• Date: October 09, 2018

In addition to financing and training, CaixaImpulse provides participants with a mentor to offer guidance and advice during the journey from lab to market. Scientific Director and First Vice Chair of Oryzon Genomics, Tamara Maes has been a mentor on the programme since it started in 2015. We talked to her about her experience at CaixaImpulse and about the role the mentors play.

What do you think about CaixaImpulse?

I think there is a very real need for the programme. Although certain things have changed, even today the academic world doesn't pay much attention to the possibility of transferring research to society. Basic science is very important, and we need to continue doing it. But we also need science that gives something back to society, in which technology transfer, founding new companies and the economic activity this generates is key.

What role do mentors play?

Mentoring is training based on your own experience, on what you have gone through personally, rather than knowledge acquired in textbooks. Thanks to the training sessions offered by CaixaImpulse, participants can learn more and fine-tune their projects. Then they can come to us with their ideas and questions. That's when we can offer our experience to guide and advise them.

How do you do that?

For example, we can let them know the types of difficulties we encountered ourselves, so that they can face up to the situation, or turn it around. These problems can arise at any level: business strategy, technical risk, regulatory issues, team changes, etc. Nothing is set in stone and it is important for them to consider the short- and long-term effects of the decisions they make as entrepreneurs. The main thing is to get the project off the ground and survive, but they also need to think about the future. You have to aim high, be unique, and produce cutting-edge science. Only then will it be possible to take on the competition.

What do you think is the most important thing for an entrepreneur?

When you are thinking about setting up a business, you need to think about who your customers will be. You need to understand them, and know what they think is most important. Your customer might be a bigger company, a national health service, or even the end user. That's why it's important to have a clear idea of what you want to develop, who it's for, and who will pay for your product and its development.

What are some of the strengths and weaknesses you see among participants?

They don't usually know very much about tech transfer processes, or evaluating an emerging idea or result, and underestimate the resources required to develop it. They aren't normally used to considering industrial property issues, and often use technology that is protected by patents. This is not usually a problem in public research, but in industry, and especially for commercial use, third-party licenses may be required. Participants don't normally know much about the process of creating a company and the obligations this entails. However, some participants are very enthusiastic and have the right business skills, as well as the drive to get their product to market quickly. In general, they are hungry for knowledge and eager to learn.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying to CaixaImpulse?

I would give two pieces of advice. First of all, not to think of the programme as another financing opportunity for the same old project. If you want to make the most out of the programme, you need to be convinced that you have an idea you can bring to the market, whether directly from your centre or by creating a spin-off or start-up. The second point is that it is very important to keep an open mind. It’s normal to have doubts, but there have been good ideas every year and only time will tell whether they are successful or not.

Published alongside the CaixaCiencia blog.

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