The #IRBstartup programme nurtures future entrepreneurs

Participants in the IV National Congress of Entrepreneurial Scientists in Barcelona. From left to right, Iliana López, Daniela Kalafatovic, Anna Bellmunt, Alba Olivares, Saska Ivanova, Sanja Zivanovic, Gonzalo Fernández-Miranda.

Participants in the IV National Congress of Entrepreneurial Scientists in Barcelona. From left to right, Iliana López, Daniela Kalafatovic, Anna Bellmunt, Alba Olivares, Saska Ivanova, Sanja Zivanovic, Gonzalo Fernández-Miranda.


An innovative programme from IRB Barcelona’s Innovation Department enables researchers to explore how to implement their entrepreneurial ideas

Where will you find a pool of motivated young scientists eager to see their ideas in the marketplace? At the next meeting of #IRBstartup, of course. Launched by IRB Barcelona’s Innovation Department last year, the initiative aims to identify the most promising new entrepreneurial ideas and make them financially viable.

In 2016, #IRBstartup began with eight young researchers, who were brought together by IRB Barcelona’s Entrepreneur in Residence, Marc Ramis, and the Innovation Department. Once a month, participants share their entrepreneurial ideas with each other, Ramis, a highly experienced consultant in bio-entrepreneurship, and Innovation Department staff. Together they discuss and develop the ideas, and analyse their feasibility. Participants are also given the opportunity to attend relevant events related to innovation. In February, six of the #IRBstartup members took part in the IV National Congress of Entrepreneurial Scientists in Barcelona. They participated in roundtables, met venture capitalists, learned about funding and, under the Innovation Department's guidance, discovered a world quite different from their day-to-day work at the bench.

“Thanks to #IRBstartup, our scientists have broadened their network and got valuable extra training that gives them the skills and tools to explore an entrepreneurial career,” explains Alba Olivares, the Technology Transfer Officer involved in #IRBstartup.

“I love the fact that IRB Barcelona gives us the opportunity to be trained in tech transfer during our doctorate,” says PhD student Sanja Zivanovic, one of the team members who took part in the Congress. Postdoctoral Fellow Gonzalo Fernández-Miranda is participating in #IRBstartup because wants to translate the work he does in the lab to society. “My wish is to develop a spin-off based on our research in Raúl Méndez’s Translational Control of Cell Cycle and Differentiation Lab. We know it has the potential to treat cancer, and I hope to make this dream come true.”

After she completes her PhD on drug development in Modesto Orozco’s Molecular Modelling and Bioinformatics Lab, Zivanovic wants to become “co-founder of a company that combines scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in the beauty and cosmetics industry.” She is enthusiastic about #IRBstartup. “I love the way Marc Ramis guides us and gives us advice that helps us shape our ideas. He opens a window for us to a world that we are yet familiar with,” she says.

Zivanovic confesses that she felt a bit lost when faced with so many new concepts – such as venture capitalists, business models, company founding, personal branding and elevator pitches – but she picked up the basics fast. At the Congress, she enjoyed “incredible mentoring activities” and met inspiring young entrepreneurs who shared their experiences of using their scientific training to create science-based companies.

Learning how to build a business is particularly important for young scientists. “There are many different agents involved in the process,” says Fernández-Miranda, “such as the investors. Each one has different expectations and needs, which you have to understand if you want to move up in this world. Events like these help you to understand in a practical sense what they are looking for.”

Fernández-Miranda was particularly impressed with comments from Lluís Pareras, director of the venture capital fund Healthequity. “He said he liked ‘upset entrepreneurs.’ What he meant was that, even if you fail, and you are of course upset about it, it is a valuable experience for you. It means you are ready to succeed,” he says. Sanja agrees: “People like this speaker convinced us that we must not be fearful. Failure is just a step towards success. The take-home message is that we can make it and we should not give up!” she concludes.

The #IRBstartup opportunities didn’t end there. Sanja and Gonzalo were also among 19 young IRB Barcelona researchers who took part in the Bio-Europe Spring 2017 event in March, held in Barcelona. By serving as volunteer staff members for one day, they had the chance to attend the three-day partnering conference for the biotechnology industry. “This event offers a remarkable opportunity for our young researchers to come up with new ideas for their research projects, including possible collaborations with industry,” explains Olivares. “Moreover, it allows them to network with biotech industry players.”

#IRBstartup is open to anyone in the IRB Barcelona community who has an entrepreneurial spirit. If you are interested, contact the Innovation Department at any time to take part.