CMU Portugal Program Fosters Cooperation Between Portugal and the U.S. in ICT

 

Event CMU Portugal with the US Embassy 1  Internationalization as a result of a solid cooperation between Portuguese higher education institutions, research institutes and companies, and Carnegie Mellon University, was the main topic discussed in a session organized by the CMU Portugal Program in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy in Portugal, held on February 14, 2014, at Círculo Universitário do Porto, Portugal. Attended by over 25 people, including faculty, researchers, alumni, dual degree Ph.D. students, and faculty exchange members, among others, the event presented the goals and the opportunities created by the CMU Portugal Program to John Olson, the Chargé d’Affaires ad Interim of the U.S. Embassy in Portugal.  

 

João Claro, national director of the CMU Portugal Program, briefly explained the Program’s activity in its three interconnected areas of education, research and innovation. “Our Ph.D. and professional masters programs grant dual degrees, a feature that makes them unique among the partnerships between Portugal and U.S. universities,” he stated. The most recent achievement related to the Program, in the education area, was the creation of the entirely self-sustainable M.S./MBA double degree program in business and engineering, between Porto Business School and Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering. “We have also been funding highly innovative and collaborative research projects, that have built strong international relations, and have led to important outcomes such as the funding of large follow-on proposals by the European Commission, or the creation of the Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute.” The CMU Portugal Program community is collaborating with more than 80 companies and, through the multiple opportunities that the Program provides, has helped to launch several startups with “a strongly international outlook.” The national director believes that “large projects such as the Entrepreneurial Research Initiatives, soon to be started, will help achieve an even closer integration of the work in these three areas.” 

John Olson, who has been in Portugal for the last six months, explained that “embassies play a pivotal role in finding points of convergence between countries,” and that he is “always happy to see signs of cooperation, of which the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program is an example.” “The U.S. has something to offer in terms of entrepreneurship and the CMU Portugal Program is a great opportunity to learn,” he clarified. According to the representative of the U.S. Embassy, “having the opportunity to hear real experiences of the people involved in the Program is great and it is amazing to see how the CMU Portugal Program is teaching people how to be international players,” he concluded. 

 Two entrepreneurs, Paulo Marques (Feedzai, a spinoff of the Faculdade de Ciências of the Universidade de Coimbra) and Susana Sargento (Universidade de Aveiro, IT, Veniam Works), and the dual degree Ph.D. student Rui Meireles (Universidade do Porto and CMU), participated in a roundtable moderated by João Claro. The national director of the Program spoke about the recent calls for Entrepreneurial Research Initiatives (ERIs) and Early Bird Projects, and revealed that this year the CMU Portugal Program will open two new calls, as well as launch inRes, a new training and immersion program for Portuguese early stage entrepreneurial teams, in Pittsburg, in the United States. 

“CMU Portugal is an Accelerator for Connections” 

Paulo Marques, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Feedzai, the first startup within the CMU Portugal Program, and Susana Sargento, co-founder and vice-president of Engineering at Veniam Works, another startup launched within the Program, shared their entrepreneurial experiences with the audience, explaining how the Program helped their ventures move forward. According to Paulo Marques, “the CMU Portugal Program is an accelerator for connections and was a vital reference in our first contacts.” When questioned about the challenges of internationalizing, the CTO of Feedzai said that “many entrepreneurs think that when you create a technology, customers will come and buy it. But, it doesn't work like that.” In fact, “more important than the product is the way you sell it, and for you to be able to sell you need to do it with local people and local knowledge. The way business is done in Europe and in the States is very different,” he stated.  

But the hard work and the learning have paid off and last year Feedzai, moved its headquarters to San Mateo, California, where is commercializing its fraud prevention solution. Together with Paulo Marques, Feedzai is led by Nuno Sebastião, Chief Executive Officer, and by Pedro Bizarro, Chief Science Officer. The company currently employs more than 40 people and, according to Paulo Marques, “regularly provides internships for Ph.D. and Masters students.” 

With Susana Sargento, on the other hand, the entrepreneurial experience was fully international from the very beginning, since the startup’s headquarters are in the U.S., with offices in Porto and Aveiro. Veniam Works is a spin-off of the Instituto de Telecomunicações and the Universities of Aveiro and Porto, and is led by a multidisciplinary team, with two Portuguese co-founders (Susana Sargento and João Barros, past national director of the CMU Portugal Program), and two American co-founders (Robin Chase and Roy Russel). The Program was “extremely important because it gave us the opportunity to work with an international team in the scope of the DRIVE-IN project, as well as to be co-advisors of international students. So the CMU Portugal credentials and recognition were extremely important,” she admitted.  

“At CMU, a ‘good enough’ mindset is not enough!” 

Rui Meireles, a dual degree Ph.D. candidate in Computer Science at Faculdade de Engenharia of the Universidade do Porto (FEUP) and Carnegie Mellon University, took the floor to tell his experience in the Program. “I discovered the Program by accident when I was looking for Ph.D. programs. And I always thought that a good school like CMU would be unapproachable, but the CMU Portugal Program made it approachable,” Rui Meireles said. The Program was also interesting for the student because he “was not willing to stay four to five full years in the U.S., and so the Program was the perfect choice,” he added. 

In the student’s opinion, there are some differences between education in Portugal and in the United States. “In Portugal we often have a ‘good enough’ mindset, but at CMU you are always expected to do your best, and that mindset is simply not enough,” he explained, adding that while working as a Teaching Assistant he was “amazed at the amount of work that an undergraduate student would have to do, so it is very demanding.” According to Rui Meireles, his experience in the Program “was great. The prestige and the credibility also translates into your research and the name ‘CMU’ carries a different weight. Hopefully Universidade do Porto will too in the future.” 

Teaching People to be International Players 

Seven years have passed since the creation of the partnership, and we are now at a more mature stage, but we have not lost sight of our essence,” said João Claro, adding that the mission of “making Portugal more competitive is still of the utmost relevance.” 

The importance of the collaboration between Portugal and the United States through the international experiences provided by the Program was also one of the topics addressed during the session by João Claro, who stated that “everything we do, we do with the flavor of international collaboration,” and that “CMU is a world leader who we can learn from; but at the same time, there are valuable capabilities and opportunities which are unique to Portugal, and make us equals in this partnership,” he explained. 

João Claro concluded the session by stating that one of the main goals of the partnership between Portugal and Carnegie Mellon University is to prepare people to for an international environment, something that has been in increasing demand with globalization. “This is exactly what the dual degree graduate programs do, for instance,” he concluded. 

April 2014