Portugal 2019 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

IAPMEI seeks to boost innovation and entrepreneurship as well as spur investment in enterprises, especially SMEs.

Jorge Marques dos Santos
Jorge Marques dos Santos is the former President of IAPMEI. Prior to that, he was the President of the Portuguese Institute for Quality. He holds a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Porto and first began working in the private sector in 1974.

What is your agency's role as a strategic partner in providing both technical and financial support to Portuguese enterprises?

IAPMEI is a public institution under the Ministry of Economy. Our role is to promote competitiveness and growth and ensure the best policies regarding industrial activity are in one place. The aim is to reinforce innovation and entrepreneurship as well as investment in enterprises, namely SMEs. In Portugal, micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises represent 99.9% of the economy, much higher than the European average. Micro enterprises employ less than 10 workers, and these comprise 96% of the Portuguese economy. The average number of employees is eight, and SMEs represent 80% of job employment and 63% of added value. This means we have to give SMEs a great deal of attention. Therefore, we pay attention to financial issues beyond normal banking activity with commercial entities. We are the financing partners of other means of financial support for SMEs other than commercial activity. That is mostly when there is a market failure. SMEs have difficulties getting to the market, so we have a system of mutual guarantees supported by the state and a set of financing activities with credit lines and supporting investments.

What steps do you take to devise the best policies to foster entrepreneurship and innovation for companies in the local business community and industry?

We are consulted for new legislation proposed by others than IAPMEI, and we pay special attention, concerning the potential impact taking into account SME characteristics. In terms of political support, we propose the creation of structural incentives for investment and lines of credit for certain activities to promote innovation, entrepreneurship, scaling up, or the concentration of companies. We also take into account the fact that we are the ones that manage the system of certification of SMEs, following the European rules for classifying. There are other ways in which we can offer assistance in addition to financing. One of the most important is providing management capabilities for entrepreneurs. We have an academy where we focus on training enterprises in terms of capacity and entrepreneurship. Another department promotes special support for the three enterprise cycles. We accompany the developments from the pre-start-up idea phase to the scale up process until they grow into a normal enterprise.

Could you tell us about your agency's strong representation in strategic clusters?

The clusters are one of the most important things we intend to give increased attention. Clusters have already been formally created in Portugal, and they can improve collaborative efficiency by bringing together companies' knowledge, academia, institutions, associations, and public entities. We already have 20 recognized clusters, and IAPMEI is in charge of formally recognizing them. Thse 20 clusters already involve 2,100 different associates, more than 1,800 SMEs, and many micro enterprises. Crucially, there are always other major players in these clusters that have a pulling effect. The aeronautics cluster is witnessing fantastic development in Portugal. We have been involved in the creation of a development of a project together with Brazil, implementing a new kind of airplane from Embraer. This company already has two factories in Portugal and is growing the different players in the cluster, be they technological centers or parts suppliers. Even universities that develop courses and prepare people for work are involved in it. The idea is that there is critical mass combining different actors, which will result in greater end results than if they were to work alone. Then, they are able to organize events, exchange ideas, and create projects where they can have special conditions for mutual support. One of our biggest hopes is that the implementation of clusters will help the development of the Portuguese economy and give us a greater economic advantage.