept until today, because I want to be in control, and most times we have partial or no control at all of the situations. I still can’t accept death mainly from loved ones, but I see that it is necessary to renew – to remove the old ones of the world and to put new minds / people in it. I have always been very truthful, aggressive. But I’m learning to defend my position in a more peaceful way. I have learned to be more humble, but sometimes I have my slips. I’ve always dedicated myself to my Professional life and forgot my Personal one. I did this for a while until it was unbearable. I’ve burned out several times. I had goals set for me since 17 years, I knew very well what I wanted. I forgot that I am a human being and that neither of us is an island. We need each other, especially when we get older. I’ve learned these values ​​after coming to the United States, a closed and cold society most of the time (no offense here, Americans have lots of good things). I’ve always been hard, hard to myself, but the things that life has put in front of me has softened my heart a little. I am a very curious person, I like to understand the world as a whole and I wonder a lot what we are like humans, what is our purpose on earth, and what is the meaning of it all. In the end, we all die, and what matters most is not the money we’ve got, the real state we have, but the image and values we have build and leave behind. This should be our legacy. We are all very insignificant, just another dot (or data point for data scientists reading this post) in the world. The greatness of it all full of inexplicable things makes us small. The human being is very complex psychologically and at the organic and cellular levels. And here I want to make a personal note also: when my mom got diagnosed with breast cancer ten years ago (yes, she is cured now) I felt like crap. I study cancer genetics and knew all the prognosis and possibilities but even then I was scared and did not know what to do. We have no control, no power. Things just happen. In my last post I wrote that as a kid I wanted to be an astronaut and see the world from above hoping that this would answer some of my questions. Well, I became a scientist of the very small (molecular level). And I love what I do. I read a lot, but sometimes I read and I know too much about things like diseases that could affect loved ones. This became part of my frustration. Always in my life I got into conflicts, defended my point of view, always thought that I was right and owned the truth. I’ve got a lot of bullshit because of this, but I’ve tried to change and listen more than talk. There are times I can’t and I talk too much and then I regret it. Today, I am a changed man that takes more risks and spend a lot on things that I do not know if there will be a return. There’s a quote from Albert Einstein that says “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Try new things, especially in the professional field and take risks. I take a lot more risk and try not to think about the consequences and of the future. I believe this applies to the personal sphere as well. I think many things and decisions that I have made in my life until today were right and others I would do differently. An important thing that I think a lot after turning 40 is  that we are needy beings and although we need “alone moments”, we need loved ones around us in the “long run” and it matters a lot. I’ve changed a lot looking back to my early 20s. So, my advices are: forget trying to control everything, avoid perfectionism, take risks (being rational, of course) and live a happy life. The bottom line is that life is too short. Like the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer once said: “Life is like a whiff”. So, let’s enjoy life while we can.

