Braskem has a large product
portfolio. How do you focus your
Our goal is to develop new technologies that meet Braskem’s specific necessities, which in turn are aligned with the company’s strategy. This is how we define where we will seek to innovate. One example is the development of chemical products with renewable raw materials. So far, we have achieved one huge success here: the development of our “green” polyethylene. But we are working on new projects in this area. In any case, at the end of the day, Braskem’s main objective is to produce, not to develop new technology. We develop technology because we need it for production. If the technology we require exists out there, we prefer to get the license to use it. Why would we enter the costly, risky process of technology development? Technology is the means to producing something, not an end in itself.
Braskem has become known as
a fervent proponent of collaborative
innovation, an approach still relatively
rare in Brazil. How did the company
conclude that this was the best option for
For us, it is a natural consequence
of the realization that we do not, and cannot
possibly, know everything. We work with
people outside the company when we realize
that we don’t have the necessary capabilities
internally. For example, the capabilities needed
in the area of biotechnology to transform
renewable raw materials into chemicals are
very limited in Brazil. We are developing
those capabilities, but we still lag behind
other countries. So Braskem has partnered
with US biotechnology companies Genomatica
and Amyris to develop “green” butadiene
How do you build a collaborative
relationship with an innovation partner?
Having a common objective is absolutely key. You define your objective and
then look for organizations that have the capabilities you need to achieve it. Of course, this means that each case is different, so you have to conduct a new analysis of the situation in each case.
Does Braskem prefer to collaborate with other companies or with universities?
It doesn’t really matter. The same
logic applies to both. If you don’t have all
the capabilities you need, you have to look
for them elsewhere. And those capabilities
may be in universities or in other businesses.
So you have to, first, identify who has them;
then, present them with your objective; and
finally, discuss how you can collaborate with
them. It’s also not an issue for us whether
our partners are based in Brazil or elsewhere.
Again, the same logic applies—what we need
to find is a company or university that has the
capabilities and skills required for what we
want to do.
This makes sense, but how does
this process work in practice? What kind
of situation kicks off a collaboration?
It depends on the case. Let me
give you an example. We recently entered
the market for PVC tiles. This was not a
Brazilian invention; the technology to build
these tiles was already available in other
countries. But, for various reasons, our
customer could not use it in Brazil. So we
brought our broad experience and worked
with the client and additive suppliers, because
the tiles are 50 percent PVC and 50 percent
other inputs. This way, we developed a
solution to meet the needs of the Brazilian
market. How can a polymer be specific to
a national market? Here’s a simple, but
important example. In Brazil, fire-powered
balloons are often used during the traditional
Saint John festivity celebrations in June.
It’s illegal, but very common. That means
it is especially important for tiles to be flame
retardant, which is a solution we were in
a position to provide.
So in that particular case, your client
learned a lot from you.
Everyone learned a lot from the
experience. It’s very unlikely that people would
be able to learn as much from, for example,
any training program we could offer. Only
collaboration allows this kind of learning. In
fact, our experience overall indicates that
developing something alone is very difficult.
Collaboration levers the innovation process.
We can extrapolate our experience to the
Brazilian economy as a whole, because the
country needs to determine how to foster this
In this case, your innovation efforts
were driven by a specific market demand.
Is this always the case?
Our innovations arise from
the strategy of different Braskem business
units. These departments identify market
opportunities and define their strategies.
Based on those strategies, projects are
designed and defined – and it is those
projects that lead to innovations.
What is it like to collaborate
with Brazilian academia on innovation?
In the end, it is all about people.
Unfortunately, people who share interests
with you are not very easy to find in
Brazilian academia. They often have different
objectives, especially publishing. In fact, this
is a good example of how different objectives
make collaboration difficult. And then, clearly,
we also lack the collaborative spirit found
in places such as Silicon Valley, where people
often help first and only then see if that
will lead to something relevant. But there
are exceptions. For example, we have had
excellent experiences collaborating with
the universities of Campinas (UNICAMP)
and São Paulo (USP), as well as the federal
universities of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and
Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), among other
important universities in the country.
How do you plan for innovation
collaborations? Do you have established
It is difficult to create blueprints,
because each case is different. The different
actors involved, as I said, must share the
same objective. But they also have different
interests. So taking part in similar projects
with a specific partner or set of partners will
be at least slightly different from taking part
in the same project with another partner
or set of partners. You must be flexible and
adjust to the interests of all involved, while
staying focused on the shared, central goal.
Moreover, circumstances always change as
projects develop, and you have to adapt to
those changes. This means you start your work
with a plan and you finish it with a different
plan. The only thing that doesn’t change is
What about internal innovation
rules – things that must be done no matter
what? Is there a place for them?
We have rules for innovating,
as in all corporate activities. They exist
because we think they are helpful. And
for them to be helpful, it is paramount to
remember that each case is different. So
rule number one is flexibility to work with
different partners and to adapt to changing
circumstances. Let me give you an example.
An essential rule is to have a contract with
someone who collaborates with you. This
contract lays out, for example, how each part
will benefit from intellectual property rights
that result from the joint effort. But our
collaboration contracts don’t all have exactly
the same terms. We do have a template,
what we could call a relatively well-defined
legal tool. But the final format of each
contract will vary, depending on a number
of issues, such as the views expressed by
our partner’s legal department and the
specifications of each project.
Thank you very much. This has been
a very interesting and useful session.
It’s been a pleasure; thank you.
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