The next hurdle

How can you be a successful entrepreneur? It is the question of the decade. We live with a wave of proposals designed to take advantage of the constant need for rapid innovation in different industries, and discovering factors of success or failure is a kind of new Holy Grail. Indeed, the question itself is a business opportunity, as we can see by looking at related content on Amazon or Linkedin, and as shown by the apogee of coaches and experts flourishing in the field of entrepreneurship.

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Dr. Santiago Royo. Director of the center for sensors, instruments and systems development (CD6 UPC)

When I was persuaded to write this article, I thought that I could identify some ideas that could be used as guidance, drawn from the experiences of the eleven technology-based companies (TBC) that we have created at the Center for Sensors, Instruments and Systems Development (CD6), a centre for innovation in optical engineering and photonics at the UPC. The article also serves to highlight the role of universities in Spain as key stakeholders in technology transfer, a function that is not always easy to assimilate within and outside the institutions.

Key factors

It is not easy to extract common ideas and summarise them in an article, because the common part gets diluted in the execution in each case. However, I think I can identify at least four key factors. Due to the nature of the CD6, the following points refer to technology-based companies that develop physical equipment; those that develop software differ considerably in many aspects.

The first point is that, fortunately, the knowledge that there is a certain theoretical basis for tackling this kind of project has become widespread among entrepreneurs. Many basic concepts are well-known and enable a much less suicidal approach than that taken around 15 years ago. The legal framework is clearer, the stakeholders know what they are talking about and the concepts are fairly common to all projects, although they should be adapted to each one. There are some wonderful books on this, notably, in my opinion, ‘Technology Ventures’, by Thomas H. Byers and other authors. So if entrepreneurs want to put their savings on the line, it is a good idea to read a bit first.

Secondly, the entrepreneurial team is key. A team with clear personal objectives regarding the company; complementary technical, commercial and management skills; and full-time dedication are all bonuses. Here I would add that there is a clear advantage in all members of the team having already worked in a technology-based company or experienced one close hand. If you are planning to create a TBC, working in one first and learning from others seems like an intelligent option. Then, you should build a balanced team of professional, reliable people who are committed to the company.

Assesssment of the business opportunity and how to protect it is another key. It is essential to evaluate whether you can do something that is both profitable and difficult to copy, due to control over some vulnerable point in the industry’s value chain, the existence of intellectual property rights for the technology, or specific knowhow that is difficult to replicate. The business opportunity should resolve a problem of a real user who is willing to pay for the solution. There are several ways to assess the opportunity, many have nice names in English, but in many cases they boil down to “the earlier you ask the potential client, the better”.

Breaking even

Another important point to consider is that you have to pay for the party. The aim is to have enough resources to get by until enough repeat sales are obtained to break even. The balance between financial resources and commitments is critical and one of the main problems that awaits entrepreneurs; it often takes them by surprise. It is important to identify all the available channels of support (shareholder’s loans, own capital and presales) to adapt the project to funding needs. The idea is to obtain enough money for the general project to be profitable, no more and, of course, no less. This is where most technology-based companies fail. It almost always takes longer to sell than expected during the planning phase.

Despite so much advice, the main certainty is that there is no certainty in the world of technology-based companies. Physics cannot predict, more than statistically, where a leaf will fall from a tree, even though all the laws that are involved are known individually. Likewise, when we talk about TBCs, we may know the general laws, but each case is different (in terms of the market, internationalisation, the sales channel, the team, and other factors). We can only obey the general laws, quantify the likelihood of being successful, and let the leaf fall within the expected circle. We should enjoy the leaf dropping and all the adrenaline this involves, and learn as much as possible to better overcome the next hurdle.

Dr. SANTIAGO ROYO, DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR SENSORS, INSTRUMENTS AND SYSTEMS DEVELOPMENT (CD6 UPC)

CARNET: Mobility at the service of cities and citizens

Eighty per cent of the world population will live in and around large cities in the next few decades. It has been both estimated and shown that twenty-first century societies worldwide will be mainly urban.

The impact of this situation can be felt in all areas, including the environment, resource management, culture and work. Mobility of people and goods is one of the pillars of development of any community. As communities grow, there is an increasing need to organise and optimise public and private transport, as well as associated aspects such as energy and safety. In short, it is essential to increase sustainability.

All of these factors are the responsibility of government departments, but not exclusively. Companies and non-profit organisations are also involved in managing urban mobility.

SEAT, UPC and Volkswagen Group Research choose Barcelona for creating the mobility for the future with CARNET

CARNET has arisen precisely through this new model of collaboration between public and private entities to develop innovative global projects, designed to implement initiatives associated with better quality of life for all citizens.

CARNET is a pioneering project in which the public sector (the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya) and the private sector (SEAT and Volkswagen) collaborate in activities that contribute to the design of future urban mobility. Other companies and organisations such as Altran, Applus Idiada, Ficosa, RACC and Rücker Lypsa have become members of CARNET.

CARNET’s activities are focused on three main areas:

  • Identifying and fostering talent through a variety of training courses.
  • Carrying out corporate research to develop innovation projects.
  • Networking in national and International networks in the sector.

To be successful, mobility must be analysed comprehensively, using an approach that includes the perspectives of academic and research institutions, companies in the sector, regulators, suppliers and users. This is the only way to guarantee results that are reliable and beneficial for everyone.

In the era of smart cities, open innovation, and mobility as a key factor in relations at local and global level, companies understand that they need to be associated with other organisations that provide the knowledge, information and analysis required to tackle objectives as ambitious as those proposed in CARNET. For this reason, Volkswagen Group Research has put its trust in the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya to launch this initiative, which arose as a result of close collaboration between the UPC and SEAT over many years in the SEAT-UPC Chair. The UPC Technology Center (CIT UPC), which is responsible for the technical coordination of the SEAT Chair, is also responsible for coordinating CARNET, to give continuity and a global dimension to this collaboration. Barcelona, which is ranked in the Top Ten smart cities in Europe and has a network for analysing and monitoring traffic, parking and pollution levels, is the perfect location for the project.

Aspects such as vehicle design, energy consumption, materials, emissions and connectivity will be analysed from a global perspective on the basis of the expert, specialised work of researchers and technologists such as those who work at the UPC, with coordination and management provided by the CIT UPC. Heads of companies, those responsible for public spaces, and government bodies are also invited to participate in CARNET.

To achieve this, CARNET is based on a new paradigm that goes beyond the concept of a smart city. This is called WISE city (Wellness and Walkable [W], Intelligence and ICT [I], Sustainable and Safety [S], Ecology, Energy and Economy [E]) and focuses on citizens and on different ways to improve their quality of life with the help of technology. In a future article we will stop at this inspiring concept of the urban mobility of the future.

As mobility affects us all, find out more about the project and participate through our website.