The Collider’s intensive entrepreneurship programme connects researchers with their target market.
Throughout 2020, The Collider carried out four parallel editions of its OnCampus entrepreneurship programme, aimed at validating early-stage tech projects from universities and research centres.
Based on the Lean LaunchPad methodology, the initiative creates ventures with participants so that they can evaluate the feasibility of commercialising their new technologies. Over the course of seven weeks, teams conduct weekly interviews with companies and industry experts in order to determine the advantages and disadvantages of their innovations in terms of market needs. Their projects are periodically reviewed by specialists, and their evolution is guided by a mentor with professional experience in the sector.
Here are a few examples of entrepreneurship initiatives that have been implemented by young researchers thanks to the programme.
RemTech: recycling filters used in desalination plants
The team behind RemTech – an efficient sorting service for membrane recycling technology – is focused on recycling and treating the filters used in desalination plants so that smaller companies can later reuse them to treat other types of water.
This innovation is a perfect fit with the guidelines of the European Green Deal, as it allows membrane technology (the filters) to participate in the circular economy. In Spain alone, around 80,000 of these types of filters are thrown away each year – and the global figure could rise to 2 million by 2025.
However, RemTech researchers were unaware of the industry’s unique needs. Participating in OnCampus helped clear up these unknowns by pushing them to contact other companies in the sector, explains project spokesperson Raquel García Pacheco.
‘I’ve worked in academic institutions and with people from the industry, but I’ve never had the courage to pick up the phone and listen to future users,’ she says. ‘A customer from Algeria actually told us about a use of desalination machines that we didn’t know about.’
Raquel believes that her time with OnCampus made something ‘click’. RemTech is now developing a spin-off of its project for next year.
Oxeen: monitoring the health of older adults
Oxeen offers a service that monitors older folks who live alone. Its innovative product, similar to a Bluetooth smartwatch, is connected to Oxeen’s server and notifies family members or healthcare teams about possible emergencies.
The researchers’ experience at OnCampus inspired them to conduct more than 50 interviews with medical professionals and directors of healthcare centres.
It is ‘a philosophy of entrepreneurship that is much more dynamic and agile,’ says spokesperson Oriol Gil, who highlights the benefits of having a mentor during the process. ‘Our mentor helped us a lot because he was very plugged in to the world of healthcare start-ups. He helped us sort out where to go, how to tackle interviews,’ etc.
For Oriol, the benefits of the programme are clear: ‘I would recommend OnCampus because it forces you to work, to get out there and talk to people, consider other opinions, evolve your idea, sit down with it, and analyse the process step by step.’
Melanovac: a therapeutic cancer-fighting vaccine
Melanovac’s team was working on diabetes research when it stumbled upon a molecule capable of causing cellular death, which guided their innovation towards treating cancer with a vaccine that attacks melanoma.
‘The experience helped us lose our fear of leaving the lab and connecting with the industry,’ says Marta Corral Pujol, Melanovac’s spokesperson, about her involvement with OnCampus. ‘We’re used to mice, experiments, graphics, etc.’
The researcher says that the programme’s methodology helped the team realise that there’s no need to invest all of their time and resources in the lab, because if the final product doesn’t meet target goals or market needs, it’ll be for naught.
Following the recommendations of their OnCampus mentor, Melanovac has actually directed the project towards the most complex stages of melanoma.
‘A mentor is a unique and essential figure who helps you understand the world, the market and its reality by providing you with information that researchers don’t have,’ Marta explains. She also highlights the ease, flexibility and convenience of OnCampus’ online format, which allowed her to participate while also working on her thesis and doing research in the lab.
The experience has had a decisive impact on Marta, who says that she intends to shift her career towards this market. ‘I now have an interest that wouldn’t have come up if I hadn’t participated in OnCampus,’ she says. ‘I was previously planning on doing postdoctoral research or going abroad, but now I’m thinking about actually creating the start-up – a vital change that happened in a matter of seven weeks.’
Teams AI Recruiter: AI solutions for human resources
Teams AI Recruiter develops HR solutions with artificial intelligence technology. It relies on variables such as competencies, personality and preferences to find the best candidates for a given position, and form balanced teams in which the skills of its members complement one another. Teams AI Recruiter has similar proposals in the pilot phase aimed at education and internships.
Spokesperson Lissette Lemus says OnCampus forced them to ‘follow a methodology’, and emphasises the value of ‘the online experience, because it provides flexibility to those with work obligations’.
Lissete also highlights, ‘As scientists, we sometimes explore our field through self-imposed unknowns. But OnCampus offers real insight into the problems. I recommend it to those who have an interest beyond pure scientific research.’
These four experiences are just a few of the more than 30 technological innovations that the OnCampus entrepreneurship programme has provided guidance and consulting to regarding commercial viability. The programme has also maximised the synergy between research teams and their markets to advance the venture, and in some cases, has redirected the researchers’ career paths or the objective and functionalities of the project itself.