Scientists set to become entrepreneurs

Daniela Kalafatovic's (left) and Giorgia Testoni  are exploring ways to connect science with business
Daniela Kalafatovic's (left) and Giorgia Testoni are exploring ways to connect science with business
  • <p>Daniela Kalafatovic's (left) and Giorgia Testoni  are exploring ways to connect science with business</p>
  • <p>Participants in the workshop From Science to Business earlier this year</p>

IRB Barcelona fosters entrepreneurship among its young scientists. Two postdoctoral fellows tell in vivo about their experience of learning how to deal with markets, patents and venture capitalists. 

Postdoctoral fellows Giorgia Testoni (in the Metabolic Engineering and Diabetes Lab) and Daniela Kalafatovic (in the Design, Synthesis, and Structure of Peptides and Proteins Lab) are among the IRB Barcelona members who took part in From Science to Business, a workshop organised by BIST and the ESADE Business School earlier this year.

“The course at ESADE was extremely intense,” admit the two scientists, “but we came out enthusiastic!”

“The course focussed on how to identify gaps in the market and how to take advantage of them.” They found the environment “stimulating,” led by committed instructors, and touched topics that are “very different to what we are used to”, since it involved people with very diverse backgrounds. “We learnt a lot in a field that we knew nothing about,” they say.

Their goal is clear. As Testoni puts it, “I want to explore opportunities to help people with ideas to bring them to the market or create a new start-up.”

“I was eager to learn how patents work, how to make sure an idea is profitable, so that we can find alternative ways to fund research for young scientists that do not to depend on grants,” says Kalafatovic.

A few weeks after the workshop at ESADE, Testoni and Kalafatovic participated in the 3rd CRG Bio-Business School. “It was a great opportunity because we tackled a lot of very practical cases and talked to venture capitalists,” they say. “This course was more specifically focussed on scientific endeavours, so we could more easily appreciate the field that we would be moving into.”

IRB Barcelona’s Innovation Department later topped up this experience. In collaboration with the Entrepreneur in Residence Marc Ramis, Technology Transfer Officer Alba Olivares was in charge of a programme informally dubbed “@IRB start up”, in which entrepreneurial ideas could be discussed and implemented. Four sessions have already taken place.

A group of eight entrepreneurs-to-be were brought together by Technology Transfer Officer Alba Olivares for an “@IRB start up” programme. Participants shared their ideas with the group, and two were voted the most promising for development. One was Giorgia’s. “After weeks of discussion, there is not much left of those original ideas,” she admits. “We are learning how to critically assess them, and we are now reshaping them, comparing them with what is already present in the market, and trying to strengthen them.” The idea her group is now working on addresses ways to facilitate access of young researchers not associated with a lab to research facilities. “A co-working area for freelance scientists,” as she calls it.

“It is going to take a while to get to a final feasible idea,” adds Daniela. “The idea I am discussing with my group has to do with nutrition and helping people design their diets. But we need to devote time and thought to this before we feel strong enough to propose it to venture capitalists,” she says.

The next “@IRB start up” session will take place in October. Alba Olivares invites everyone with an entrepreneurial spirit to contact the Innovation team to take part.