by Alexandra Sá Carvalho
INESC has enjoyed a certain degree of success in its use of the technology transfer mechanism by setting up new companies in the Information Technology and Electronics area as part of its local market development strategy. Owing to the fact that the industrial environment in Portugal has a shortage of technology intensive industrial areas, it has been INESC's objective to help to set up new technology based companies which will, in turn, act as agents for technological development in the widest range of economic sectors.
AITEC, a business development company in which INESC has a 50% share, is INESC's business innovation support partner. AITEC, which was set up in 1987, is the first company of its kind in Portugal and operates both as an incubating structure and a business development services provider in areas such as the preparation of business plans, project evaluation, suppliers of seed and venture capital and business management training.
At the time of the formation of a company, AITEC takes a minority shareholding in its start-up capital and promotes its association with INESC's R&D, as well as with the marketing, financial and juridical services of the institution. If justified by the growth of the company, AITEC will sell off some or all of its holdings. AITEC has recently set up Gestaitec for the purpose of facilitating the sale of share capital, owing to the fact that the capital market in Portugal is relatively unsophisticated, and taking into account the fact that several companies may wish to maintain an institutional association with INESC. Gestaitec was set up for smoothing the transition of companies going through their incubation stage by providing them with the opportunity of being a party to a business initiative with a group strategy, in such a way as to help to create a new business group in the Information Technologies and Electronics area.
AITEC's activities since 1987 have resulted in the creation of 33 companies with a success rate of 90%, starting from around 60 incubation processes. AITEC currently has 22 associate companies which have created more than 200 jobs, most of which employ highly qualified staff and which represented an aggregate sales turnover of around 32.5 MECU in 1994.
AITEC's involvement has centred on two fundamental business development processes: the spin-off process for R&D activities performed by INESC groups which have brought their results to the marketplace through the setting up of new companies and a spin-in process in which promoters of ideas or business from industry make use of the incubation infrastructure and business innovation in order to benefit from an institutional association with INESC. AITEC´s experience over the years has shown that these spin-offs, when subject to strict financial and marketing management controls tend to be more successful in business terms and the current strategy is to increase the level of support to these processes and the internationalisation of operating companies.