Q&A  | 

Pilar Gil: “There is a lot of potential for growth in Spain, but there is still a lot left to do.”

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Pilar Gil Ibáñez holds a PhD in Biomedicine, Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, as well as a Master in Biotechnology and an MBA. This dual background in science and management led her to become the manager of the Parc Científic de Barcelona (Barcelona Science Park) before she went on to hold her current position as CEO of the Parque Científico de Madrid (Madrid Science Park). We met with her to talk about her career, her role as CEO as well as the work this institution carries out, and her vision for science and technology transfer in Spain.

What motivated you to train in both science and management?

I’ve always been interested in healthcare and good at mathematics. So it was clear to me that I would do a biochemistry degree. After completing a PhD in Biomedicine and a Master in Biotechnology, I thought it would be very worthwhile to complement my training with an MBA. I had always been attracted to the world of business, and the possibility of management training was something I had in mind from the start of my career.

What are your main responsibilities as CEO of the Madrid Science Park?

As CEO, I have several roles. The first and most important one is to direct and coordinate the team of scientific and administrative professionals who serve more than eighty start-ups incubated in the park.

I am also working on defining the Park’s strategy, which is shaped by the Foundation’s trustees: the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, the CSIC, the CIEMAT, and the Madrid City Hall.

Finally, I am also responsible for institutional visibility and relationships with stakeholders in the ecosystem. This task involves interacting at a regional, national and international level and participating in events and activities to enhance the Park’s visibility.

What does the Madrid Science Park do, and how do you help companies grow and develop projects and initiatives?

We are an incubator that supports entrepreneurs right from the start. We also offer them technical facilities, laboratories, offices, meeting rooms and all the infrastructure support they need so they can focus solely on innovation.

We also have professional staff who help them take their first definitive steps forward with communication services, support in the search for public and private funding, talent search and internationalisation. 

And, although the Park only works with established companies, we collaborate with acceleration programmes such as the CaTaPull initiative, where we help researchers move forward with their business model validation, and we also help them create science- and tech-based companies.

You have also been the manager of the Barcelona Science Park. How did that role impact your current position as CEO?

That’s where my management experience began. Despite my dual profile, I didn’t start working in this area until I entered the Science Park as a manager.

That experience has helped me in my role as CEO of the Madrid Science Park, but my current position has greater visibility and more responsibilities. It’s also very enriching for me because it’s a park that encompasses a lot of sectors. We don’t just work in the health field; we’re also involved in digital and material matters, among others.

What interests you most about your sector?

What interests me most is the chance to improve the scientific-transfer process by taking technology from the research environment to society through the creation of high-impact companies. I believe that there is still a great deal of untapped potential in Spain and, in particular, in Madrid.

What do you envisage for the evolution of tech transfer in Spain?

Our science is very advanced, but we need to transfer it, either as licensed patents or through entrepreneurship. If investment increases and innovation continues to be stimulated, there is a lot of potential for growth.

We’re slowly going into orbit, but there is still a lot to be done. With all that we invest, our advanced science, and all the good publications we have, innovation shouldn’t come from abroad. In Spain, we have to also try to become a benchmark in science and tech transfer.

What impact has technology had on the medical field in recent years?

It’s had a huge impact. It’s thrilling to see how medicine and technology have come together to revolutionise an industry. For example, when it comes to human genome sequencing, the cost of sequencers has dropped, and this means that there is a real possibility for clinics and hospitals to carry out genetic diagnoses and offer personalised medicine.

There’s also advancement in data, artificial intelligence and robotics, which will have a significant impact. In a few years’ time, both patient management and treatment itself are going to be very different.

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You are the first woman to run the Madrid Science Park. What do you think we can do to reduce the gap between men and women in the fields of science, technology and engineering?

I think it’s extremely important to make the work of scientists and technologists visible. Today we have many women in relevant positions, and it’s our responsibility to give publicity to these examples.

The Park collaborates on the ‘Ciencia y Tecnología en Femenino’ or ‘Women in science and technology’ project, which is coordinated by the Association of Scientific and Technological Parks of Spain (APTE, Asociación de Parques Científicos y Tecnológicos de España), which seeks to promote scientific and technological vocations among young women. We organise educational days in order to explain everything you need to know to have a career in science. And not only for the health sciences, where the difference is not that large, but also for other sciences such as engineering. In this project, the indicators show very positive results.

Why do you think the work of programmes like The Collider is important? How do you think they contribute to technology transfer?

Initiatives such as The Collider’s are very important for professionalising the transfer process. In some institutions, the processes used are still very traditional. One thing that interests me about The Collider is how they create teams that push projects forwards. It’s extremely difficult to find and integrate a professional CEO and a scientific team so as to get the best out of each and move a project forward.

Finally, what is the most important lesson you've learned throughout your career?

Something I’ve always valued is being able to surround myself with people who know more than I do and constantly inspire me. I believe that we all need to have interests, and we have to continue to challenge ourselves and never stop learning. If you stop challenging yourself, you get bored, and you’re no longer happy at work.