This week I participated in the creation of a Technology-Based Company (EBT) at the UA about Big data, giving my support to Lucentia Lab, promoted by professors Juan Carlos Trujillo (founder and main expert), Manuel Marco, Pedro Pernías -all belonging to the Department of Languages and Systems of the UA, with Mario Piattini (*), Manuel Desantes and the University of Alicante itself.
It seemed like an opportunity to reflect on Technology-Based Companies in Spain.
|Rector Manuel Palomar (center) with the founders of Lucentia Lab, EBT|
I imagine that anyr spin off which becomes a startup o EBT at Stanford or MIT is a very different process to that carried out in a Spanish university. There is a very high percentage of colleagues who do not see it as "normal" for professors to establish companies at university. It is not clearly seen as a key element in creating an authentic entrepreneurial culture in the university that favors employability, entrepreneurship and applied research committed to the competitiveness of a country. This has to change. That in Spain an entrepreneurial and business culture is not promoted in the university, with the existing youth unemployment rates or with the forced mass emigration of young people to other European countries, is nonsense.
Every time I think about it I must confess that I have a sense of concern. There are not many EBTs that have been created in my university, nor in the Spanish university in general, with few exceptions. There is an underlying responsibility as an implicit responsibility: can not fail. Even without being afraid of taking on difficult challenges, in all sincerity, I am afraid of failure. It's okay if you don't get an article published in a prestigious magazine, or even if you don't get accreditation, but I wouldn't be so sure if you fail with an EBT. Good friends telling you "I already told you not to get involved in that" and others, why talk. It takes many failures of Spanish EBTs so that a few can become benchmarks of success and good practices. It takes many failures to create a true culture in favor of business and entrepreneurship. But failure, as we tell our students, should not be “stigmatized” and yet, in practice, it is done.. The creation of ETBs in Spain must be considered as a process of rapprochement and cultural exchange between the university and the company. Where, although we display our greatest knowledge and enthusiasm, failure should be considered a very normal and necessary ingredient.
Beyond youth unemployment and the emigration of talent there are many compelling reasons. I recommend the magnificent work of three Valencian professors (March. Mota and Yagüe): The EBTs as the engine of the new economy and as a catalyst for the crisis). In the age of knowledge -of knowing druckenian- the university should have an essential role in today's society. A few months ago, MIT incorporated innovation into its mission - along with teaching and research. The bulk of our research activity is very dissociated with innovation or technology transfer. There is a university comfort zone that adds to the irrelevance and lack of a social commitment. EBTs are not a legal option, they constitute a social need, implicit in a desirable radical change in the current university model.
For seven years now, I have been asking university students in the last year of their degree in economics / business about whether, given the current limitations to find good jobs, entrepreneurship is an option for them. Only 2% - and almost always with reservations - answer affirmatively. The digital economy is an easy option, in many cases it does not require initial investment, even for those who fail after trying. It improves their employability through digital training and nominates them as potential intra-entrepreneurs for companies. It is devastating to see that in the current circumstances the option of “undertaking” is at the opposite end of the intentions of our students. University faculty must play a relevant, exemplary and cultural role to motivate students towards entrepreneurship.
I am not an expert in legislation but I am clear that EBTs should not be seen as something exceptional in the university. Perhaps it is necessary to set more modest, very clear objectives and link them to a model for the future of the Spanish University. It is clear that in the long term they have to become a driving force for innovation and quality employment. In the short term, an interesting objective would be simply to create a culture of receptivity and favorable predisposition towards the company in the university environment. The law as it stands is clearly insufficient. It would be necessary to cconnect research activity, efforts in science parks, internationalization and EBTs. The rest can remain pure voluntarism.
I have not found data on the creation of ETBs in Spain, that they do not exist or at least they are not published on the Internet and is in itself an indicator. The data is available on the website of each university and there is also some report not updated by Autonomous Community (see, for example, the New Technology-Based Companies Report (2007-2009) of Madrid I + D. Barcelona and Madrid are the two poles With more EBTs created and with more support services for them. According to the aforementioned report, some 120 EBTs were created in two years in all Madrid universities. I have not found any follow-up on them. Nor annual reports that subsequently update this information. The Ministry does not seem to be committed to the CEIPAR support program, which apparently does excite the services of the auditing companies.Another indicator.
If we stigmatize failure and also make money, EBTs are doomed to nothing. Dedication, commitment and involvement will be lacking. Earning money with a company is currently not easy, if to this is added that the EBTs do not have any academic recognition a priori, we have a not very hopeful picture. I have already commented in a previous post the social rejection of entrepreneurship or at least the insufficient valuation of society compared to third countries such as the United States where they play with an advantage for multiple reasons that should be borne in mind. Especially in a country like Spain which, incidentally, runs the political risk of Greek or Venezuelan temptations.
If there is a priority to encourage and guide the creation of EBTs, that is the one that focuses on the sectors of the future: biotechnology, nanotechnology, digital economy, Internet of things. In reality, and even on a small scale, the EBTs of Madrid's universities conform to this pattern, which is very good news.
On some occasion, I have mentioned that there are two approaches to business creation. One, great bureaucratic demands for the creation of companies and a subsequent little or under control and monitoring. Another much more effective and logical approach: promoting the rapid creation of companies and subsequently making continuous and effective inspections. In Spain we opted for the first route and we are one of the European champions in the underground economy. It is an inefficient model that the current government is trying to change. The creation of an EBT should be clearly situated on the second track. A large entrance red carpet and efficient periodic and systematic checks. In short, a model that should be extensible to the rest of the business system.
Fortunately, I see many Spanish universities that are making a huge effort to create EBTs. Maybe it's a good sign. It is necessary, urgent, a collaborative network that allows sharing problems. solutions, joint actions... and especially to be configuring a model of EBTs that is seen by society, and internally by the University as a relevant and decisive instrument, both to guide our research more productively, and to create an entrepreneurial, creative and innovative culture among students and teachers . Update: My good friend Senén Barro indicates to me the existence of the Spanish Association of Scientific and Technological Entrepreneurs (www.aeec.es), perhaps a good starting point for the networking of ETBs we need.
(*) Mario piattini, not linked to the UA; Professor of computing linked to the UCLM. His name appears among the fifteen best researchers in the world in the fields of systems and software engineering in the independent study 'Top scholars in the field of systems and software engineering (2004-2008) ". He is also one of the promoters and advisers of the e-pavement patent.
(**) I wish to give the thanks to the University of Alicante -especially to its Rector- for the initiative and Lucentia Lab EBT drivers for counting on me.