Q&A  | 

Towards a better capitalism, by Pere Condom-Vilà

Pere Condom-Vilà discusses the relationship between research and business, the importance of trailblazing initiatives, and the role of technology in overcoming the crisis and generating a positive impact.

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Pere Condom-Vilà is the director of Research and Technology Transfer at the University of Girona, and an adjunct professor of Technology and R&D Management at the University of Barcelona. He has extensive experience in innovation and technology in the public and private sectors. He has served as director for both the Catalunya Emprèn programme and the Science and Technology Park of the University of Girona. He often writes about innovation and start-ups in his blog and has recently published the book Ciencia, tecnología y startups(University of Barcelona), in which he explores the foundations of innovation as a force for new economic development.

You have extensive experience in innovation and research, in the public as well as private and academic sectors. What interests you most about these fields and what led you to work in them?

My training led me to work in these fields. When I was studying industrial engineering, technology-related topics began to attract my attention, and I decided to write my doctoral thesis on the subject of technology transfer. I began without really knowing what I was getting into, because, at that time, it was a newly emerging field and there were very few people working in this area.

 

Today, with more than 26 years of experience under my belt, it is something I am passionate about and has led me to understand that the world’s progress depends on the pushing of two parallel boundaries: the boundaries of human knowledge and the boundaries of the application of that knowledge.  Both boundaries move almost simultaneously, although this movement isn’t consistent in all areas.

 

The exact role of the people working on this is to establish a connection between the two boundaries in order to facilitate the application of this knowledge and the concurrent evolution.  This is what I like most about my work: the knowledge that by contributing to public policies on innovation and technology, through institutions and initiatives like InnoBA or The Collider, we are able to have an impact on the market and on society.

At The Collider we are particularly interested in the role of technology transfer as a force for innovation. Do you think there’s enough exchanging of R&D results? What needs to be done to make progress in this area?

Results exchange is an area where we have come a long way, but where we can still make progress. Major universities who transfer technology around the world do so for two reasons.  Firstly, they create lots of technology, and there is therefore lots of investment, and secondly, they have the procedures and culture to facilitate these transfers.

 

In Spain, we still do not devote enough effort to R&D, and without R&D, there can be no transfer.  We need more investment in this field. In terms of culture, there are various tools that can bring about this change, including programmes such as The Collider, which work to change the mainstream culture.  As well as offering services, The Collider also acts as a beacon and a cultural leader.

In an article you wrote in 2017, you stated that ‘in general, companies don’t consider universities to be sources of innovation.’ Why do you think this happens and what can be done to improve the situation?

For there to be technology transfer, there must be not only research, i.e. supply, but also demand. In general, the Spanish business network isn’t competitive in the field of R&D, which makes transfer to existing companies difficult.

 

This situation should serve to justify the creation of new knowledge-intensive enterprises. Venture builders, incubators, accelerators and other technology transfer programmes like The Collider have located the crux of the problem, and are taking steps to solve it.

You have served as director of the Catalunya Emprèn programme, an initiative to boost the entrepreneurship of the Generalitat, and you have also worked in both the private and academic sectors. Where do you think you’ve made the biggest impact?

My greatest capacity to create an impact has been in my position as director of Catalunya Emprèn, due to, in essence, its proximity to the entity that defines Catalan entrepreneurship and technology macro-policy.  Smaller programmes like Parc UPC or Parc UdG have also allowed me to make a big impact, but on a smaller scale.

Can you comment on any examples of technology transfer that you've participated in that stand out for their success?

I can offer many examples.  There’s Fractus, a spin-off of the UPC (Catalonian Polytechnic University) that has applied fractal technology to mobile telephony, meaning that mobile phones around the world can function without having protruding antennas.  There is also BMAT, a spin-off of Pompeu Fabra University, that today has customers in 134 countries around the world. They apply artificial intelligence to identify music broadcast on more than 8,000 radio and TV stations, and inform the artists so that they can collect what they’re entitled to.

 

In Catalonia, the best example of economic activity creation is generally that of biotechnology. A significant proportion of the over 1,000 Catalan companies in this sector have emerged through public research.

In another article from 2019, you suggested the idea that we are heading for a ‘better capitalism’, and that start-ups are the driving forces of this new model. What does this new capitalism entail and how are we headed towards it?

I believe that yes, we are moving towards a new capitalism.  There is today a ‘planetary consciousness’, simply because there is more connectivity and people are able to share their opinions. The coronavirus crisis and other current crises are forcing us to see that there are many global challenges that must be overcome.  To do this, a very familiar formula is used: a group of people define a goal, create a company and receive funding.  The big change currently happening is that this goal now has to generate a positive impact.  Companies with negative impacts will cease to exist, giving way to impact capitalism, a model where they can continue to get richer, but also create a positive impact. This is what ‘better capitalism’ is all about.

 

The coronavirus crisis has revealed another very important fact: R&D and technology are essential components in ‘fixing’ the future and generating this positive impact.  The way to overcome the crises we are facing is to invest in both R&D and in the creation of companies providing solutions based on that R&D. This is a topic that I explore in Ciencia, tecnología y startups, where I state that we will end this crisis thanks to R&D and to a new model of capitalism, an impact capitalism that global capital is comfortable with.