Q&A  | 

Deep tech in the oil industry: Natalia Ruiz on Sustainability and Innovation


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The Collider speaks with Natalia Ruiz, Open Innovation Hub Manager at Repsol Technology Lab, company in where she has held several positions over the past 20 years. Sustainability is key for the energy industry. Therefore, Natalia and her team focus on the searching of disruptive innovations that help Repsol meet its goal of becoming a net-zero emissions company by 2050. Today, Natalia shares with us her department’s strategies and how The Collider is a key ally in this process.

You’re the Open Innovation Hub Manager at the Repsol Technology Lab. What does that mean? What are your responsibilities?

The purpose of the Open Innovation Program is to attract innovation, find talent, and encourage collaboration in order to turn challenges into opportunities. We primarily serve as a connector within the entrepreneurial world, fostering co-creation and supporting highly qualified researchers. We have challenge, but also the opportunity to become a net-zero emissions company by 2050. We are highly focused on this goal, and we aim to detect and validate new technologies that can help us achieve it. 

How do you integrate deep tech in Repsol’s innovation strategy? How is that different from your work with start-ups and other kinds of providers?[Salto de ajuste de texto]

Compared to start-ups, deep tech is quite long term. Its a rather new approach. Normally, Repsol Technology Lab, Repsols research centre, is directly related to our main Repsol businesses units. But now, we have to be more open-minded. We have to think about the future we should be the first to adopt these new technologies that are going to be big champions in the near future. So, we have created a specific division that works with deep tech. We are researching on artificial intelligence, biotechnology materials, informatics, nanotechnology, all the upcoming game-changers – without forgetting traditional innovations.  

What does Repsol Technology Lab do in-house, and how does it work with other research centres, universities, etc.?

The Technology Lab is the research centre of Repsol more than 250 scientists work there. Our approach to innovation is very open: we collaborate with many entities like universities and other research companies in order to build consortiums of researchers, with Repsol as the leader. Challenges are coming for the energy industry, we need to be agile to face them and, above all, we need to create alliances with those that allow us to speed up this process, our own energy transition. Big corporations need to learn from the way start-ups work for example, agile methodology. Universities and research centres offer valuable perspectives as well, especially considering the varying maturity levels of new technologies. 

Where does innovation come from? Any particular region of the world in the lead?

In theory, we look for innovation worldwide, but we mostly focus on Europe and the United States. We have a lot of contacts, also in Asia, but we have no Asian companies in our portfolio at the moment. 

Could you talk about the main barriers for adopting deep technologies in your company?

The main barrier is time. To develop deep tech, we need time. Our business units are very focused on day-to-day operations. In general, they dont operate in a way that allows them to say, I’m going to wait three to five years for this technology to be on the market.We need to establish a process where we can work with proof of concept of deep tech. In any given project, weve got to approve this new tech even in its early stages, and then the corporation can allow us to further investigate it. 

What is your relationship with The Collider? In your opinion, what’s the unique value given by The Collider?

We started working with The Collider a year ago, and we are very happy with it. We really like the way The Collider makes technology transfer. One of our pillars of innovation strategy is to help companies help society by creating real-life solutions. The Collider has a very consistent, effective, step-by-step process: validate the technology, validate the market, put a good team on it, and execute it. They also have a lot of different initiatives, training programs, team-building activities its a very beneficial partnership. 

What opportunities does tech transfer present to new start-ups? Any predictions for the future of tech transfer in Spain?

In Spain, we have very good researchers, but we are not as good at creating companies. But we are improving. Thanks to programs like The Collider, we are learning how to create and transfer knowledge and technology. This is key to fostering the start-up culture in Spains economy. 

Tell us about a mentor or inspiration in your career.

I remember one of my first bosses, the person who taught me to be a leader. He would set an example every day. From him, I learned to think about the team as a whole set goals, but always think about how to achieve them as a team. 

What’s a quote that you live or work by?

If youre going to fail, fail fast. We are working in open innovation and proof of concept. Things can go wrong, but we have to deal with it. In Spanish culture, we dont like mistakes, whereas in American culture, for example, they accept failure more readily. But failure isnt bad its a way to find a new solution. 

What has been the most rewarding experience in your career so far?

I started working as a Process Engineer, a very technical position. Then I moved into management, and about five or six years ago, I began to work in innovation. Its my passion now because it allows me to collaborate with others and use technology to build a more sustainable world. 

What professional advice would you give to those just starting out?

Don’t limit yourself. Set goals and be ambitious.