Development of the Amazon region is the cornerstone of startups

Technology-based companies create innovative tools to preserve natural resources and raw materials from the forest

Elisa Vaz / O Liberal - Translated by Silvia Benchimol and Ewerton Branco / UFPA

Brazil has evolved in the number of technology-based companies, the so-called “startups”, which seek, through technology and entrepreneurship, innovative tools that develop society in some way. To thoroughly approach this topic, showing the importance of these companies for the country and for the Amazon, this and the next week's Liberal Amazon reports will shed light over the issue.

Data from the Brazilian Startup Association show that, from 2015 to 2019, the number of these new enterprises jumped from about 4,100 to 12,700, representing an increase of 207%. Today, the country has 14,065 startups distributed into 78 communities and 710 Brazilian cities. It has been figured out that 9% of Brazilian enterprises are focused on education, 7% on other services, 6% on finance and 5% on health and well-being.

On that wise, Brazil remains in 20th place in the world ranking of startups, which, according to experts, means a great advance in the national market. With the growing concern regarding the preservation of the environment and the natural resources made available by the forests, the Amazon has been the focus of many of these groups, and local social entrepreneurs try to contribute by means of technology and with a meaningful and relevant particularity: they are local and know well, by genuine experience, the existing challenges to find solutions for the region.

Operating in Pará since 2019, the Açaí Valley association aims to bring together these entrepreneurial ideas and has approximately 200 startups mapped today, with eight directors and about 420 participants. The Liberal Group aiming at fostering innovation in the region and focusing on integration with the market, investors and startup signed a partnership with the association.

The president of Açaí Valley, Antônio Corrêa, recalls that the need to create the association arose from the number of people who wanted to discuss innovation, entrepreneurship and work with startups.

When we talk about sustainable ideas, we talk about conscientious consumption and consumers" - Antônio Corrêa, president of Açaí Valley

“We act as a large hub that connects various actors in the ecosystem. We have some occasional pitch mentorship programs (presentation and sale of startups) and, above all, we work as a community always willing to help startups in demand. Regarding positioning, we have several partnerships with initiatives focused on investment, from ‘accelerators’ in the region, itself, to investors and connection programs with large companies (commonly called Open Innovation)”, he comments.

In the Amazon, there are great challenges, according to Antônio, mainly in preparing potential investors, mostly businessmen, so that they have greater skills concerning investment risks regarding enterprises that are in the initial phase of promising businesses. In his opinion, it is of “total importance” to create sustainable ideas that value the region's products and culture. “When we talk about sustainable ideas, we talk about conscientious consumption and consumers, that is, it involves the search for ecologically correct products and services that are concerned with today's society. We have brilliant people in our region who already have national and international prominence”, he says.

Game and neurolinguistics in learning math

One of the projects that are part of and encouraged by Açaí Valley is ‘Inteceleri’ - Tecnologia para Educação [Technology for Education], a startup that was born in 2014 in the capital of Pará, created by a group of researchers and teachers who identified low performance of students in basic education, especially in mathematics. – only 5% showed good performance in their course, according to the study. Faced with the scenario, which actually reflects the national scenario (considering that only 15% learns the contents properly), scholars went in search of innovative and accessible solutions for students from Pará.

Inteceleri Tecnologia para Educação

Hence, an unprecedented methodology called “Matematicando” [Mathing] was born, in an app and book, which aimed to teach basic math operations using color as a memory trigger and neurolinguistic activities in a gamification environment – a digital educational game. At the end of a year of operation, more than 100 thousand users were reached. In 2015, the entrepreneurs became Partner Google for Education and had an expansion in the business by means of the implementation of the platform, also contributing in other areas of knowledge.

The group also developed an app, in 2018, called “Geometricando” [Geometrying] to help with geometry learning, using virtual reality experiences to recognize regular geometric shapes. As a cell phone and virtual reality glasses were needed and this was something far from the students' educational environment, an accessible alternative was created: The development of a virtual reality glasses, the Miritiboard VR, made from the fiber of a palm tree (abundant in the Amazon forest) and managed in a 100% sustainable way, produced in the local communities of Abaetetuba, a municipality in Pará.

Education is the path of development for any region. This is not a recent discovery" - Walter dos Santos Oliveira Júnior, partner-director of the 'Edu Tech Amazon', professor and computer engineer

Besides that, in 2020, with the pandemic event and the consequent social isolation, Inteceleri supported more than 25 institutions with an emergency plan to implement online and remote education, in addition to sharing part of the material to help teachers and students from all over Brazil. More recently, the Mobile Maker Miritiboard VR Laboratory was created to provide a more intense experience of the culture of ‘learning by doing’, and there are already over 4 thousand users operating the product.

“Today, with more than seven years of existence, we have already impacted more than 400 thousand students and teachers through the project that is now called 'EduTech Amazon: Innovations that are born from the forest', composed of all our technology products and services for education. We are already settled in the states of Pará, Amapá, Ceará, Maranhão and São Paulo, and currently expanding to seven other states in Brazil. We hope, by the end of this year, to reach the mark of 500,000 people impacted by the project and, thus, contribute to the acceleration of the teaching and learning process in Brazil”, says the partner-director of the organization, professor and computer engineer Walter dos Santos Oliveira Junior. The team is made up of 20 employees, including experts and Masters in Technology for Education.

Inteceleri Tecnologia para Educação

From the beginning, the proposal was to offer the Amazonian people the expertise to use technologies within the educational environment, thus fostering the teaching and learning process and contributing to the quality of education in Brazil, having the Amazon region as the starting point. The next step, according to Walter, is to be present in all states in the region and, later, in Brazil as a whole.

