Q&A  | 

Creating Wellness for Society: Josep M. Piqué about creating a knowledge-based economy.

Entrepreneurial Vision and the Importance of Global Outreach

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Josep M. Piqué, the Executive President of La Salle Technova Barcelona, one of Europe’s leading tech start-up incubators, talked to us about the importance of entrepreneurial universities in creating a knowledge-based economy.

Could you tell us about what you do and the service you offer start-ups at La Salle Technova Barcelona?

Here at La Salle, we differentiate five tracks to help start-ups: talent, technology, finance, market and space. At our research centre The Internet of Things Institute of Catalonia, we have over 100 researchers, who are focused on technology. In terms of talent, about 5,000 students are studying in the fields of business, engineering, architecture, digital arts and animation at La Salle – Ramon Llull University. Regarding finance, we have a connected network of investors and alumni who are investing in the start-ups through public and private funding.

 

When it comes to the market, we have a process to connect with different venues and to promote that we provide a space at La Salle for co-working, incubation and connection. We also have different programmes for start-ups at different stages of development. In short, we offer a range of programmes for developing ideas in our ecosystem.

Your career spans an era of incredible change, technological progress and innovation. Were there any moments where you knew we, as a society, had taken a huge step forward in terms of technology?

A big moment for Barcelona was in 2000 when the city opened its innovation district 22@Barcelona, with the idea of connecting technology with the economy. Afterwards, the Mobile World Congress and Mobile World Capital put the name of Barcelona on the mobile and technology map. Also, winning the European Capital of Innovation titles in 2014 and 2016 were decisive moments in the transformation of the city.

 

As a society, I believe we’re living in an age of digital revolution with technological advancements such as mobile tech, IoT, big data and AI becoming more important every day. We are now at a turning point in our society, especially in the fields of education, research and economy.

Why is Barcelona a good place for tech innovation and start-ups?

It is about tolerance and openness. Barcelona has become a platform for young people and entrepreneurs to live and work. We also have a good environment in terms of talent, technology and investment. In the year 2000, for instance, Barcelona had only one venture firm and nowadays, we have become a hub for lots of businesses and venture capitals. There are many companies, such as Telefónica, Naturgy and Seat that are watching start-ups as a source of innovation, which is really good news in terms of connecting start-ups with companies and big corporations.

As someone who has worked in the education sector for so long, how important is it for universities to promote entrepreneurship? What unique value can a university offer?

As an entrepreneurial university, we serve three functions: education, research and knowledge. With talent and technology, we can offer students job opportunities which lead to promoting new businesses. A university becomes an entrepreneurial university when it functions as a platform to look beyond basic research towards educational entrepreneurship, such as tech transfer, spinoffs, start-ups and, in general, connecting with the outside world.

At La Salle Technova Barcelona, you hold a number of start-up competitions. What’s the impact of such competitions in connecting start-ups with global innovation?

We are promoting entrepreneurship ‘indoors and outdoors’. Our part is to create a bridge between the university and the outside world. Here at La Salle, for instance,
we organise different events, such as Barcelona Rebuilt and BNew. At these global competitions, we scout more than 1,000 start-ups who are developing new applications. Later, we select the best 50 and connect them with the market.

 

The idea is to listen to the world and aim for global innovation. We do the same thing at La Salle – Ramon Llull University through research and analysis. We are a global institute because technology, talent and markets are global. Both La salle and The Collider are promoting technology-based start-ups who come from a research background through a technology-push approach. Currently, the best application and performance belongs to The Collider, who are focused on transferring research to the market.

You’re reported as saying, “The best innovation happens outside of companies.” What did you mean by this?

The world is revolutionising in terms of technology and innovation. A company’s main challenge might lie within its walls, but sometimes, you have to open the windows and look outside. The challenge might well be related to incremental rather than disruptive innovation. Therefore, the question is how to connect a company with the rest of the world while competing with others who are also watching, absorbing and investing in the start-ups in the same department of innovation.

You are a well-known proponent of the Lean LaunchPad methodology. Could you explain what it is and how it works?

The Lean LaunchPad is a methodology that requires students and researchers to validate their hypothesis and rediscover who their customer is and who pays for their proposition. During a ten-week period, the candidates interview a range of potential customers, buyers and investors to validate what they propose is going to be accepted by the market. This leads to developing a business model, which is the focus of the Lean LaunchPad. With that, the candidates can create their business plan. In other words, the site of exploration becomes the site of exploitation in business terms.

Are there any particular start-ups that you’re proud of having helped get off the ground? Are there any current ones you’re excited about?

Digital Legends Entertainment was one of our first start-ups. They developed the first digital video games in the city of Barcelona and they’re now considered a leader in the field. Genaker was another start-up focused on research and technology with mobile push-to-talk systems, who recently received offers from big telecom companies. Start-ups are growing and being bought by big companies all the time, and there are others, such as Glovo, who are doing incredible work in Barcelona and scaling globally.

We know that you’re particularly interested in the development of smart cities. What effect do you see them having?

Smart cities are about cities as platforms of innovation. If we store all the technology and infrastructure systems of a city in the cloud, we collect enough data to create a ‘twin’ city, which is more manageable both for politicians and public servants.

What are you most excited about in the future in terms of innovation?

We are facing new challenges during the Coronavirus pandemic, but I am excited about the future thanks to the entrepreneurs. I like to believe that Barcelona is the place of entrepreneurs. They are deciding what’s to come, which means that currently, we have people who are writing the future of the city in terms of new jobs, new applications and new technology.

 

Nowadays, there’s a tsunami of different technologies, but the challenge is the adoption and adaptation of technology in valuable positions. We have more tools than ever before and with tools comes power. Therefore, we have a responsibility to use them in a proper and inclusive approach to provide wellness for society and the entire world.