Alfonso Cruz: “I don’t think the critical mass of the country has matured, but it has been increasing”
(DF Lab Interview)For those who have been in that position for eight years, one of the main challenges is to generate greater connection with the industry.
As a pioneer institution in generating spaces for research, development and innovation (R+D+i), connecting academia with industry. This is Alfonso Cruz Copec-UC Foundation definition, where he has been executive director for eight years. The 101 projects supported and more than CLP$7,000 million invested in universities not only UC, because it is open calls, research centers, companies and individuals, are for him the reflection that Chile has potential.
The challenges today, he says, are to generate greater connection with the industry and at national level, with the Ministry of Science and Technology, to achieve a long-term country vision that ends the ecosystem disintegration and that obtains sufficient political weight to obtain greater financing and contribution of GDP.
What has been the biggest contribution of the Foundation in these 15 years?
Make more present, tangible and relevant the meaning of generating research that aims to add value in industry, society and the market. It is a very important change of mentality; a mindset change. Now we need to generate new industries and companies, where their base is an applied technological knowledge, that generates value in society.
What has been the most difficult in this change of mindset in the country?
That the industry is open to incorporate technological innovations developed in Chile, because almost everything is brought from outside, it is imported. The emergence of solutions from the country is a relevant change in companies. At the level of the universities, that understand that this is not a traditional research project, but that it has to be a concrete contribution in the industry to which it is directed.
What are the current challenges of the foundation?
The challenge is that good projects can accelerate, reach results in the shortest time possible, and achieve a great impact. For that we are placing more resources. Now, if a project is good and is having results, access more funding. We also demand the incorporation of a project manager, who attracts new resources. And the project that is not working and leads us to the conclusion that we do not want to continue supporting, we cut it. It is difficult, but fundamental. This is because we aim to have a great impact and market, we do not aim for small problems. Another change is that we are betting on medium-short term projects, with results of three to five years and no longer those that went 10 to 15 years.
What are FCUC goals?
Develop the relationship with the industry and thus have R+D projects that have a clearer and more explicit path to the value contribution they are going to make, continue to have the ability to convene good projects, researchers and innovators, try to deepen the invitation to the students of higher education. And also the international projection, that is, that our impact is global, we can not be looking at Chile only.
How is the international projection working?
There is an international technology transfer company, Inveniam, whose owners are from a society of experts from Israel and Spain, who do a lot of international transfer of technology. We passed them three projects and they are seeing how to license them to large companies. We are trying to close more licenses.
The projects selected by FCUC must be subject to intellectual property. To date, the foundation already has applied for 50 patents in 15 countries, 12 signed license agreements and three spin-off of scientific technology base.
How do you see article 9 of the Ministry of Science and Technology?
I think it’s an error and you have to correct it. Regarding the ministry, I think it is essential to have one. This has to generate a strategy and overall vision, because the system is very fragmented and there is no long-term vision pointing towards common objectives. Along with that I hope, and this is where I think that success is going to be played or not, that it has political weight, so that it can significantly increase investment in this matter. This government should double the 0.37% of GDP, and the next should aim to reach 1%.
Will it be possible to have a unicorn with this ministry?
In the medium-long term I think we will have one and it will change the importance that we are giving as a country to the subject, I think that is the bet. In the short term I think it will be difficult, because this is a very profound change.
Is there critical mass to have one?
If one analyzes the last ten years, we have advanced in forming critical mass. For example, most universities have OTL and licensing offices, we have innovation centers, a whole set of incubators, an incipient risk fund industry, but there it is. We have angel capital networks, angel mentors, research communities that are interested in R+D projects. We also have a new job, which are the technological brokers. It has not matured yet, but the critical mass has been increasing.