“We live a very critical moment in education around the world because of the pandemic. We have a lot to offer in this sense. It's not the all-in-one solution, but what we are developing will be of great benefit to these students, with mental arithmetic, logical reasoning, and computational thinking skills. Education is the path of development for any region. This is not a recent discovery. The countries engaged in developing education occupy economically prominent positions in the global scene and in terms of quality of life. An improvement in this environment certainly generates a series of good impacts. Brazil loses R$ 30 trillion for not having qualified labor force for new jobs. We want these students to be prepared for the jobs of the 21st century, which are linked to technology”, he declares.

And the solution is simple, as in Walter's opinion, there is no point in doing anything too complex for those who do not have adequate infrastructure to access quality education. This simplicity, for him, is one of the differentials of the project. In addition, the managing partner highlights a few relevant aspects: there is a group of scientists with national and international connections; the team has cutting-edge technology and works with virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and everything that is most modern in the technological area; and there is also the “value of the Amazon”, considering that the use of raw materials is sustainable and the entire process generates local income.

“We want our people to learn how to develop these tools, modeling, robotic arms, so that this production reaches a larger scale. We already do this with the local community, bringing the technology into the forest without destroying the forest. We intend to be present throughout the country, Latin America and perhaps the whole world, contributing in a simple and intelligent way, doing things that are in line with the new economic cycle, which is to keep the forest standing, be sustainable and be rational in using natural resources”, explains the researcher.

Regional base for innovative solutions

Another project which symbolizes the Amazon pretty well is the startup Ver-o-Fruto, acting in the circle bioeconomy field. The group of entrepreneur women, whose first steps towards carrying out this project were in 2019, work on processing waste of açaí berry, turning it into a new product. A facial soap for oily and combination skin was created using this technology. Besides, one of the main purposes of the two partners, Ingrid Teles and Aline Chelfo, is to take a small water treatment system to the islands next to Belém. In order to accomplish that project, now in 2022, the startup is proposing that for each soap bar sold, R$ 1 – one Real is going to be invested for the water treatment system.

“The project was designed from two uncomfortable problems observed: the great amount of açai waste and mango fruit spread on the sidewalks in our city, and the curiosity to better comprehend the quality of the water which the riverine peoples use. Thus, we thought and worked to turn a problem into a solution”, highlights Ingrid, a production engineer, founder and CEO of the startup. “During our first steps, we need to manage a pilot of the initial project to take the water treatment system to the islands, since we didn’t have anything yet. Only after that, we redesigned the project and identified a market we could start with, later we could manage to continue the water treatment system project. The importance of our project is to develop solutions using the resources we have already available. Our startup seeks for solutions for the society from a new perspective of the waste materials”, she says.

Ingrid Teles, entrepreneurial

According to Ingrid, the process developed by the Ver-o-Fruto project has a peculiarity for the Amazon region, since the initiative manages to process the waste in a manner to transform it into raw material, that is possible to be done in various production chains, all that using transformation processing, with no new extractions. Thus, the partners hope to help to keep the forest standing. For her, the importance of creating sustainable projects is that there are many available products to be used nowadays.

“What is missing for more ideas to be successful is to be able to manage the entire research that was developed and to know how to promote it to the market. Now, there are grants, such as “Startup Pará”, which help whoever has an idea and wants to start a project for the market. You must be aware of those opportunities. Due to the Açai Valley project, we are close to everyone who is searching for the best for our region concerning development. Everybody we contact comes to add and everybody is ready to collaborate”, she says.

Another startup which is looking for the development of the region is Ondrone, which focus on complete and safe solutions, using the technology of drones and satellites, machine learning and computer vision, aiming at optimizing the use of resources and correct management for a more sustainable competitive production process. As a company, it was created in 2018, and as a startup, in 2019, when they had a first contact with Açai Valley. Ondrone has the objective of creating advanced solutions on precision agriculture of açai growing for small and medium farmers and producers, turning the decisions more assertive and helping for the digital transformation, restructuring of processes and guiding a more conscious use of resources, according to the Objetives of Sustainable Development (ODS) and implementation of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) guidelines.

Leonardo Mártyres, of the Projetc Ondrone

Currently, the team is composed by four people. According to the founder and CEO of Ondrone, Leonardo Mártyres, graduated in Laws and taking an MBA in geoscience, geotechnologies and management of agribusiness, as some punctual works were done, they figured out the lack of investments and the opportunity in the agribusiness, which encompasses mining, environment and bioeconomy, concerning the use of technology to optimize the productive and management process. “Surely, there is a great potential in what we are doing. The production model has changed and we have helped to achieve a new organizational culture: a more sustainable and conscious production. We designed a model to run a scalable business, which can be replicated to other kinds of tropical farming”, he says.

According to him, the difference is to work with the best of the region, thus, helping to the local and regional development concerning sustainability and optimized production, that is, producing more using less resources, especially raw materials. Leonardo evaluates the project as a very important action ... “There will be aware production, which helps to increase a sense of awareness for the companies that the business sustainability itself depends on adopting and applying environmental, social and governance practices”, he states.

One of the obstacles for more ideas like this one to be successful, according to the CEO, is the traditional bureaucracy and the difficulty to obtain credit for those who are starting a business. He suggests to, firstly, manage to get a team committed to the idea, to understand the viability and its validity in the market, also to share experiences to get to know the problems and get tips from the others for your business. Secondly, to search for investments, on your own, from friends or relatives, from investors known as “angel investors”, or from programs of acceleration of initial stages. Lastly, the advice is to learn from the mistakes and to fix them fast. 

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