Reflections on turning 40 – Chapter One: Trust

May 1st, 2017

For people that does not know me and my history, I was born and raised in Brazil and spend more than 10 years in the United States. Now, I split my time between both countries and also travel all over the world. When I was little, I wanted to be an Astronaut, mainly because I was very curious (I am still curious…). The National Space Agency (NASA) in the Unite States was using the Space Shuttle to send astronauts to space and building the International Space Station (ISS). We are talking about the 1990s. Everything changed when I got from my dad the signature of the Magazine “Scientific American” (the English version) and started reading a lot. Also, I had a Biology teacher in High School that sparked my interest in Genetics and the Human Genome Project that was going on at that time in the United States and in Europe. Over time, I lost interest in space and became interested in the world of the very, very small: molecular biology and genetic engineering. I was curious to know what was inside the cells, and the Human Genome Project caught my eye. That’s how I decided to get into genetics. So I changed my Career Goals, did a B.S. in Science with Majors in Biochemistry and Immunology and moved to a biggest city in Brazil to do my Ph.D. in Genetics (in this case Sao Paulo). I was 21 years old at that time and a very naive person. Intellectually very capable but raised in an Environment of values such as Integrity, Character and Trust. Like they say: “book smart” but not “street smart”. After that, I finished my Ph.D. in a record time of 4 years and with 26 years old I moved to Boston to do a Post-Doctoral Degree at Harvard University. That was a dream coming true! The best University in the world! The first year was all excitement, but in the second year I started getting frustrated since the scientific and academic system seems to be broken all over the world, even at Harvard (check my previous post entitled “Science is Broken: how, why and when?”). That is when I met another Brazilian doing a training in Boston and we started thinking on new ideas that could impact the genetics field and, most importantly, people. This is when one of the first start ups I have build started, just as a concept. After two years in Boston, I decided that it was time to move on and I got an invitation to go to Chicago to work at Northwestern University, full of professional promises. Well, the promises were never fulfilled by my boss there. He lied. This is the first lesson I’ve learned and my Dad always told me this but I never paid attention: pay attention to what people tell you and their actions. If they overlap, good, it is a trustful person. If they don’t, this person is not trustful. Lesson learned right? Nope. Remember the Start Up company with the Brazilian guy? In the meantime, frustrated again, we started building everything. I was working remotely. The company raised capital in a bad way: I was against it, did not like the Angel Investors and the VCs. But it helped us get started. I was the Operations guy in the United States. With my tirelessly work we were able to get into two Co-Working Spaces and and Accelerator. I have even wrote and applied for the Patent we have today. We were also selected to go to the White House in a ceremony with 50 other Start Ups developing solutions in biotechnology and healthcare to discuss the Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act with leaders and the Vice President Joe Biden when Obama was President. It turned out that the people I was building the company with (my co-founder and the investors) basically lied again several times and in the end after several disagreements we sold everything. Second time is a charm they say. Well, no. Second time you lose trust is really a lesson learned. So, the most important thing I’ve learned in my 40 years of personal and professional life is that trust is the most important thing when starting a job, a company, a friendship, you name it. Even in marriage we need to trust our partner, otherwise the relationship starts in a wrong way. Another lesson, trust needs time to build but you can destroy it in seconds. There is a nice definition for trust: it equals consistency over time. I am reading a nice book about this subject since it really affected me and I am quite sure it affects a lot of people in the world (check the book: “The Speed of Trust: the one thing that changes everything” by Stephen Covey). The important take home lesson here is that independent if you are in Academia or becoming an Entrepreneur or Investor, trust is the most important thing to build since the beginning; with your boss, co-workers, investors, clients, etc. Loosing trust can really compromise Life and Professional Projects and impact your experiences and outcomes. There is a lot of “bad” people out there trying to cheat and use you with your intelligence and expertise. Just please learn the art of trust first then move on with your professional and personal life. Trust is the building block for Success. That is my advice.

