Cristiano Lincoln Mattos, CEO and co-founder of Tempest, which also grew out of Cesar, attributes his company’s existence to its ecosystem’s ability to translate academia expertise into market needs. “We wouldn’t even be able to start the company if we didn’t have Cesar’s support from the start, especially considering the local cybersecurity market didn’t exist 23 years ago,” says Mattos, whose company now has offices worldwide and is moving to the defense industry, as well as other markets, after being purchased by Embraer.
Cesar wants to do the same for AI. The institute aims to become an international center to train companies on how to adapt to generative AI and help their employees become generative AI natives. “We are focused on testing new ways to improve productivity by combining human and machine input to create or improve design, content and code,” says Peixoto.
Given Porto Digital’s hyper-collaborative model, the Covid years have not been easy. The impact of not being able to meet in person was compounded by the suspension of key events hosted by the nonprofit, such as Rec’n’Play, an annual festival designed to spark interest in tech careers at the population. Still, over the past three years, the district has seen a 10 percent increase in the number of employees, with revenue growth of 29 percent. The previous government, led by right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro, was also not a big supporter of the project.
“The years under Bolsonaro were really challenging for us, because the scientific and technological structures of the government were completely dismantled – we had to reinvent ourselves,” said Pierre Lucena, CEO of Porto Digital. As of 2016, the organization that manages the technology district has not received funding from the federal government and is conducting open innovation projects and advising other states to ensure its financial independence.
With the pandemic behind it, Porto Digital’s immediate goal is to employ 25,000 professionals in tech district companies by 2025, and more than 600 companies there. The technology park aims to train up to 50,000 people by 2050, focusing on underserved communities through initiatives from high school to retraining professionals in technology areas such as AI disciplines.
The state government, which has supported the initiative from the start, hopes to leverage the technology hub’s success to build an economic base that extends beyond the capital and into the rest of Pernambuco. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, Pernambuco lives the third most unequal state in Brazil. 51 percent of residents live below the poverty line.
“Our challenge is to replicate [the Porto Digital structure and training initiatives] in the backcountry, to develop entrepreneurs in the state who already have a tech focus, and to support those who are not yet in that space,” said Raquel Lyra, governor of Pernambuco State.
The growth of the technology sector can mean increased employment and economic opportunities, as well as the chance to develop digital public services and innovative solutions to the state’s pervasive challenges. “We are a poor state, with 2 million people without food and an equal number without access to water,” says Lyra. “We know our problems and failures in areas that can be addressed using data and technology.”
These are no easy challenges, but Meira, who has watched Porto Digital grow from an idea to its current fame, believes there are reasons to be optimistic.
“Recife doesn’t wait for things to happen; we’re not interested in things that have been done before,” says Meira. “This has worked for us in the past and will continue to set us apart in the future.”