Meeting the challenge of starting a Technology-Based Company

These companies are made up of the combination between scientific knowledge, innovation and enterprise culture. Researchers at the Council are currently part of some successful case studies.

EBTs (Empresas de Base Tecnológica in Spanish) have become one of the main technology transfer routes to commercialize research results. Photo: CONICET Photography.

There is much talk about applied science, the one that goes beyond the limits of basic research to promote the development of the society. Different mechanisms are used to transfer knowledge from the laboratory to concrete issues that impact upon every day life.

One transfer form encouraged by the CONICET is the creation of Technology-Based companies (EBTs in Spanish) which combines science, technology, enterprise will and commercial management. Jazmín Kleinerman, responsible for the Technology-Based Companies Programme of the Technology Transfer Office, describes “these are companies that offer products and services based on knowledge or developments carried out by CONICET researchers.” These companies can also be started by a researcher or by any other person external to the Council who is interested in creating a company with these characteristics. In that case, the type of association with the institution will be evaluated.”

In a highly competitive world, where ‘innovation’ dominates industrial developments, the EBTs have become one of the main technology transfer routes to commercialize research results. Furthermore, they open up the possibility of directing them towards the market. However, most researchers are not trained in administration or finances, main areas to manage any company. So it is a great challenge to set up commercial projects or associations with private investors where their knowledge and skills are the main engines of growth.

For Kleinerman, taking the first step is crucial and the entrepreneurial spirit of the researcher is the most important quality to create an EBT. A researcher’s willingness to leave the laboratory to plunch into something new involves different aspects such as understanding what being a businessman means, or dealing with issues that are far from their work field. “It is a job completely different from research; however, there are more and more researchers who have decided to do it”, the scientist affirms.

According to the dynamics of business plans and the possibility of associating with other people who do not necessarily come from the scientific field, flexibility is another useful tool for the creation of an EBT. “These companies do not only survive on the strength of its technological base but also on the skills of their team work. As regards that, it is vital to consider the association among researchers, entrepreneurs and investors. To create an EBT is to build one competitive organization capable of surviving and growing in a dynamic market”, Juan Soria, Technology Transfer Office Director of the Council.

For those who promote technology from the CONICET towards the companies and industries, there are several ways to do that job. One can license one technology or the know how for a company, that is to say, to offer one determined technology that is not necessarily patented. Another possible way, which is related to the researcher’s will to go beyond, involves the possibility of developing a technological platform based on different products and services so as to make the company sustainable throughout time.

This last alternative is the most audatious and one of the objectives established by the Technology Transfer Office of the CONICET. “There is increasing interest from the part of the scientific community and we have to answer several queries about the process and rules to create one EBT”, Kleinerman explains.

Support for entrepreneurial culture

Creating a company based on CONICET research and/or technologies is not the same as doing it with any other in the private sector. For this reason, at the Council, the Technology Transfer Direction is in charge of advising the researchers, analyzing the origin of the technology and its real demand and ensuring that researchers do not occupy management positions within the company. It is also necessary to ensure confidentiality terms and to offer a regulatory framework to carry out each project properly according to a detailed analysis.

Furthermore, considering the incipient researchers’ interest in becoming part of EBT, the Council has formed bonds with organizations that are experts on advising entrepreneurs in their training and strengthening of companies by providing some tools that range from how to develop a business plan, how to introduce to investors, to how to analyse the market and other aspects that strengthen the strategy of the undertaking.

The ones who met the challenge

At the CONICET, there are thousands of ideas and experiments that can be turned into technological solutions for companies and industries; here researchers and professionals of all the country develop scientific-technological knowledge vital to face the challenge of creating an EBT. In recent years, new companies’ projects that have their team with agents and fellows of the Council have doubled.

The CONICET is currently a stockholder of two companies: Y-TEC S.A. and La te Andes S.A. The first one emerged from the association with YPF; it provides the energy sector with technological solutions and trains experts for the development of the region’s industry. The second, La Te Andes, was formed in partnership with GEOMAP S.A. in order to build a fission-track analytical centre that through geothermical chronological data processing aims at the development of new technologies in hydrocarbons.

There are also other 16 EBT created from technologies that bear CONICET’s stamp. The area of Health has had one of the greatest boosts: development of vaccines, antibodies and immunogenic, solutions for the discovery of high performance drugs, sperm selection testing, cutting edge products and services in medical genomics. Those are some of the products and services these companies offer. They all emerged from technologies developed by CONICET researchers, in several cases, associated to private equities.

Likewise, there are 27 company projects that are in the process of management and are based on technologies developed by the Council. In this stage, which can be called ‘of incubation’, there are systems waiting to get into the market. These systems that aim to encourage naturally specifif pollination of target crops in aquaculture, kits for Chagas disease diagnosis that can be applicable to other infectious diseases, an intelligent microvalve for eye condition called glaucoma, and developments for different industries from bio and nanotechnology, among others.

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By Ingrid Lucero Parada