Bridging Innovation between Academia and the Private Sector

March 30th, 2017

Recent studies of Innovation have pointed to the growing relevance of external sources of innovation. Rather than relying on internal Research & Development (R&D), private companies and organizations are reported to increasingly engage in ‘Open Innovation’, especially with the Academic Sector (check more information in the article “Relationship-based university-industry links and open innovation: towards a research agenda”). This means innovation can be regarded as resulting from distributed inter-organizational networks, rather than single companies. In the same vein, various concepts of ‘interactive’ innovation have been put forward to understand the non-linear, iterative and multi-agent character of innovation processes. But what is the definition of Innovation nowadays? According to different sources, innovation could be defined as the process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay. To be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need. Innovation involves deliberate application of information, imagination and initiative in deriving greater or different values from resources, and includes all processes by which new ideas are generated and converted into useful products. In business and enterprises, innovation often results when the company uses ideas in order to further satisfy the needs and expectations of the customers. Well, we know that most of the new discoveries occur in the Academic Sector and the Private Sector, even though having R&D, lags behind in some aspects. Depending on the country this will be different too and bridging innovation licensing and technology transfer between both sectors is not trivial. Today we see several Start Up Incubators and Accelerators popping up all over the world, especially in the United States. Each one of these has a different model and duration, however most are not connected directly to Universities. In the last 5-10 years, this is changing. We are starting to see established public companies with big valuations in the technology sector and also pharmaceutical companies opening spaces for Innovation, Incubation of Start Ups and even Start Up Accelerators to foster new Ideas that could be used to create new solutions and/or products for society. These are nice initiatives. For example Johnson & Johnson has the JLABS, with the main vision of empower and enable science to reach people that needs it faster. Will they work bringing more products to the company pipeline? We will see in the near future. However, technology transfer deals between academia and the private sector are not easy. We have a few professionals that are experts in this field, even lawyers that do not understand or are not interested. But, some successful deals happened and are happening. I have been the Director of a TTO in a University for a year and I’ve seen all the problems related to doing these types of deals. TTOs help Universities to commercialize Intellectual Property and Research developed inside their Campus. My take on these problems: mostly lack of efficiency in the processes. Why? What are the main problems in tech transfer and licensing between the Universities and the Private Sector? First, the academic professor and researcher from the University lack business skills, since he was not trained for that. In this case, the University must have a Technology Transfer Office (TTO) or a similar Department that supports the Professor in these cases. Secondly, the University still has some aversion of transfering a product or solution to companies that will bring it to market. I believe this is a cultural problem. When we say University, everybody has in mind a teaching Institution without the objective of having revenue and profit (and this is not the reality, Universities need a source of revenue that is not just Student tuition and private donations). Thirdly, when both sides, the University TTO and the representatives of the private sector seat in a big “marble” Table to discuss Terms and Conditions, the University is always the weaker part even though everything started there with their own resources. That could be justifiable since after the deal most of the risk until the new product goes to market will be from the company licensing it. What the future holds for Licensing and Tech Transfer? Well, I believe that all Universities must have a TTO with well-trained people to get the best deals for the University and the Private Sector needs to change the approach when dealing with an Institution that started the whole development of some product or service of their interest. It needs to be a “win win” situation otherwise it is a waste of time and money from both sides. I believe this a good start and things are changing in Tech Transfer and Licensing. However, both sides, especially the University needs to be more “professional” and business-oriented when closing these types of deal because, in the end, they will get their piece of the money pie if everything works well with no risk in the long term in most cases.

My Trip to China

December 29th, 2016

Last November, the Chinese Government selected five Brazilian representatives (see Image and Legend below) for the ITTN Program and I was one of them. I was selected to stay the whole month of November in China since I am the Director of Innovation and Research at UCB in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. The selection criteria was the Innovation Stage and Evolution of the Academic Center of the Institution you are linked to and its current leadership. My Curriculum and Merit as the Director of Innovation was also evaluated. In 22 days, we had the chance to visit and do specific training in various Chinese cities, such as Shanghai, Beijing, Furzhou, Shijiazhuang, Nanjing, etc. Groups of people representing more than 15 countries such as Russia, South Africa, Belarus, Serbia, Thailand, India and others were also selected for this Training. Well, I just needed to write a Blog post dedicated to this trip since I’ve changed my vision about China. ITTN stands for “International Technology Transfer Network” and is a non-profit organization based in China that is dedicated to promoting international technology transfer and innovation services for organizations from different countries around the world. ITTN has already developed long-term partnerships with more than 400 foreign technology transfer organizations from more than 40 countries and more than 500 national organizations in China, which is a major Globalized resource collaboration network. After this trip I can say that China has changed, and a lot. Even though there are lots of problems, such as poverty, pollution, violence, etc I saw a country very focused in a strategic planning for the future, especially in sectors such as technology and Innovation. We had the chance to visit Universities, Hospitals, several Technology Parks and Company Incubators and I was blown away. The experience in all cities that we have visited was extremely positive. The country is in full growth in the productive and civil construction sectors. We had the opportunity to travel by bullet train between cities and the trains can reach up to 400 km/h. They built a huge railway network based system. We were able to see impressive work of infrastructure with technological parks connected to Shopping malls, housing and leisure area everywhere. In all the cities we have visited, there is a constant concern with the cleaning of air pollution, green energy and reduction of the emission of toxic gas, mainly carbon monoxide of the cars since the country has 1.3 billion people. China has been investing heavily in technologies to end air toxicity, which can reach extreme levels as we have seen closely in Beijing and Shijiazhuang, for example. Air pollution can be felt with a strong smell of toxic gases. Many people have to wear masks on days with extreme pollution. In the case of cities like Shanghai and Nanjing, pollution is already being better controlled by some measures that limit the number of cars per family and the use of small electric motorcycles. One fact that impressed me was the cleanliness of Chinese cities and all public transportation. My previous impression was that the Chinese cities were extremely dirty, especially the streets. This fact was demystified during my visit. In my point of view, the main highlights of this trip was China’s strategic planning to become the world’s first economy by 2020. The Chinese are bringing qualified professionals and people from around the globe to demonstrate how they will achieve this goal through: 1) Construction of Technology Parks in association with Universities in several key cities; 2) Changing the context of a country that supplies raw material, such as Brazil, to become an importer and developer of new technologies – mainly by technology transfer and licensing and 3) Strategically planning the entire scientific and technological sector together with the productive sector by building companies (mainly Spin-offs from the Academic Sector and Start Ups) in order to generate public-private partnerships. So the main highlight of my visit to China is that the Chinese people, as a nation, are making an impressive action plan focusing on specific areas of Technology and Innovation that are strategic to transform a country into a world leader. Thus, here is my advice: watch it out United States of America (USA), the Chinese are coming; fast and furious…

