Ana Barros, Research Associate at INESC TEC, participating in two ERIs
CMU: From Pittsburgh to the Silicon Valley Campus
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.
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
in Portugal, gave a lecture about this ERI at the CMU SV campus.
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.
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.