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Why does scientific research in Spain excel so much and return so low?

In science, a collider accelerates two beams of protons in opposite directions to make them collide with each other producing very high energies.

This is the essence of The Collider translated to the venture building field: clashing science and entrepreneurship to create highly innovative technological startups. As brilliant as it may seem, this pursuit is born as an answer to a pain too long ignored in this country.

Spain holds the prideful distinction of being one of the international leaders in scientific excellence, a position rigorously backed by facts, both qualitative and quantitative. Our scientists and researchers write about 3,23% of scientific publications on the worldwide level, according to the CYD report from 2016. This places Spain in the 10th position in the global ranking, alongside world power nations like the United States, Germany or Japan. But most importantly, of all Spanish publications, at least 10% land the exclusive label of “excellence” by the international representative boards, setting the bar high for every new article written.

Clearly, Spain has the DNA and the appropriate context to excel in scientific research. Yet, the immediate question is: What do we do with this valuable rough matter? How do we turn this incredible knowledge and talent into tangible action?

Sadly, the answer is little or none. Let’s revise the statistics.

According to the Spanish Government, in the past 7 years, the number of patents per year counts on average 414, quite a derisory amount compared to the 85560 papers published only in 2016. But the key data comes here: 1 in every 637 University employers embarks on the shareholding of a startup. This denotes poor entrepreneurial ambition for a field so much immersed in research, innovation and technology. In fact, only 113 spin-offs are born on average each year from all the research centres and labs in Spanish territory.

So, why do we see such a low business return? From an investment of 11.3M€ (majorly from public funding), Spanish Universities see a total of 2.6M€ back. Where are we missing the shot?

Our guess points to a combination of poor entrepreneurial culture and extremely discouraging bureaucracy. Lead researchers have been traditionally comfortably based in their labs and there has never been a call or urge to join the outside world, aside from journals and scientific congresses. Moreover, when someone does move the lever, the tech-transfer process can become really tedious in between paperwork and incompatibilities and poor-competitive conditions.

We lack the mindset and we lack the conditions, key points that set apart the world’s scientific research leader, the United States.

The Collider is born to turn back the tide by building the beneficial environment for scientists and entrepreneurs to shake hands and become one. This will be an arduous task involving a change in culture and methodologies but the purpose and the outcome are more than worth a try. And we feel confident to become trendsetters as more and more tech-transfer enthusiasts  join us down the line.

Program

The process, the other way round: reflections on the program

Exactly a year back, the meeting rooms at the Mobile World Capital headquarters were at full steam shaping a new ground-breaking program about to be born. Talent acquisition, agenda, KPIs, facilitators… all the bits and pieces were put together to launch the first edition of The Collider, one of a kind venture builder, cradled in the international entrepreneurial hub of Barcelona.

At that point, the organization had several assumptions to be validated taking into account the uniqueness of the product. The premise was risky but still with an incredible potential: to “connect scientific research with the entrepreneurial initiative, in order to create highly innovative startups.” Such an ambition comes together with great uncertainty, inherent to the start-up world and enhanced by the tech-transfer peculiarities of the program.

So here we bring a few reflections on key matters, that were at stake in the first ideation meetings, following half a year of the true reality test:

The process, the other way round.

Usually, the story goes like this: “I have a problem, I look for a solution”. In this case, we were pursuing the opposite: “I have a solution, I look for an opportunity”. All technologies accepted in the first edition of The Collider were the result of years of research in academic centres and had been born and raised in the ‘lab’ level. Landing them on the business ground required deep market understanding and a sharp attitude from our business leaders. Today, following an intense training and monitoring through the opportunity validation phase, The Collider finally hosts three real companies with three real clients proving that it is not only possible to follow the process the other way round but also, that it can turn into a very valuable effort.

Scientists can make great entrepreneurs.

