A catalyst for structural change in Northern Portugal
The Science and Technology Park of the University of Porto (UPTEC) is a key part of the university's strategy to build on its significant capacity for knowledge creation and the development of human capital. By fostering start-up companies and innovation centres, supported by academia, this ecosystem plays an important role in the sustainable development of Portugal's Norte (North) Region – not least the creation of around 800 jobs.
The Norte Region has traditionally depended on a range of low-tech and export-focused industries, among them textiles, shoes and furniture. With the growing pressures of globalisation, many firms across the region aim to add value to their products by upgrading processes. Others seek to become specialised suppliers in emerging sectors such as scientific equipment, mouldings and information systems. A further challenge for the region is its business sector's great weakness in R&D activities.
Under the Norte Region's Innovation Plan, policy was refocused on specific assets in the region's economy and universities. Priorities include health, ICT and production technologies, creative industries, marine technologies and other sea-related activities. The UPTEC project neatly matched this plan, thanks to a goal of smart specialisation, contributing to the emergence of a more knowledge-intensive economy.
Four poles for one project
The project was organised into four poles. UPTEC TECH, the Technology Centre, is the largest. It aims to promote and validate business-oriented projects based on technology – chiefly generated by the knowledge and skills within the University of Porto. It welcomed a group of companies and innovation centres in areas such as energy, energy efficiency, polymers and composite materials, IT and communications, and robotics.
The second pole is UPTEC PINC (Centre of Creative Industries). It calls on the university's creative and cultural expertise by supporting companies in business areas such as film, video and audiovisual, TV and radio, print, design, performing and visual arts, architecture, music, entertainment, and educational software. Its location in Porto's urban centre port is helping to regenerate this area.
Pole three, UPTEC Marine, contributes to the incubation of technology-based firms linked to the sea, by promoting the development of new goods and services. It builds on the university's expertise in many areas, from fisheries to environment protection, and wave energy to maritime transport and tourism.
UPTEC Bio is the cluster's fourth pole, calling mainly on the university's knowledge and skills in biotechnology. It has supported innovation centres in areas such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, health, and chemistry.
Increasing employment opportunities
Overall, UPTEC is designed to drive long-term structural change in the Norte Region's innovation system. However, it has already achieved a number of impressive results in terms of creating firms and highly qualified staff. In total, it has resulted in some 110 firms, including 95 start-ups, five large companies and five private innovation centres. These statistics highlight UPTEC's potential for entrepreneurship and its impact as a beacon and attractor for foreign direct investment (FDI) to the region. Of the 800 jobs created, 13 % are at PhD level, 23 % at master level, and 59 % are college graduates.
UPTEC is considered innovative for its multi-poles conception, its open stance on internationalisation, and above all its focus on capitalising on Norte Region's key assets. The project is now being scaled up, possibly to include a fifth pole, bringing further added value to the region. It is a member of several regional and national networks or partnerships for entrepreneurship and incubators, including Spinpark and Portuspark, and works internationally with MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Texas Austin, and Microsoft.