The new edition of The Collider welcomes a selected pool of post-docs and principal investigators. From our experience, the latest collective is currently the hardest to persuade into entrepreneurship due to the deep cultural gap between academics and business. However, every once in a while, you come across a rara avis, a long-term chief researcher who is committed to handling his years-long experience into the market. This is the case of today’s interviewee, Lluís Gil, a professor at Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) and Vice Dean for Research and Enterprises at the School of Engineering, who has not only brought one project to The Collider but two. There is a lot to learn from Lluis’ drive and enthusiasm.
Enjoy the interview!
You hold this saying that “Researchers are the Entrepreneurs of Knowledge”. Could you tell us why?
An entrepreneur is a person that has a hypothesis about the market. He thinks that a particular product or service can create value, and therefore takes a risk to start a business. Ultimately, the hypothesis may fail or succeed. Somehow, a researcher in science performs the same journey. In spite of the differences, for a scientist, the market is the equivalent to knowledge and the risks are associated mainly to time or prestige, not money.
Which would you say are the reasons for the gap between the academic world and entrepreneurship, especially concerning principal investigators?
Reasons are related to a cultural and social reward system. In the case of Spain, a PI is someone within an academic track. The recognized merits are publications, publications and publications. Hence, a PI is not willing to waste time in matters besides academical targets. To start a company or to sell a patent requires a great deal of effort and a PI would rather spend his time focusing in other activities. Moreover, entrepreneurship in business requires a range of skills that a PI does not bring naturally which conveys an additional effort. In short, the established rewards system does not push PI’s into entrepreneurship.
Which was the major added value for you in The Collider?
I am a PI, therefore I feel not confident enough about my business skills. Nevertheless, I confess to having undertaken a postgraduate course in management a few years ago and I also have been involved in projects with business companies. Thus, I personally do not see the market as a dark matter outer in space. However, I truly do not see myself with enough time and strength to carry on a startup alone and I hope that The Collider programme can help me become part of a team that successfully transfers our technologies into society.
The two projects you are bringing along to the programme have already raised interest from corporations. How did it happen?
Our projects come from engineering technologies that can be applied to real problems. Maybe they are not on the top-notch technological wave -I mean industry 4.0, AI, etc.- but I think that a clear applicability raised up the interest of companies and the opportunity was served to join us throughout the programme.
Finally, where would you like to see your potential spin-offs in 5 years time?
In Nasdaq? Sorry, just kidding. I think this question should be addressed to the CEO. Nevertheless, as a PI I really don’t mind the scope; my only concern is to be able to create the company, transfer the technology and get enough customers to grow. I do not have a long-term plan.