At least from our experience, this has come true. All participants -scientists and businessmen and women – were compelled to attend all workshops, being these considerably business-driven due to the program’s venture building nature. And even though quite a few inspirational guests did belong to a scientific background, the core debate always stood on the marketing side of things. Therefore, our scientists in residence have faced a true learning challenge to understand the ins and outs of business modelling and economic growth. In the end, not only they’ve proven capable of managing the key operational concepts but they have, in some cases, taken over a significant role in the project0’s pitching and communication.

Make haste slowly.

The Collider is characterised by its incredibly fast pace, from lab to market in fairly six months. Our participants have adapted swiftly through the roller-coaster of post-its, P&Ls and OKRs but truth be told, the ecosystem moves at a different rhythm, specially when you think of big corporations. The interest from stakeholders has been considerable from the early stages but moving from paper to reality is the real challenge since corporations, as opposed to startups, have a hierarchical structure which makes it harder to move pilots forward quickly. Therefore, we’ve had to learn to find the sweet spot of timing in all relationships with big corporations.

Program, Technology

Conclusions from Demo Day Panel “Tech Transfer Incubation: From Dream to Reality”

The Collider’s Program co-director, Albert C. Mikkelsen, elaborates on the conclusions of the panel he moderated at The Collider’s first edition Demo Day, “Tech Transfer Incubation: From Dream to Reality”. Enjoy the read:

Demo Day: the day everyone desires and yet everyone fears. It is the day when the badge of startups in any incubation or acceleration program are unveiled to the world. It is the day when entrepreneurs usually start serious funding conversations and, do not forget, the day when the incubator makes or breakes its prestige. What will investors (the incubator’s and the startups’), press, competitors, stakeholders and public in general think of the businesses created? How will that affect the next badges?

Friday April 27th 2018 was The Collider’s first Demo Day. Although the whole team has participated in several incubation, intrapreneurship or acceleration program, this time it was different. The Collider, as some of you may already know, is not a usual incubation or acceleration program, but a tech transfer program, with all of the particularities this entails:

1- Teams were formed from scratch by putting together two widely different profiles, STEM PhDs with entrepreneurs, who literally met on the first day of the program (I know, risky).

2- Teams were, to a certain extent ‘’constrained’’ by the technologies they worked with – instead of starting with a problem to solve as would be ideal, they were seeking for a problem that their technology could solve, certainly not ideal path for design thinking or lean startup processes.

3- Equity needed to be allocated among the entrepreneurs, researcher, University and the research team behind the researcher (bravo for those who took on the task of negotiating a deal that made everyone happy and aligned their interests).

Obviously, with such hurdles, from day one we all had doubts: Would it really yield a good result? Would any teams really take off, at least beyond the five months of the program? Our belief in the science and technology latent in the local universities and research centres pushed us forward. The biggest question though was, as I already explained in a previous article, could this tech transfer incubation model be an answer to the end of the startup era?

In that article you can read why there is a risk of this ‘’end of the startup era’’ and why technology transfer could save us from it. I did not dare yet to give a definitive answer – only a few key learnings from running the program. Today, I may disappoint you and say that I still think we do not yet have the perspective to reach a final conclusion, but the result at the end of the program is, to say the least, hopeful.

Nine Teams – Deep Tech Transfer

Five Teams Alive

Three receiving funding (2 more TBC)

10+ pilots with real customers (all B2B)

Customers paying for pilots

Partners supporting regulatory process

Quickly flash back to our Demo Day. It is obvious that the program has succeeded greatly at generating startups with real market potential. It is obvious that our teams have overcome the hurdles unique to the program listed above. The Collider has successfully helped launch deep technology to the market through a tech transfer incubation program. The hurdles of creating teams from scratch, having them constrained by a technology and aligning all the stakeholders required changes to the classic methodologies used. Being methodology-obsessed would have killed the startups and us.

Nevertheless, as you may suspect if you know me personally, I would still rather stay cautious in saying that this model could be the protagonist for the next decade of startups. We still need some perspective: how will following iterations of the program impact the outcome? What will happen to these teams 6, 12, 18 months down the line? And five or ten years yonder? How will potential acquirers, institutional investors and other stakeholders behave to the unique idiosyncrasies of such initiatives? Can the program be recreated at scale internationally?

