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Jordi Naval, Managing Director of the FBG: ¿I would like to see knowledge transfer soon added to the agenda of most researchers at the UB¿

Barcelona …” The hypothesis now in force is the following: iBarcelona is the next big thing. The place to be/i

“The hypothesis now in force is the following: Barcelona is the next big thing. The place to be

The goal is to help researchers and research groups to interact with scientific entrepreneurs, with investors, with companies.

The goal is to help researchers and research groups to interact with scientific entrepreneurs, with investors, with companies.



Last July, Jordi Nadal became the Managing Director of the Fundació Bosch i Gimpera (FBG) of the University of Barcelona. Naval, who holds a BSc in Pharmacy from the UB and a BSc in Biochemistry from the UAB, has co-founded five companies in the field of health: Infociencia, Anaxomics, Enemce Pharma, Genocosmetics, and HIV-Therapeutics. All of them share the same feature: the transformation of different technologies into products and services with social and economic value. He is also the founder and president of the Fundació Escola Emprenedors, a non-profit organization dedicated to provide training in entrepreneurship and business knowledge for students engaged in professional training, high-school, undergraduate, and graduate students. After just over three months leading the FBG, he shares his views on the situation of knowledge transfer in Catalonia, and the guidelines he has set for himself in this new task.

Does Barcelona have potential as a centre of knowledge transfer and innovation?

What do we need to make it transferable? Two basic things are required. On the one hand, we need people in the innovation ecosystem that take it as a personal task. As in the case of Boston, these usually are entrepreneurs, investors, or people in the public administration that act as mediators, promoters, and catalysts for knowledge transfer. Knowledge transfer institutions may also undertake this role, as it happens in Israel, for example. On the other hand, we need capital. Right now, in Catalonia, in Barcelona, we do have both things, and they are becoming available in a rather spectacular fashion. For example, in the field of technology entrepreneurship, I don’t know whether we could speak of a bubble, but the number of well-funded companies and entrepreneurs, and the importance of foreign investment in local companies are rather impressive. The fields affected by these factors are diverse: from financial technology (FinTech), to mobile applications, e-commerce, the Internet of Things (IoT)… It’s a truly splendid moment.

As a scientist, I speak in terms of hypotheses, and the hypothesis now in force is the following: “Barcelona is the next big thing. The place to be.” If you are an investor from San Francisco or Boston, an investor in life sciences (although this also applies to any other field), your first idea is: “I want to invest in ten biotechnology projects. First, I look for those projects with the most solid research base. Among my options I am considering American projects, projects from Heidelberg … and projects from Barcelona.” But in analysing the American projects, you realize that “there is so much money in circulation here, and the Americans are so smart, that these projects have a very high rating. That is, they are expensive. In contrast, in Barcelona, I have less competition from other investors. So, somehow, my money would be more efficient in Barcelona than in San Francisco. I can do better in Barcelona than in San Francisco.” And this is exactly the scenario right now.

The administration—and this is a given—should encourage interaction and exchange in various ways. For starters, it is a matter of dialogue, which is an important aspect and requires few resources, namely organizational changes and the promotion of new relatively inexpensive activities. Moreover, there is obviously the question of money, of financial instruments that facilitate knowledge transfer and involve all parties. Grants are interesting, no one says no to a grant; but there are better options. I would suggest, for example, guaranteed soft loans and public participation in private investment funds, so that individuals stake their money on transferable projects, but their investment is accompanied and complemented by public funds that give projects the minimum capital to make them effective.

Secondly, we need to think in terms of product. Companies need their product to be more effective, cheaper, better, to have higher quality, to achieve greater customer satisfaction. Finally, all successful collaborations require company managers and R D heads to acknowledge the added value that university researchers contribute with their time, their expertise, their equipment, and specialization, which all taxpayers have funded. Researchers, research groups, and the University have needed a long time to acquire such knowledge. This should be formally respected, but also paid for accordingly.

Quantifying a specific goal is very difficult, because it depends on factors that are not under our control. Academics and researchers have made great efforts over the past five years to carry out their research with few resources. Budget cuts have affected them enormously and it was a very hard time. In fact, we are still not sure which part of the cycle we are in right now: in the upstream end, the recovery, in a stable position, in the downstream end… What I would really like as a quantifiable objective is that, soon, most researchers that don’t think about a spin-off, a patent, or licence—because they find them too complicated—would understand this language, and consider these options. I would also like that they looked for money beyond European projects, scholarships, and grants; that they expanded their funding opportunities by engaging in joint research projects with companies, through the creation of spin-offs, the sale of patents, and technology licencing. I want them to interact with entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, and companies so that all of these concepts add to the natural language of researchers and their agenda. I think that this would be a way to lay solid foundations for what is to come next.

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