From right to left: Myself, Pascale from PUC-RGS, Cristina from FORTEC, Agnaldo from SEBRAE and Tais from PUC-RIO. Source: PUC-RIO’s Website.

From 9 Billion to Zero?

August 27th, 2016

We all know that the path to become an entrepreneur is a very difficult one. To build a company from the ground up, getting Investors on board, the Midia covering and all the fuzz around is like a rollercoaster. The most important part of becoming an entrepreneur is to create value, building a product and/or solution that could be applicable and used by society. Lately, we have seen a wave of hot startups, mainly in the digital and IT space, some of them with high valuations. Creating internet companies is relatively easy. All you need is a computer, IT infrastructure and a new idea and to build a new platform or a new app. In Biotechnology, the path to entrepreneurship is totally different. Biotechnology is defined as the manipulation (as through genetic engineering) of living organisms or their components to produce useful commercial products (as pest resistant crops, new bacterial strains, or novel pharmaceuticals) or simply the use of living cells, bacteria, etc., to make useful products (such as crops that insects are less likely to destroy or new kinds of medicine). Another area of biotechnology and life sciences that has grown is the diagnostics sector. The idea is to develop new tools and solutions to make disease diagnosis fast and easy. That is where the company Theranos got in. In this blog post, I will discuss how company valuation, especially in the biotech space is volatile. Elizabeth Holmes is a Stanford drop-out that created a new way of doing blood tests for various diseases using a “nano” tube so patients could avoid needles and all their hurdle. The company she created is Theranos and is an American privately held company doing health-technology and medical-laboratory-services which include disease diagnosis based in Palo Alto, California. Theranos also developed a blood-testing device named Edison, which is basically the hardware of the company product. The company claimed that the device uses a few drops of blood obtained via a finger-stick, rather than vials of blood obtained via traditional venipuncture, utilizing microfluidics technology. By the summer of the year 2014, its founders had raised over U$400 million dollars from several investors, valuing the company at U$9 billion. Interestingly, Elizabeth owned 50% of the company, making her a billionaire with a net worth of U$4.5 billlion dollars. The company operated for years in near-total secrecy, despite raising hundreds of millions of dollars. Holmes became a Silicon Valley celebrity, appearing in the Cover of several magazines, including Fortune, Forbes and she was a regular on the tech industry conference circuit. Her company, which claimed to perform dozens of lab tests on just a few drops of drawn blood, seemed poised to revolutionize healthcare and was talked about as a 2016 IPO candidate. Where is the big problem in all this history? How can a company claim that it has exclusive technology that will solve all the problems in diagnostic blood tests? The simple answer is that Theranos did not publish a single peer-reviewed article, it did not publish any Intellectual Property (Patents, for example) and never showed any results to the Scientific Community. It mainly worked in what we call Industrial Secrecy. Well, totally fine right? Not that easy. In the last 6 months the company lost value and credibility since the pressure to show results increased and they were not able to “deliver”. The negative midia coverage helped the company sink. Some articles were published, analyzing and comparing side-by-side Theranos’ technology with big diagnostic companies that are already well established in the market and their results were not good as expected. A company that on paper had a U$9 billion dollar valuation went down on spiral and now it is difficult to give it a “real” value. From billions to almost nothing in months. That is how it works when a company is created without true values and no transparency. What’s next for Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos? She lost the CEO position and the Investors are trying to “save” what is left. The company is being scrutinized now by the Scientific Community and by the Midia, the same one that placed her on a pedestal. Let’s wait and see what is going to happen but the outcome does not look pretty. Check this interesting Infographic/Cartoon on the company trajectory from Nine Billion Dollars to Zero.

