Many scientists focus their careers on research, looking for practical answers to society’s needs. As a result, they spend hours in the laboratory and in training to achieve their objectives. Rarely does the idea of combining academia and entrepreneurship come into play.
Researchers tend to avoid challenges such as stepping outside their comfort zone, learning the language of business, thinking big, searching for customers, managing capital and distributing labour among team members who may not be scientists. That’s why it’s essential to foster the relationship between researchers and entrepreneurs, and transform this synergy into science-based startups.
Scientists know their field well, but that’s not all it takes to be an entrepreneur. Steve Blank (the developer of the lean startup methodology) explains it clearly in this interview: “Just because you are the smartest person in the building does not make you capable to run a company.”
In a company, it’s important to have a diversity of employee profiles. Each employee should specialise in their particular area so that they can perform their work as well as possible. It’s important to fit the pieces together so that scientists can continue their research tasks and the business structure can be managed by people who are truly specialised in that area.
Scientists face many problems when they try to apply their knowledge to reality. Manuel Pérez Alonso, president of the Spanish Association of Scientific Entrepreneurs, knows this anxiety well: “All scientists are afraid to engage in entrepreneurship in the sciences because it means doing things we haven’t done before, such as interpreting a balance sheet or negotiating the legal aspects of a company.”
Of course, this fear is perfectly logical. A company is not solely based on the idea or service that the scientist provides; it’s also important to create a business plan and a communication strategy, as well as to be knowledgeable about necessary skills such as customer development and attracting investors.
Legislation, bureaucracy and the development of a resilient and scalable business model are other key concerns for scientists looking to enter the entrepreneurship world. Marc Ramis, manager of Tech & Business Innovation, says that science and entrepreneurship are “sectors with very different agendas, tempos and egos, and they need to be aligned in order to innovate.” In this sense, it’s important to recognise that a project based on research and technology requires a significant amount of money and time—which also translates to money in the business sector. Conversely, scientists tend to have little knowledge about funding mechanisms, which are so crucial when it comes to launching a startup. Also, many scientist entrepreneurs acknowledge that one of their main obstacles is their lack of business skills and the ability to communicate about their projects and close funding rounds.
As Jordi Naval, CEO of the Bosch i Gimpera Foundation, explains, “the bottleneck in technology transfer is the lack of mutual understanding between the scientific and business worlds, as well as the lack of trust, common vocabulary and constructive spaces for collaboration.” María López, an associate professor and researcher at the University of Zaragoza and CEO of Bitbrain Technologies, also identifies this sort of language barrier as one of the main challenges she experienced as an entrepreneur, in addition to not knowing how to share her project with investors or customers: “Coming from a university environment, without previous business experience, I spoke a different language and had a different way of seeing the world… Also, when you have technology that’s incredibly disruptive, no one can tell you how to reach the customer.”
In this context, an initiative such as The Collider becomes especially interesting. We connect scientific and entrepreneurial talent so that each part of the team can contribute their true value to the new technology startup.