Answering such questions will likely take months if not years. But we have validated that through entrepreneurial acumen, methodologies, flexibility to adapt them to reality and an engaged team who truly believes and pushes for outcomes, we are capable of helping researchers and entrepreneurs turn science and technology into value-add market applications that customers are willing to try and pay for.

We will keep you posted as we continue to tinker with these elements to reach a perfect formula and see whether this model can be the one to create the startups of the next decade.

Program

Presenting The Collider ’18 Demoday

On April 27th we celebrate The Collider ’18 Demoday after 6 months of unwrapping this disruptive new program from mVenturesBcn. It has been a bumpy, exciting, risky and empowering journey. All stakeholders – organisation, entrepreneurs, scientists, collaborators, mentors and more – signed for a highly innovative tech-transfer endeavour never done before. Everyone joined with a shared purpose: taking out of the drawer the groundbreaking knowledge cradled in Universities to turn it into successful businesses that would ultimately add value to the ecosystem.

In six months, we have moved from the investigation labs to the Mobile World Congress stages, from the classrooms to the investors meeting rooms. Guided by design-thinking and lean startups methodologies (build, measure, learn and repeat), the Colliders have achieved an incredible output under the clock.

Right at this moment, the office is fairly empty; we have team Torakku in Paris signing an agreement for a paid pilot; Licens3d members are coming back from London following an invitation to present in the exclusive Rhino New Developments Day; RheoDx are getting set for the European Union – EIT Health BioEntrepreneur Bootcamp – they are one among the few startups selected for this program held in different European venues.

But tomorrow, they will all be at The Collider’s headquarters in Barcelona Tech City. And that’s because of a very special occasion: The Collider’s ’18 Demoday. We have prepared an intense half-day to celebrate disruptive innovation and showcase the results of this first edition of  The Collider. The program’s agenda for the session will be the following:

09:30 – Call and arrival
10:00 – 10:15 – Welcome note by Carlos Grau, CEO of the Mobile World Capital Foundation
10:15 – 10:30 – The Collider overview and results by Manuel Palacín, program director (Mobile World Capital Foundation)
10:30 – 11:30 – Start-up pitches (SAALG, Torakku, RheoDx and Licens3d).
11:30 – 12:00 – Coffee break
12:00 – 12:45 – Round Table moderated by Albert C. Mikkelsen, content director (The Collider), and gathering the main stakeholders in the ecosystem:

  • Eric Suñol, investor and managing partner at Inveniam Group.
  • Manel Arrufat, Entrepreneurship & Innovation manager at Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya.
  • Jordi Carrillo, seasoned entrepreneur and CEO at Torakku.
  • Samantha López, MSc in Bioinformatics and CSO at RheoDx.

12:45 – 13:00 – Closure and wrap-up by Manuel Palacín, program director (Mobile World Capital Foundation)

The pool of guests includes representatives from Universities, corporations, investors and influencers in the tech innovation field, as well as some of the experts who have led workshops and discussions along the duration of The Collider. We’re honoured to receive such an interest from the ecosystem and feel confident we will reach up to the expectations.

Wishing you all a joyful and enriching experience.

Entrepreneurship, Program, Technology

Meet our ‘afterwork’ experts

The Collider’s roadmap is clearly organized in a series of milestones, deep-rooted in the design-thinking model and lean startup methodology, with the utmost goal to create highly innovative tech-transfer startups. The steps in the journey take the form of workshops, offered by experienced national and international speakers, which are the spinal chord of The Collider’s content programming. We’ve had the chance to share some of their valuable knowledge in previous posts, ranging from ideation to marketing or business modelling. But today, we will look into a different kind of guests who have honoured us with their presence and wisdom; here’s our little homage to our after-work talks.

