Campinas, the new Silicon Valley ?

I have been bombarded so much by radiant news about Brazil that my stance about the country has slowly changed from cynically pessimistic to cautiously optimistic.

The latest attack on my scepticism comes from The Washington Post, and talks about the town of Campinas, where my University is located. The piece is not exactly new, but only came to my awareness today :

Brazil: Home of the next Mark Zuckerberg?

(N.B.: those bombastic titles don’t exactly help me to take the argument seriously.)

By , Published: March 21

Silicon Valley has led the world in innovation and entrepreneurship because of its culture of information sharing and mentoring. No other region in the world is like it. But things are changing. (…) One of the most impressive examples of this is in Campinas, Brazil—a small university town on the outskirts of Sao Paulo.

In June 2010, ten startups at the Softex incubator at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas decided to break free from the university incubator they were housed in and form an entrepreneurial co-op of sorts, called the Associação Campinas Startups. Instead of relying on local business executives and professors to guide them, the entrepreneurs decided to learn from each other. (Read the rest)

I am, of course, delighted by the news, and I am sure the people both at Softex and at the new Associação Campinas Startups are doing a wonderful job. Last year, I’ve got acquainted with professionals and students involved in Campinas-area entrepreneurship projects, and I was very impressed by their enthusiasm and commitment. The administrative environment, however, has to help, or at very least, it has to avoid disrupting. I would be more willing to believe in our chances in the global innovation competition if it weren’t for our Kafkaesque bureaucracy and titanic tax burdens.

Wadhwa ends his piece with the optimistic prediction that “by the end of this decade, we will see some Mark Zuckerbergs emerging from the slums of Sao Paulo or New Delhi, India or Valparaiso, Chile”. My guess is that he’s yet to realize the depth of the inequality in Brazilian society. I don’t think it’s impossible that the next Zuckerberg will come from the favelas, but the chic neighborhood of Jardins in São Paulo has much better odds. The potential favela Zuckerberg may count herself lucky if she learns enough math to properly understand a cross-multiplication of proportions. By the end of high-school (in the already unlikely scenario she completes it), her chances of actually coping with high-school level math and science are as good as those of winning the lottery.

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