Science, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Globally

July 25th, 2016

By Octavio L. Franco, Ph.D.

Professor and Researcher at UCB and S-Inova

In Brazil, science and research have always been associated to heavy expenses and the lack of short-term results. It is a big mistake to think that science and technological breakthroughs should not be a priority, such as education, health and safety. We just need to analyze developed countries and see the differences and benefits that technological developments could bring. Last month, the prestigious Scientific journal Nature published a nice compendium of the benefits of technological developments and science for some countries. Of course, the development in this direction comes from a well-structured partnership between the three main players that include universities, the government and companies. Each of these entities has their own culture, forces and motivations. Universities and their researchers are charged to give a response to public investment for the development of innovations, the government should notably be involved in solving the problems of his citizens and companies are always pressured by competition to bring better and more competitive products to the consumers. Thus, with multiple qualities and motivations, the combination of these three can be extremely synergistic in a very powerful way. Although this combination is extremely successful, there are difficulties so that development can occur with success. First, communication between professionals can be difficult and necessary connectors are professionals who can move the flow the information in and between different fields. Second, the combination of ideas and the implementation of them are required, since without creative dreams nothing changes, but also without execution nothing happens. Third, it is essential a high financial investment to mobilize the changes in these 3 players cited above. Financing science in Brazil is almost in its entirety made by the state and the government investments. On the other hand, there is a strong rise in countries like China, in which technological development is funded by approximately 35% of its resources by companies that require the generation of innovative products. Moreover, patents and/or trade secrets, bringing in improvements to these three players are able to protect these technological innovations, products and processes that are developed by them. In addition, the champions in this endeavor have been Israel and South Korea, consisting of nations with high technology development capability. Furthermore, small companies have been encouraged to start within the academic environment to further unite researchers and entrepreneurs, further expanding the entrepreneurship efficacy. In this aspect, the champions are the United States of America (USA), with over a thousand new startup companies founded in 2015. In the USA, there are innovation clusters where universities and companies are placed side by side in locations such as technology parks and geographic proximity brings real human and technological development. It is noteworthy that Brazil does not appear in any of these rankings and this fact shows that we are getting backwards. It’s time to take our nation to a stronger and consolidated state on science and technology. Technology has been changing man’s life since the discovery of fire and the bow and arrow. Technological development brings knowledge and knowledge brings power and better living conditions for the citizens. Nowadays, discoveries in the laboratories can really change the world, but only if these discoveries are transformed into real innovation. Science is vigilant on our side, acting wisely to solve the problems of our society. So, we need to take action now. Brazil, wake up for Science, Innovation and Entrepreneurship!

Reposted from the Article in Portuguese published at the Brazilian Newspaper “Correio do Estado”