The after-work talks are weekly sessions with an inspirational aim welcoming guests of a wide heterogeneous background. These events are held informally in a comfy area in the office and, living up to their nature, they have turned into a true source of motivation and purpose for the program’s participants. On a regular basis, guests draw upon their expertise and life experience to move on to challenge the different projects. These experts and disruptors are a blank sheet for our teams to test their ideas, targets and roadmaps. An inquisitive comment from one of these wise “strangers” might be the key to perseverate or iterate. And why should participants put so much trust in a newcomer? Because after all, they are the same persona in a different stage; entrepreneurs who have fought the same battles, failed, learned and turned a technological challenge into a profitable company (and not a startup anymore).

Entrepreneurship and science are again the cardinal points that bring together the majority of our after-work guests and bring them hand in hand with our teams. We have welcomed doctors turned into successful business people, like Anna Sala (anAPPhylaxis) or Gerard Martret (Doctoralia), or PhDs involved in truly disruptive technologies like Maria López (Bitbrain), as well as serial entrepreneurs and MSc like Daniel Rovira (Madbid, itcher) or Miguel Arias (CARTO), currently global director of Telefonica’s entrepreneurial branch.

They all have gone through the same pains and struggles: negotiating with investors, dealing with the offices of tech-transfer and, all in all, surfing the unpredictable wave of entrepreneurship. We can easily empathize with their life experience and they can easily challenge our stories. That is why their participation and feedback is priceless. Thank you all!

Entrepreneurship, Program

Controlling the Godzilla: sustainable scalability

Last Monday we had the very last workshop for this first edition of The Collider. This time we welcomed Xavier Sansó, investor, mentor and Finance expert in startups. After leading an initial approach to scalability during the bootcamp, back in December, Sansó came back for an advanced financial workshop.

The discussion was much richer at this point since The Collider teams have quickly moved from paper to reality during a short period of time. The P&Ls have been filled extensively and capital calls are already open and running. Hence, a lesson on scalability was right down our alley, especially considering we’re heading to the third phase of the program (Incubation), where participants will start running on their own more and more.

So let’s recap the highlights of Xavier Sansó’s workshop to grasp a general idea of the “dos and don’ts” in scalability.

Scalability is generally understood as the ability to grow an existing business model. That is done by breaking the foundational limitations, be it geography, market or product-wise while ensuring a real market fit and an adequate balance between cost of acquisition and return on investment. Such requirements are particularly important for a series A investment round; if the company is bound to be small or unprofitable, your chances are if anything scarce.

Sansó highlights 3 steps in the journey to hold a sensitive scalability:
1. Monetization. Understand well your unit economics and the purchase amounts you set upon.
2. Go to market strategy. Measure the customer journey and challenge each step to make it more efficient. When achieving a certain scale, always bare in mind the ratio between customer lifetime value (CLTV) and customer acquisition cost (CAC).
3. Commercialization. Stay sensitive, especially if you have the money, and always align yourself with your client’s needs.

And to wrap up, let us quote LinkedIN’s CEO, Jeff Weiner on his key steps to outperform at scale: “1. Hire the right people, 2.Set them up to be successful (from vision to values) and 3. Get out of their way.”

Entrepreneurship, Technology

What do we understand by disruptive innovation?

We often talk about The Collider being a highly innovative tech-transfer program but the time has come to take a step back and reflect on what do we exactly mean by innovation and technological disruption. Which is the difference between startups innovation and the usual corporate R&D innovation? What do we understand for technological disruption? Keep reading to learn more.

A startup’s advantage towards change is undeniable. Startups are “lean”, small, flexible, and overall, willing to take risks because they have literally nothing to lose. That already sets them in a good position for disruptive innovation and, therefore, gets them closer to a real game-changing mentality. However, to understand the startups’ tendency to disruptive innovation and how it flips completely the state-of-the-art of technology, we need to focus first on the other kind of R&D, sustaining innovation, considerably more conservative and corporate oriented.

