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Entrepreneurship in Catalan universities on the rise despite obstacles

Entrepreneurship in Catalan universities is not as common as in the United States, but that is starting to change. The Online University of Catalonia (UOC) along with the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) have a stand at 4YFN, a parallel event to the Mobile World Congress, which is the main international event of the cell-phone-related industries, and which has taken place in Barcelona every year since 2006. 4YFN is focused on small companies that build internet services, the so-called ‘start-ups’. For years, universities have run offices dedicated to helping students and teachers to create a business, but the struggle to find investment and difficulties in setting up a business are still the major complaints of young entrepreneurs.

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05 March 2015 12:58 PM

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Laura Aznar / Martín González

Barcelona (CNA).- Two Catalan universities, the Online University of Catalonia (UOC) and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC), have a stand at the Montjuïc venue of Fira de Barcelona, at the 4YFN (4 Years From Now) conference. This is a parallel event to the Mobile World Congress,which is the main international event of the cell-phone-related industries, and which has taken place in Barcelona every year since 2006. The 4YFN event is focused on start-ups: small, tech-focused companies that create mobile applications and provide internet services. For years, universities have run offices dedicated to helping students and teachers to create a business, but the struggle to find investment and difficulties in setting up a business are still the major complaints of young entrepreneurs.


According to Isabel Fernández, a knowledge transfer technician from the UOC, “we organise an event called Spin UOC in order to gather teachers and students interested in setting up a company based on research”. One example of this approach is Open Evidence, a firm that carries out studies in behavioural economics and innovation policies. They already work for the European Commission and the Italian government. Its founder, Paco Luciáñez, declares that “at least in research we can compete with other countries. The evidence suggests that scientists have to leave Catalonia to work in their fields”. The problem, he points out, is the lack of investment in the public sector and the difficulties obtaining funding, due to the risk that financial entities want to avoid.

The Polytechnic University of Catalonia has a programme called “Emprèn UPC”. Manuel Arrufat Albiol, head of the Business Creation Office, explains that they create 10 companies per year, 66% of which are spin-offs, companies directly supported by the university that create a commercial service based on research. They also have an idea that allows students to develop their own company in a co-working space in the university, helping them to conceive their business model and to obtain funding through investors. An example is Nice Fruit, a company that develops a technology that is able to maintain essential fruit properties even when they are frozen. UPC has started 240 spin-offs since 1998 and is the top university in Spain in terms of number of patents. Arrufat points out that universities have to support the creation of new corporations but criticises the bureaucracy of the system, saying that “the public administration supports entrepreneurship, but weakly. They put up obstacles to opening a business”. 

In Europe, the start-up scene is not really linked to academia, but in US universities like Stanford, entrepreneurship classes are on the curriculum. Alic Chen is the research and development manager of The Foundry, an initiative at the University of California, Berkeley, which helps students and teachers create start-ups. This programme, which lasts from 6 to 12 months, began two years ago and now accepts ten projects per year. They provide a small amount of money as well as a working space, providing access to bigger funding opportunities. “14 firms have already been successful, bringing in 7 million dollars”, says Chen. He remarks that “in the States, the government gives grants to start-ups in specific sectors, like health”.

It seems that universities are trying to facilitate business creation, but some of the problems appear to be cultural. Miquel Llobet studies computer engineering at UPC in Barcelona. He is a Kairos Fellow, an international programme for young entrepreneurs. According to him, there is not a real start-up community in Catalan universities, because of poor investment and the difficulty in finding talent. “I have been to Silicon Valley and the difference is huge. The community is growing but while here people just want to find a job, in the US they expect to change the world”.

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  • The 4YFN hall (by J. Morros)

  • The 4YFN hall (by J. Morros)