Q&A  | 

Behind the scenes at The Collider, Venture Builder Strategist Pol Hortal

Venture Builder Strategist Pol Hortal talks about his experience as a ‘serial entrepreneur’ and his vision of giving to society

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As an entrepreneur with over 15 years’ experience in founding and scaling start-ups, Pol Hortal is a valuable asset to The Collider, bridging the gap between start-ups and corporations. He co-founded innovation consulting and training firm First Corporate Venturing, and prides himself on his ability to design and implement training programmes in international organisations.

You describe yourself as a serial entrepreneur. What does that mean to you, and how do you think your past experience is relevant to your current position as a venture builder strategist?

I started building companies when I was 21 years old, and the new rules about entrepreneurship didn’t exist then. I helped my father build his website, and it went well, so he recommended me to his friends and colleagues. Soon I had my own company with 12 members of staff, working with several companies that needed system maintenance, servers, websites, etc.

 

Around 2003–2004, I started getting in touch with marketing agencies and helped them mostly with their offline, but also online, campaigns. Later, in 2007, I flew to Washington to meet with people from Google, Facebook, and some other firms. That was when I decided to start something with social media and digital marketing and communication.

 

People look at my profile and don’t understand my background. I’ve been an entrepreneur all my life, and I’m a bit embarrassed to talk about it. I don’t consider myself a typical entrepreneur, and I don’t have a professional background in big companies and corporates, either.

 

Now, as a venture builder strategist at The Collider, I’ve always tried to use my experience to create the best experience possible by taking into account not only what the entrepreneurs build, but also their feelings and challenges. I believe this personal approach helps me understand what happens in their minds; I see the process from their point of view and try to be as close as possible to them in order to maximise their potential to succeed.

How do you think The Collider plays a role in accelerating start-ups based in disruptive technologies?

That’s a good question. I think there’s a gap between the scientific side of things and the business market. Here in Spain, we’re really good at scientific publications, but the challenge is to bridge this gap. It’s important to see how the spin-offs work, and how new technologies are playing in the market. Trying to set up a methodology to make it work for start-ups is a very big leap, and for me, The Collider is doing exactly that to approach this gap.

Coming from the entrepreneurial side of tech transfer, how would you define its importance in today’s market?

There are two sides to entrepreneurship: one where the real entrepreneur changes everything in terms of market ecosystems, etc. They do that not only for themselves, but also for society in general. The other is about people who want to become richer. There should be a balance, in my opinion: the role of an entrepreneur is to better society rather than play to the stereotype of getting richer.

How do you differentiate between an idea that you believe will be successful and one that will not?

As far as I’m concerned, the more I know, the less I know. One has to be humble. Nobody really knows. About eight years ago, I had an interview with someone linked to Wallapop, when they were just starting, and I said that it wasn’t going to work. I was wrong. It’s not really about the idea itself, but the team behind it and how the market will respond. These are the basic points to qualify whether an idea is going to work or not. In other words, an idea on its own doesn’t say much. It also depends on the momentum in the market.

The Collider’s aim is to help bring start-ups to the market. How does this process begin?

The space of opportunity in the typical digital business models is shrinking. So I think what the entrepreneurs at The Collider are looking for is a willingness to enter new, less obvious spaces where there are more opportunities compared to traditional models. We bring to the table something that’s not easy to have when you start a company. You have a technology that works on paper, and our job is to see if its laboratory performance also makes sense in the market. In the end, what start-up entrepreneurs are looking for is that we give them more chances to be successful.

What is an entrepreneur's main motivation for starting a company? What factors affect their situation?

I think an entrepreneur’s main drive to start a company is the money, and 99% of the good entrepreneurs I know are concerned with money. They could get more money like this than working in a typical organisation. These things are needed, but we perceive them as more important than they actually are. It’s fair enough, though. It’s the market and the landscape which dictate the situation, and venture capitalists are doing their job.

How do you think the recent pandemic will affect the tech transfer industry as a whole?

I think it’s quite early to say. Maybe we have a lack of technology production because all the money and effort is focused on controlling and finding a cure for the Coronavirus. We don’t really know what’s going to happen. All we know is that venture capitalists are investing less and being super cautious. In the United States, for instance, they’re only using 70% of their budget, and I think we’ll have a general lack of investment in the sector. The economy will be depressed and start-ups face more challenges – no market and less money are equal to less potential for the clients.

It’s common knowledge that not all start-ups make it. How does The Collider overcome these challenges and potential failures?

For me, it’s not a failure to understand and to comprehend that the market isn’t willing to invest in your project. In fact, it’s fair enough if they decide not to continue with the project after two months or so. This year, what we have to do is provide the conditions for entrepreneurs to experiment and receive feedback as soon as possible. This is our goal. As a strategist, I have to be as fast as possible, and we have to make things easy and quick for start-ups.

As your passions lie in strategy, innovation and technology, what are you most looking forward to accomplishing in your role as a venture builder strategist in regard to technology transfer?

I have a realistic approach. In general, the business ecosystem is complicated in Spain, and things are difficult at the moment. We need to grow, to be more efficient, and to evaluate what’s working and what’s not in order to encourage people to do this. As an entrepreneur, I’m willing to give back to society, and I think I can do that by offering a methodology or process that makes sense and encourages people. This is my biggest goal.