“Good scientific inventions don’t get anywhere, without talented people to make them reach the market”

Marc Ramis, IRB Barcelona Entrepreneur in Residence
Marc Ramis, IRB Barcelona Entrepreneur in Residence

The Innovation Department has launched a new initiative targeting IRB Barcelona scientists interested in strengthening their entrepreneurial skills. Called “Entrepreneur in Residence” (EiR), it involves hosting a highly experienced and motivated expert in bio-entrepreneurship. According to the Department staff, the programme “will support the development of a stronger entrepreneurial culture, the definition of best practices regarding the role of entrepreneurs, and the identification of new spin-off opportunities. We encourage any IRB researcher interested or curious about entrepreneurship to contact us”.

We met EiR Marc Ramis, a bio-entrepreneurial business developer focused on science commercialization and innovation management at the kick-off event on 14 December. He is the CEO of Tech & Business Innovation (TBI), an academic firm focused on knowledge exchange and corporate-academic partnerships.

Tell us a bit about this new initiative.

EiR is a programme that aims to strengthen entrepreneurial culture at the Institute. I will try to support the valuable work of the Innovation team—which identifies, selects and prioritises promising tech transfer projects—by focussing more on the people rather than on the project itself. We would like to identify the people who are entrepreneurs at heart and willing to begin a business project.

While talking to the students, you mentioned that the Spanish business “eco-system” has its challenges.

Despite many efforts, there is still asymmetry between the academic excellence Spain has achieved in the last 15 years and the number of science-based entrepreneurs. There are a few examples of academic spin-off companies that have been successful. But we could certainly do more based on our excellent pool of academic talent and projects.

Why do you think that is?

The key challenge is that the translational ecosystem to bring these inventions into the industrial sector is not as mature as in other countries. But things are definitely getting better, and the ecosystem is learning and growing fast. We need more patience, more success stories, and more determination in order to achieve a rich and sustainable public-private translational ecosystem.

Why would a researcher want to found a company?

IRB Barcelona and society have to support scientists who are working on academic excellence, but we also need to provide tools by which this excellence can have an impact on society, such as founding a company. By translating science to the market, scientific research can generate qualified jobs and wealth.

How would you measure “impact” in this field?

My way of measuring impact is that an invention can reach a patient and the market. If, during this process, we are also able to set up high-tech companies, with qualified jobs, we can also have a social benefit. Many qualified professionals have had to leave the country or have had to work in a field that is not the one they studied for, and it is this group that would benefit from a high-tech job market. In fact, I would recommend counting the number of jobs that a particular invention or patent brings about.

What are the specific challenges that scientists with a business-oriented mind face?

The most important challenge is to define the roles of scientists in business ventures. In particular, those working in academia have to decide whether to abandon active public research and devote themselves to running the company. Entrepreneurial academics must then pair up with business-oriented people in the management team of this potential new venture. Another challenge has to do with the agreements between the company, investors and the scientific institution—they are very delicate.

You told the students that people are more important than ideas. Why?

Both ideas and people are important in this process. But coming up with good inventions is a different process to that of putting them into practice, i.e. taking a good drug candidate to the marketplace. The latter requires people who know how to be good managers. Without good people to make them work, good ideas don’t get anywhere. Sometimes, instead, ideas that are not so good but in the hands of good managers go a long way. In summary, there are many important elements in the entrepreneurial process: intellectual property, smart lawyers, outstanding science, a specialized investor, and the identification of a need. All of this is important. But what can really make a difference are the people who manage this process. The EiR programme looks for people like that at IRB Barcelona.