Big corporations have established clients, growing profits and gigantic structures. They have gross amounts of capital to invest in product development to make it more resistant, more efficient, quicker, cheaper, prettier. All of this makes their products much better but still “more of the same”. Same customers, same business model. For a real disruption, we need to go all the way down, to something which is genuinely new. In few words, strip it all til the bare core value and design a new dress.

Renown examples of disruption are PCs, hard-drives, music streaming or the Wikipedia. But what is the common ground for all of them? First, the core value remains intact, be it enjoying a song, writing a message or looking for specific information. Always stays the same. Instead, the difference is summed in three aspects. To being with, technology. Disruptive innovation is almost always a result of a technological advance. Second, the measure of performance changes: you no longer count pieces of vinyl sold but songs listened to or licensed. And as a result of the above, the whole business model is redesigned.

In summary, disruptive innovation has more to do with the deployment of the product in the market than the technology per se. Of course, it requires a bit of an astral alignment to hit the sweet spot between demand, science development, business model and cultural context but, as Collider’s honour guest Professor Davila from IESE Business School advised our participants, it all comes down to seeing change before anyone else does.

Program

The Collider midpoint recap

As we reach the equinox of the first edition of The Collider, we take the time to look back and forth through the program’s agenda and state-of-the-art. April marks the end of The Collider’s second phase and wraps an intense period of workshops, progress meetings and after-work sessions. To add some context, let’s recap the program’s journey:

 

Bootcamp
21/11/2017 – 22/12/2017
The high performing teams work intensively over a 4 week period to define the problem and the road to success, with the support of industry and tech experts.

Venture Builder
8/01/2018 – 29/04/2018
After 4 months, each team becomes part of a full startup builder program. Each startup receives up to €150k in seed funding.

Incubation
30/04/2018 – 30/09/2018
The challenges of the growth stage will be faced during a 5 month incubation period, covering sales, scalability, pivoting and funding, in which startups must overcome the “valley of death” and flourish as a success story.

 

Eight teams joined us at the beginning of phase one. We had representatives from 5 different academic centres: Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Universidad de Murcia, Universitat de Girona and Centre de Recerca Matemàtica. All of these brought high-skilled scientists representing deep innovative technologies. Completing the lineup, we welcomed 16 witty businessmen and businesswomen, most of the second generation entrepreneurs and MBAs from prestigious business schools (IESE, ESADE).

The time has gone by and the teams have navigated through the roller-coaster of validation along us. On the first checkpoint between the first and the second phase, 6 teams passed successfully while 1 team did not make it through and 2 were given a second chance. Among the later, one quickly caught up with the rest and the other is just about to present to the board again.

Of course, during this time, we’ve had wins and losses. Two scientists have left us to join incredible opportunities in Madrid and Silicon Valley, there have been a few member changes and a new project has joined, one which will soon present the results of their validation.

By now, The Collider no longer has teams, but proper startups with impressive pitch decks and roadmaps. The intense 5 months of validation and venture building have proven well and the time has come to wrap up the workshop stage and daily monitoring. Next phase opens a period of deep fundraising and product development to be ready once the initial seed investment fades. We couldn’t be prouder of our teams as we foresee a bright future ahead of them.

Entrepreneurship, Program

Growth Hacking: The “NO magic”

‘Rapid experimentation to grow efficiently’; meet the core of growth-hacking. No reason it fits incredibly well with The Collider’s venture building efforts. With little resources, Colliders need fast insights and early metrics to offer key data for investors. To help them in this sprint, we’ve welcomed Toni Arco, CEO at Social&Loyal and CRM master, to discuss all bits and pieces of the Growth Hacking methodology.

Growth Hacking stands in the sweet spot between creative marketing, software engineering and data analytics. Based on a lean marketing methodology, Growth Hacking aims to optimise acquisition and leads retention and identify the most efficient ways to make a business grow. To tear this down, Toni Arco explains the 5 key fundamental stages in this process:

Acquisition. How do users find you? Are you making it easy for your target to spot you? Make sure to be visible enough and have clear CTAs in any communications or landing page to achieve your set goals.

