Q&A  | 

Thomas Klem Andersen: Building bridges between science and business

Tags: 'Data ethics' 'Digital transformation' 'Ética de datos' 'Future of work' 'Innovación pública' 'Tecnología'


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Thomas Klem Andersen is the Alliance Manager at DeepTech Alliance which is currently head-quartered at Futurebox in Denmark. We spoke to him about a collaborative project that was born in Denmark but is making waves across Europe. He offered insight into the current state and future of deep-tech entrepreneurship, and the role The Collider is playing in the tech-transfer process.

What is DeepTech Alliance? Why is it a European Alliance?

DeepTech Alliance is a collaboration between deep tech-focused incubators and accelerators across Europe. The alliance was initiated by Futurebox, which is a deep tech startup accelerator associated with DTU Science Park in Denmark. The vision of DTU Science Park is to become one of the leading development communities for deep-tech ventures in Europe. To reach that goal we realized we need to collaborate with partners outside of Denmark who do what we do, but even better! We learn from them and become better ourselves. Europe is not yet an integrated market like the US or China, but we believe Europe can compete globally in deep tech if we collaborate across borders to build a strong ecosystem, and our vision is to create that. Through a European alliance, we have the opportunity to connect a diverse mix of high-quality start-ups, experts, investors and corporate partners and create a strong deep-tech ecosystem within Europe.

What led you to your current role as Program Manager?

I have been working at DTU Science Park for several years with their DeepTech Mentoring programme, which I developed and implemented based on an MIT model. After handing this programme over to one of my coworkers, I spent 10 months travelling and volunteering. Sometime after returning, I was assigned to the DeepTech Alliance project, which was just getting started. The role is so exciting; I have the opportunity to work with and learn from partners and colleagues from other organisations and observe how they plan and execute their programmes, which has expanded my outlook tremendously.

What would you say are the main roadblocks facing scientists who want to be entrepreneurs? And what incentives are there for scientists to become entrepreneurs?

A lot of researchers are driven to have their research have an impact on the world, so I think that is a driving factor for some scientists to become entrepreneurs. On the other hand, I have found that many scientists are motivated by science and research itself and they’re happy with their careers, so they aren’t as open to becoming entrepreneurs. For me, the best model is to match those who’d like to spin out the tech they’re working on with experienced entrepreneurs who enjoy building businesses, which is a completely different game. 

For scientists in those positions, I encourage them to continue their careers while venturing into board positions or part-time positions in the ventures based on their research. At DTU we have a very successful programme called Open Entrepreneurship for scientists to transform their research into a business with the help of experienced entrepreneurs.

What are the main challenges of spin-offs to pass the “Death Valley,” and to scale quickly once they have validated their products or services?

There are many challenges! Even after having validated a product or service, it’s difficult to find the first customers—technology doesn’t sell itself and even the best solutions are hard to sell. This stage is very different compared to product development, where many of the founders and engineers thrive. Selling is a different game and requires a different skill set. Another challenge is finding the capital to produce the product before there’s any money coming in. A lot of ventures break their necks in that process. There’s also a development bias in the sector, where a lot of engineers focus on continuing to develop or improve their solutions instead of focusing on sales which can become a challenge.

What do you think should be the role of universities and research centres in deep-tech start-up ecosystems?

Good-quality research should be their primary role. Beyond that, they need the infrastructure to spin out the tech and scientific advances. Often the tech-transfer offices are the organs that support researchers looking to become entrepreneurs and they need to provide good terms and incentives for research to be spun-out into new ventures, otherwise, they may represent a major block to this happening.

Could you discuss the status of the European deep-tech ecosystem compared to other countries and areas?

Europe is quite scattered, and therefore does not have as integrated a market as the US and China. It’s a challenge not having a massive home market like China, which is why we with DeepTech Alliance are working on providing better market access across borders.

Could you talk about emerging deep-tech hubs in Europe?

There are a lot of interesting things going on in the Baltic region. I think in Europe in general, there is also a lot of untapped potential if we can find a way of increasing the amount of science-based ventures being spun out from all the amazing universities. We need to become better at commercialising the tech they’re researching.

Could you talk about the differences between European deep-tech hubs in terms of laws, specialisation, and government support?

Although this isn’t my area of expertise, I can say that there are big differences in tech transfer policies at different universities in different countries, which makes a big difference when researchers and new ventures are negotiating terms for buying patents owned by the university. Favourable terms are very conducive for the amount of ventures being formed. Too many universities are very protective of their patents, and it’s just not happening to the extent it should be. So that’s an important factor. 

Could you talk about how to support deep-tech start-ups in Europe?

In Europe, we need to provide better market access and cross-border networks for start-ups. This is especially the case for start-ups in small countries that don’t have a massive home market. You can provide support to start-ups through things like corporate partnerships that focus on business development and open doors to potential customers, which we’re trying to do at DeepTech Alliance.

What is your relationship with The Collider? Why is it valuable?

One important thing The Collider is doing is providing support to science-based teams from universities that want to form ventures based on their research. One way they achieve this is by matching teams with potential co-founders who are experienced entrepreneurs. They also have strong connections to established industries in Spain. This is super-important because it creates a bridge between the corporate and scientific worlds, getting these start-ups their initial commercial validation, and giving them sales traction.

Do you have any advice for people starting on a similar path?

There is great power in community, so get connected and tap into your network. It’s very difficult to succeed without support. And find programmes that fit your needs – there are so many different programmes out there, so it’s important to be critical when it comes to choosing and enrolling in a programme. You always need to focus and prioritize your own business!