Failure and Success go hand in hand

June 28th, 2016

Fact is that the road to Success is paved by Failure. “Failure” has come a long way from its 19th century origins as a synonym for Bankruptcy. Failure is a matter of perspective, and successful people or corporations can measure themselves against unmet goals and consider themselves failures. An example in the Biomedical field is the Mayo Clinic, world-renowned for their innovation and quality of care. Internally, they felt their Research wasn’t breaking enough new ground. So they created the “Queasy Eagle Award”, recognizing experiments and projects that were interesting and well-designed but ultimately unsuccessful. They got rid of the taboo of failure, and they exponentially grew the number of patents compared to the previous 18 months.  When the clinic recognized and valued their “near wins,” these failed experiments could become crucial steps in other, successful journeys. Think of your most recent effort that fell flat. What can it tell you? How can you use it to pivot to a new goal, or move you closer to the original? In 2000, physicist Andre Geim was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize for the apparently useless exercise of levitating a frog in a powerful magnetic field. A decade later, in 2010, he and Konstantin Novoselov won the Nobel Prize for isolating graphene, a one-atom-thick material that’s rapidly replacing silicone in countless applications. Lewis sees a direct connection between “the insouciance it took to levitate a frog” and the willingness to pursue the unlikely idea of isolating a two-dimensional object in three-dimensional space. Graphene was discovered during the “Friday Night Experiments” Geim and Novoselov hold at the University of Manchester, in the United Kingdom. It’s lab time set aside for unfunded, and unlimited, experimentatios – scientists at play. Unfortunatelly, we incentivize Creativity and Innovation by reducing the cost of failure, by creating safe spaces and comfort zones for exploration. In my personal experience, I had lots of failure in my personal and professional life. As a scientist, frustration and failure are words I would remember on a daily basis. Today I know that approximatelly 10-20% of what a scientist does in a lab works, with a high rate on failure. This could be explained by the idea that we are always risking in the “unkown arena” – things nobody discovered yet or build a hypothesis on. Lots of hypothesis are thrown away because what we expect is not the reality. The same is true in the entrepreneuship arena: we need to take risks and we will fail for sure. It is very difficult to “get it” at the first time. That is why we all see the expression “serial entrepreneur”. This is somebody that tryed more than once to build a company and failed. At some point the process of building the company worked and then the success came. Failure and success are always hand in hand. I’ve learned a lot with all my failures as a Scientist and as a serial Entrepreneur; however one thing I can say – it is never easy to realize something dind’t work or is not working and failure is coming. In the begginning, I was always blaming myself asking – is that me? Am I that bad at what I do? Believe me, this is normal. It is not you. It is mostly because it was not the right timing. My advice is keep trying and pushing and do not quit. There are two quotes from Thomas Edson about the thin line between failure and success: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” and “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” So, my advice is if it did not work today, keep trying…

Smart and Fast Data, not just Big Data…

April 22nd, 2016

I’ve just finished reading the book “Big Data: Using SMART Big Data, Analytics and Metrics To Make Better Decisions and Improve Performance” written by Bernard Marr. This book is a must read for Data Scientists and general people interested in data analytics. It is now clear that at the end of the day, it’s not about how much data you generate (in a scientific laboratory, in healthcare, in logistics, in the financial world, etc), it’s about how well you use it. Though Big Data has been recently deemed an over-hyped term, it’s not going to go away any time soon. I believe it will be the opposite; data science will be applied to all sectors in society. Information overload is a phenomenon and challenge we face all the time now. In fact, large-scale data analytics, predictive modeling, and data visualization are increasingly crucial for companies in both high-tech and mainstream fields to survive nowadays. Big data capabilities are a need, not a want today or tomorrow. Big Data is a broad term that encompasses a variety of angles. There are complex challenges within Big Data that must be prioritized and addressed; such as “Fast Data” and “Smart Data.” “Smart Data” means information that actually makes sense. It is the difference between seeing a long list of numbers referring to weekly sales vs. identifying the peaks and troughs in sales volume over time. Algorithms turn meaningless numbers into actionable insights. Smart data is data from which signals and patterns have been extracted by intelligent algorithms. Collecting large amounts of statistics and numbers bring little benefit if there is no layer of added intelligence and expertise. By “Fast Data” I am talking about as-it-happens information enabling real-time decision-making. An advertising firm, for example, needs to know how people are talking about their clients’ brands in real-time in order to mitigate bad messages. A few minutes too late and viral messages might be uncontainable. A retail company needs to know how their latest collection is selling as soon as it is released to continue or stop selling it. Public health workers need to understand disease outbreaks in the moment so they can take action to curb the spread. One example is Google Flu Trends detecting spikes in flu searches from Google. Twitter uses the same strategy to evaluate outbreaks of infectious diseases. A bank needs to stay abreast of geo-political and socio-economic situations to make the best investment decisions using a global-macro strategy. A logistics company needs to know how a public disaster or road diversion is affecting transport infrastructure so that they can react accordingly. One of the biggest evolutions of integrating smarter data into content experiences is that it levels the playing field with larger competitors who may have more resources to burn on advertising media. Using the totality of visitors as a whole – and deriving meaning from all of their content experiences, we can deliver more relevant and contextual experiences than our competitors. And today, we can deliver those solutions in much less expensive ways than the multi-million dollar solutions that may have historically been out of our reach. Big Data is just a problem. Smart Data is a solution that changes the game of marketing, and how we deliver better solutions for customers from this point forward. According to John Bollen, the four keys to converting big data into smart data are: 1) Organize and manage resources; 2) Identify your customers and/or targets; 3) Target this specific group of people and evaluate the outcome in real-time and 4) Use data analytics to look forward and to do forecasts. In addition, we have to remember that technology doesn’t solve the problem of changing big data to smart data. It’s more about process than technology. While tools are getting better at aggregating and parsing data, it’s ultimately up to us as data scientists to connect past behavior to future wants, preferences, needs, etc. The technological advancements seen all the way back to the Industrial Revolution have been about automating a manual process, not making us smarter. The questions without answers are “what processes are in place to handle the data?”, “what governance is in place?” (in other words, who’ll make decisions that extend from the data?), and finally, “how do we operationalize the data”? Technology won’t answer these questions. First, we must have the right people in place and processes established, then we look at how technology fits in. Smart and fast data generate reliable answers; however we need the right decision makers in the end.