Activation. Do users have a great first experience? Which are your mechanisms to have them engaged? Think about what you have to offer that pulls their interest and makes it a memorable first contact or journey.

Retention. Do users come back? How repeatedly do they use your service or how often do they get back to your attention calls? If you do not manage to make them return, there is a low necessity or the message isn’t grabbing enough.

Referral. Do users tell others? Is the word-of-mouth a major return asset? Referrals are the most powerful way of growth you can imagine. If you own people’s hearts and make their life’s easier they will easily do the advertising job for you.

Revenue. How do you make money? What is your monetisation strategy? Whether it is B2B or B2C, you need a very clear income formula that is scalable and helps you keep focus.

To achieve good results in your leads quest, there are numerous tools that will make your life easier. To begin with, you can use email finders like Dux-Soup, Findthatlead or Hunter to build your prospects bucket list. Of course, bare in mind that a very minimal part of your cold emails will end up in a reply and that less than those will turn into a collaboration. To smooth up the tedious process of cold emailing and following up, you can take advantage of services like YAMM o Woodpecker that send thousands of emails in a blink of an eye; then again, be careful with burning interesting contacts through repeated messaging. After all, automation speeds processes but it risks losing the personal touch. Among the many other zaps and applets you can benefit from, “If This Then That” turns out incredibly practical to create chains of simple conditional statements. Try it here.

As Arco explains, there is “no magic” to Growth Hacking, but only proof and constant experimentation. Resilience is the one quality that you need to endure rejection and strive for those positive metrics from your experiments. If you stick to the data and optimise continuously your approaches, you’re likely to enter a virtuous cycle of return on investment. Happy experimenting!

Entrepreneurship, Program

Dealing with corporates: “It always takes longer than what you think!”

As our Colliders constitute their companies and draw the roadmap to spend the initial seed investment, they already seek the backing of corporates to secure their survival. All of our startups are directed to a B2B business model, which means that attracting corporations is key. For this reason, we welcomed Nicolai Schättgen, an expert in connecting the two sides (corporations and startups). His aim as CEO of Match-Maker ventures is to ensure a relevant and successful integration of scaled innovation for both.

“It always takes longer than what you think!”

The truth is that most collaborations startup-corporate do not reach expectations until at least a couple years time if they ever do. This entails a lot of frustration in terms of time and money. As Nicolai pointed out, when you think of the major impression of startups against corporates that is “SLOW”. And that’s for a reason: corporations are reactionary. As opposed to startups, the risk of losing a lot with a little change is high. Therefore, it is fundamental to set a realistic two-sided venture, where the offerings from each side stand clear.

The KPIs are fundamental to keep focus on a startup-corporation relationship. As Nicolai lists, there are 4 major KPIs you should progressively implement: progress KPIs, quantitative KPIs, result KPIs and financial KPIs. The first two apply to the initial scenario where the relationship is getting started. Meanwhile, the latter more tangible ones are involved in a further developed phase aimed at creating real business impact.

Last, in Nicolai’s keynote, he highlights 3 major challenges in startup-corporate deals: people, sourcing and commitment.

People Challenge. This entails the long gatekeeping process followed by corporations to select just the right team with the right idea that covers their need. And if your final focus as a startup is being acquired, it is key to keep in mind the multiple agents that will influence such decision, from C-level supporters to networkers or mentors.
Sourcing Challenge. As many startups struggle to survive, being the one that stays alive enough to get noticed is tough. That’s why it is important to know where corporations set their eyes upon and that is basically: (1) product, (2) market, (3) business model and (4) team. These all will help at the same time evaluate traction, USP and scalability.
Commitment Challenge. Moving beyond the proof of concept and sitting a clear and agreed goal to follow by.

Hope Nicolai’s advice was useful for our start-ups to scout the right corporations and set up fruitful relationships. We’re always honoured to welcome such great experts that collaborate in the early-stage development of The Collider startups.

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