Ana Barros, Research Associate at INESC TEC, participating in two ERIs CMU: From Pittsburgh to the Silicon Valley Campus
|Ana Barros is a research associate at INESC TEC that recently returned from almost a year as a courtesy visiting research professor at the CMU campus in Silicon Valley. “A very rewarding and intensive year,” she says, which has helped her to further develop and strengthen the research work within the two Entrepreneurial Research Initiatives (ERIs) she is involved with, as well as to boost the CMU Portugal Program network on the Silicon Valley campus.
Ana Barros with Don Knuth, who participated on the Distinguished Lecture Series.
Supply chain management, innovation networks, and technology implementation management are the main research areas, Ana Barros pursues. Since 2012, this research associate has been participating in the different activities promoted by the CMU Portugal Program, namely: she spent two months at CMU in 2012, as part of the Faculty Exchange Program and she leads several tasks in two Entrepreneurial Research Initiatives (ERI), i.e. “VR2MARKET: Towards a Mobile Wearable Health Surveillance Product for First Response and other Hazardous Professions;” and the “Innovation Dynamics in Aeronautics and Embraer in Évora: Towards a Distributed Platform for Entrepreneurial Initiatives, New Employment and Skills Development” (E4Value).
CMU Portugal: How did the opportunity to go to Silicon Valley campus come about?
Ana Barros [AB]: I am involved in two ERIs within the CMU Portugal Program, namely the VR2Market and the E4Value. In this scope, I contacted José Fonseca de Moura, director of the CMU Portugal Program at CMU, who put me in contact with Bob Iannucci, the Silicon Valley campus director, and Jelena Kovačević, the department head of the Electrical and Computer Engineering. In Silicon Valley, the CMU Portugal Program didn’t have as much visibility but Bob Iannucci had already learned about it from Pittsburgh, and he was excited to collaborate from the very beginning. He saw the importance of this interdisciplinary collaboration that applies supply chain management knowledge to help bringing ECE products to the market. Bob was my host at the campus, he introduced me to some of the professors, and I quickly met everyone else. The campus is located in two buildings inside the NASA Ames research park in Moffett Field.
CMU Portugal Program: While there, what were you able to achieve for the two ERIs?
AB: My main focus was on the VR2Market, given the research areas pursued on this campus. One of the objectives of the project is to create a spin-off in its fourth year, which will be in two years time. While at CMU, I established links that will help us in the future to create a spin-off. For example, I got in contact with a firefighter, who has been developing an app for team management of firefighters. It was very rewarding to see that, with the help of a Software Management master student, it was possible to work on the integration between this software and the VR2Market, basically adding one of the features to the whole solution. Two other CMU professors were also involved in this integration, namely Cécile Péraire, who was the student advisor, and Stuart Evans, professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the CMU Silicon Valley campus. Stuart has a class on Technology Transfer and Commercialization where he presents new technologies to the students and they have to come up with solutions regarding the market segments and a first business model idea. So, VR2Market technologies will be the object of his class next year in Silicon Valley. We also think that it will be possible to explore some synergies with the inRes initiative. Due to my presence on this campus, we were able to extend the CMU Portugal Program from Pittsburgh to Silicon Valley, and we now have concrete collaborations with three professors, and one dual degree Ph.D. student.
João Paulo Cunha, Principal Investigator of the VR2Market
CMU Portugal: What is your role on the VR2Market ERI?
AB: On the VR2Market, I am leading the task of defining manufacturing and supply chain strategy for startups and understanding the cost of the design iteration cycles. The design iteration cycles of the product can mean survival or death for a startup because they have very limited resources. So, the question is how can startups build flexibility into their product right from the first design, which would enable them to do these cycles, incorporating new features for different customers. If startups do this at low cost then they can do more iterations and try new markets with the same amount of money. The other task I am participating on is, in collaboration with CITE [INESC TEC’s Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship Center], about business model generation; working on how should the business model look like for the spin-off coming out of the project. On this ERI, we want to create knowledge on how to develop the supply chain strategy for hardware startups or physical product startups. Venture capitalists in Silicon Valley have already a lot of experience on software products and are now also investing more on physical products. This is a learning process, because the physical product iterations are, of course, more costly than software and rely on the design of the supply chain strategy decisions that have to be taken into consideration.
CMU Portugal: E4Value is quite an unique initiative in Portugal. Can you tell us more about it?
AB: The whole idea of the E4Value is to understand how a country like Portugal can be more efective and proactive on the aeronautics industry. In Portugal we already have several companies working on this field. Therefore, we plan to go beyond our borders, namely to Spain and Brazil, in order to better understand what are the drivers and conditions that lead to the creation of this industry in a region. In parallel, we aim at identifying the Portuguese technologies that may be used by the aeronautic sector. We are trying to scout for the whole country, not only companies or technologies but also research institutions. We want to understand how we can create innovation networks to bring those technologies to the market. Another question is in which spot of the aeronautic value chain (design, production, maintenance, repair and operations) Portuguese companies could make a difference in terms of competitive advantage: How to offer something that has not been done and that could be an opportunity for Portuguese companies to enter the industry? It is a competitive industry, so we are fortunate that we have now two Embraer plants in Portugal. But for now, they only have four Portuguese suppliers. This is because suppliers entering the aeronautics industry cannot work only with one customer, they have to supply several, as the volumes are much smaller then in other industries. We seek to identify companies’ needs and to understand how they can develop the capabilities in order to enter the aeronautic industry. That is the big challenge. We are launching a survey in collaboration with the Portuguese Aeronautics Industry Association (PEMAs), to better understand which products and technologies we have in Portugal that have a fit with the aeronautic sector.
CMU Portugal: Your first contact with CMU happened with the Faculty Exchange Program (FEP)?
AB: Yes, in 2012 I was at CMU, in Pittsburgh, for two months, July and August. [report available here] I was visiting Erica Fuchs, a faculty member of the department of Engineering and Public Policy. By that time, our focus was already on the idea that would eventually lead to my contribution in the VR2market, which is supply chain strategy for high tech startups. Erica Fuchs was also investigating the locations where startups or spin-offs coming out of CMU decided to locate their operations. This is one of the main decisions on supply chain strategy, and that’s why we started collaborating.
CMU Portugal: In your FEP report, you mentioned some innovative teaching ideas that you wanted to bring to Portugal, namely the study groups. Can you talk a little about this?
AB: Yes, I mimicked that the following year at INESC TEC. At that point in time, I had a group of five people working with me, three Ph.D. and two master students, and we did this every month. We held group meetings with paper presentations, followed by a discussion.