Image Source: Digitalroute

Zika Virus, Microcephaly and Brazil

February 14th, 2016

The first indications of a connection between Zika virus and the current outbreak of microcephaly in Brazil were picked up by the HealthMap System in Portuguese alerts on November of 2015. By Saturday, November 28th, the Ministry of Health in Brazil confirmed the connection that the increase in infants born with microcephaly could be contributed to transmission of the Zika virus in pregnant women. The link was first detected when Brazilian health authorities found traces of the Zika virus in a deceased infant born with microcephaly. And what is the Zika virus? How is it transmitted? The Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted infection related to dengue, yellow fever and West Nile virus. It is transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito bites. Although it was discovered in the Zika forest in Uganda in 1947 and is common in Africa and Asia, it did not begin spreading widely in the Western Hemisphere until last year, when an outbreak occurred in Brazil. Few people have immune defenses against the virus, so it is spreading rapidly. Millions of people in tropical regions of the Americas may now have been infected. The possibility that the Zika virus causes microcephaly – unusually small heads and often damaged brains – emerged only in October, when doctors in northern Brazil noticed a surge in babies with the condition.  It may be that other factors, such as simultaneous infection with other viruses, are contributing to the rise; investigators may even find that Zika virus is not the main cause, although right now circumstantial evidence suggests that it is. It is not known how common microcephaly has become in Brazil’s outbreak (for more details check the NY Times article “Short Answers to Hard Questions About Zika Virus”). About three million babies are born in Brazil each year. Normally, about 150 cases of microcephaly are reported, and Brazil says it is investigating nearly 4,000 cases just from November of 2015 until now. Yet reported cases usually increase when people are alerted to a potential health crisis. A recent scientific report has shown strong indications that the Zika virus is present in the brain tissue combined with the clinical signs and symptoms such as microcephaly in a fetus (for more details check “Zika Virus Associated with Microcephaly”). In that case report, an expectant mother who had a febrile illness with rash at the end of the first trimester of pregnancy while she was living in Brazil was analyzed. Ultrasonography performed at 29 weeks of gestation revealed microcephaly with calcifications in the fetal brain and placenta. Microcephaly was observed, with almost complete agyria, hydrocephalus, and multifocal dystrophic calcifications in the cortex and subcortical white matter, with associated cortical displacement and mild focal inflammation. Zika was found in the fetal brain tissue using molecular biology tools, with consistent findings confirming the clinical observations. The complete genome of the Zika was recovered from the fetal brain and sequenced. Even though it is early to draw conclusions, the presence of the virus in combination with the clinical diagnosis in the babies is clear. However, cause and consequence is still very unclear. Brazil is in the epicenter of this epidemic caos, especially because the cases are increasing very fast. The government is taking measures to fight the mosquitoes that transmit the virus, but similarly to dengue fever, it has been difficult to eradicate viruses that are transmitted by this mosquito. In addition, further scientific research in Brazil and other countries are taking place to better understand the potential implications of these connections between the virus and the clinical findings. It is likely that the rapid spread of Zika virus around the globe will be a strong impetus for collaborative research on the biologic properties of the virus, particularly since the risk of neurotropic and teratogenic virus infections places a high emotional and economic burden on society. Brazilian scientists have a lot to learn and offer. Now it is time to collaborate and get more answers!

