There are more than 1,000 healthcare and life sciences companies in Barcelona and the BioRegion of Catalonia, and a new one is created each week. Behind these impressive figures are the personal stories of many professionals, both scientists and from other areas, who one day decided to found their own company. Saving lives, turning their research into a solution, having their own project, making their passion their profession… What motivated them to take this step? Let’s look at some of them.
1. First-hand experience of the disease
Experiencing a health issue close to you is one of the most powerful motivations to become an entrepreneur in the sector.
This was the case with Marc Rafat, a mechanical engineer who had been working for 15 years with automotive and industrial machinery when, after having their third child, his wife died of cancer. Marc decided to pivot his career and signed up for the Design Health Barcelona (d·HEALTH), program promoted by Biocat. “The program gave me the tools I needed to create HealthQuay, an online platform that connects cancer patients with the best treatment options available around the world. My goal? To solve the problem I experienced personally when my wife was sick.” The same disease also inspired Ray G. Butler, founder of Butler Scientifics: “My mother died very suddenly of lung cancer and I decided to become an entrepreneur because I don’t want to leave this world without having made a positive contribution,” he says.
Sometimes it is a personal experience that inspires the future entrepreneur. This was the case for Joan Grasas, a telecommunications engineer with a degree in market research and co-founder of RheoDx: “I wanted to become a healthcare entrepreneur because I’m a chronic patient and I know first-hand the impact that innovation can have on quality of life,” he highlights. Ricardo Veiga had an accident that left him with a broken leg, immobilized and with the typical discomfort of a cast for 2 months. Later, with Jordi Tura, he founded the start-up Xkelet, which creates splints using 3D printing.
2. Social impact
Entrepreneurship in healthcare has a very tangible result: improving people’s lives. Anna Sala, co-founder of Adan Medical Innovation, was doing basic research when she discovered the issues facing patients with severe allergies: “I realized I could help them in a different way: being an entrepreneur allows me to give back to society.” Publicist María Berruezo founded Lactapp to help mothers like herself: “When the time comes, many women are shocked by the reality of motherhood: I’m an entrepreneur because I believe change is possible and that you can have a real impact on the world around you.”
Miquel Vila-Perelló, co-founder and CEO of ProteoDesign, had a similar goal: “For me, being an entrepreneur wasn’t a goal in itself, it was a means to get our expertise and technology to the people who can benefit most from it.”
3. Taking the reins of your own career
“It is hard to chase your own dreams and follow your convictions in a large corporation: being an entrepreneur means taking the reins of your own professional life,” contends Laszlo Bax, an industrial design engineer who leads his own innovation consultancy firm and is the co-founder of Braingaze. “Life is too short to be in the wrong job,” added biomedical engineer Silvia Raga, CEO of DyCare. “Being an entrepreneur gives me a place to chase my own dreams, ideas and goals.”
For his part, Cristian Pascual, an industrial engineer and MBA, held executive positions at large companies in a range of sectors for 18 years before founding Mediktor: “I like a challenge and, as I matured professionally, I had a clearer view that I wanted to start up my own project,” he highlights.
4. Trading lab coat for suit coat
German biologist Markus Wilhelms was a fellow in the first class of d·HEALTH Barcelona and, as a result of the clinical immersion he did through that program, he founded Mowoot with his three teammates. “After the budget cuts for university research in Spain I thought, if I’m barely earning any money doing a job I don’t totally like, why not become an entrepreneur with a start-up and do something that really matters to me?” he remembers.
Another former fellow from the same program, researcher Enrique Hernández, decided to pivot his career and sign up for d·HEALTH Barcelona after publishing more than 25 scientific papers in 5 years. During the program, he did a clinical immersion at Institut Guttmann and that’s where he came up with the idea that has led to his start-up: Loop Dx. “I turned to entrepreneurship because I wanted to transform how we are currently doing science, which only focuses on posing laboratory-based questions and publishing in scientific journals,” he highlights.
Veterinarian Mariona Serra, co-founder and CEO of GoodGut, also hung up her lab coat. “I was very passionate when I started my research career, but there was no execution,” she regrets, “many jobs were merely about scientific dissemination and I saw an abyss between science and society. In entrepreneurship, I’ve found the bridge that keeps me motivated.”
5. Speeding up research
A Google Maps for the brain: this was the origin of the start-up Mint Labs (now Qmenta). “While I was doing my PhD, we created some very powerful algorithms for brain mapping and we started a company to speed up the research,” remembers Paulo Rodrigues, co-founder and CEO of the company.
Researcher Laura Soucek is working on a new cancer drug at her own company, Peptomyc. “I had never planned to be an entrepreneur: it just ended up being the most logical decision to transform 20 years of hard work in research into a real therapeutic option for cancer patients.” Her talent has even made her one of the co-stars of the latest Fútbol Club Barcelona campaign.
Do you believe in fate?
Sometimes being an entrepreneur isn’t a pre-determined plan. “I had never even thought about being an entrepreneur!” confesses Oscar Flores, co-founder and CEO of Made of Genes. “Our company was born out of a final project during my master degree and we saw it was too good to let it slip through our hands.”
And, according to Javier Jiménez, co-founder and CEO of New Born Solutions, “You don’t want to be an entrepreneur. You either are one or you aren’t.”
If you’re interested in training to be a healthcare entrepreneur, Biocat is starting the selection process for the seventh class of Design Health Barcelona (d·HEALTH Barcelona), a postgraduate fellowship to develop innovators and entrepreneurs in the healthcare sector, which will begin in January 2020. Following the Stanford University biodesign methodology, over 9 months the d·HEALTH Barcelona fellows experience a full innovation cycle, from identifying real needs at Barcelona’s largest hospitals to designing and prototyping a solution, coming up with the business model and scouting for funding. 95% of the fellows from previous years have found a job in the healthcare sector and 30% are working on their own business project.