Image Source: National Geographic

The StartUp Ecosystem in Brazil

January 21st, 2016

by Juliana Saldanha, Marketing Director & Vinicius Roman, Project Director

@Techmall S.A.

Before we delve into our discussion in this post, it is important to understand what is an ecosystem. In biology, ecosystem is defined as a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment. In our case, we will discuss the Brazilian ecosystem of startups as a complex system, composed of a set of actors (entrepreneurs, startups, universities, government, incubators, accelerators, etc.) with specific roles and motivations, which interact to develop innovation and high value-added businesses. According to the survey “Fostering the Startup and Innovation Ecosystem“, successful ecosystems must have five main ingredients to leverage the success of startups: (i) talent, through the development of human capital to build and maintain a working force able to build businesses and innovate; (ii) density, since by increasing the density of thinkers and talented entrepreneurs, it is possible to dramatically increase the potential for successful ventures; (iii) culture, highlighting entrepreneurs as role models, accepting failure as part of the process of learning and teaching entrepreneurial skills; (iv) capital, both for beginners and for those who need to scale, noting the fact that intelligent capital really makes a difference to the business and (v) a stable regulatory environment, predictable and supporting both the entrepreneurs and investors. In line with this context, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines six categories that influence the performance of entrepreneurial ecosystems. Analyzing these six categories in relation to the Brazilian ecosystem, Arruda et al. (2015) come to interesting conclusions. First, the regulatory framework should ease the bureaucratic barriers to the development of new business, especially when we talk about startups, since the dynamism to speed up this type of business and the processes that sustain its rapid growth are critical success factors. In Brazil, however, the laws are very outdated and the bureaucratic barriers are alarming. Thus, companies that break the traditional patterns providing products or services with innovative business models require many efforts to prosper. A recent case is of the startup Shippify  who received a Post Office statement to terminate their activities. In addition, the labor market is extremely protective and rarely flexible and entrepreneurs face many difficulties to open their businesses, and the shutdown process is very laborious. With regard to market conditions, despite the adverse moment that the country is right now, we can still have a relatively optimistic view regarding the possibility of attracting new business and technology. Companies that develop innovations abroad have great interest in Brazil because of a determining factor: the size of the country’s market. In addition, the number of startups has grown significantly  (18.5% in just six months), showing that this movement tends to go against the crisis. In the case of access to finance, in Brazil there has been a gap between the initial capital, funded mostly by the government, and venture capital funds, which operate with greater emphasis in the later stages of business development. Despite the supply of capital in Brazil, there is still uncertainty among investors to invest in fledgling businesses with high risk. Moreover, considering the current level and the country’s interest rate, conservative investments gain strength against investing in startups. In this context, Silvio Meira  highlights that Brazil has created a startup industry without creating a venture capital one, resulting in a chaotic environment (for more information read the article at the Brazilian Newspaper “Folha de Sao Paulo“). Considering the category creation and diffusion of knowledge there has been an intense generation of knowledge, but with a shy application on the market. The science in Brazil still depending largely on public money (more than 45%) and researchers are, mostly at universities. Regarding entrepreneurship, the OECD highlights two elements: (i) the presence of focused education for entrepreneurship and (ii) migration able to bring skilled foreign labor into the country, sharing ideas and entrepreneurial skills. Considering the first element, it appears that education focused on entrepreneurship is rare in Brazilian educational institutions, which have a greater focus on training employees and not employers. As for the second element, there is a lack of attractiveness to welcome foreigners and possibly retain them in the country, limiting the flow of knowledge according to UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Regarding the entrepreneurial culture, there is still a fail-resistance and, consequently, an aversion to risk, a fact that limits access to private funding for startups. To make matters worse, the short-term results by pressure can shift the focus of companies and inhibit business with high potential, but they need a longer time to perform (for example, in the healthcare field). Thus, the entrepreneur’s figure arises guided by the need, while it should be guided by opportunity. These reflections lead us to believe that it is possible to build a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem in Brazil, but many changes are needed and there are several challenges ahead. We are fighting for this to happen and we know there is no victory without sweat. We are Brazilians and never give up!