Erica Monfardini, you are director of operations at the LCSB at the University of Luxembourg. Can you tell us more about your role?
I am responsible of running the operations and of driving the development of LCSB. One of my main objectives is to thrive valorisation of scientific innovations into biomedical and ICT applications, through the boost of entrepreneurship, the creation of spin-off companies or licensing of intellectual property.
How is this the situation today in Luxembourg regarding entrepreneurship in the research sector?
Entrepreneurship in the Luxembourgish research sector is still at its inception phase. When researchers join LCSB, their main focus is to successfully manage their PhD or their research project, and unfortunately little time is left for other matters. Therefore, to increase the critical mass of possible ventures, at LCSB we have decided to put in place an innovation team, whose role is to bring all what is related to entrepreneurship closer to the researchers. What we have on our side is that researchers are extremely curious human beings, willing to learn and to tackle issues. They often approach the innovation team as they are willing to submit a patent, or they have an idea they want to have evaluated, and then the connection is made.
What are the challenges for researches willing to become entrepreneurs?
Here in Luxembourg there are several:
- They need to understand what being an entrepreneur means and eventually taste it, but without hampering their research performance. Research performance and international positioning at LCSB is extremely important, and cannot be disregarded until when the end of the contractual agreements approaches. This means that the ‘switch’ has to occur in a smooth mode, and that only very efficient and result-oriented individuals can make it.
- Another challenge is actually to have the switch occurring. The way researchers and entrepreneurs work is completely different, along with the drivers behind. Often researchers are not prone to share ideas, as in such an internationally competitive environment sharing an idea might mean losing the opportunity for publishing in an high-impact factor paper. Whilst, if entrepreneurs do not share, they will never find the right mentors, investors, partners, customers… For making this switch possible LCSB would need to have in place processes and tools that are agreed, recognized and accepted by the LCSB leadership and beyond. This is what we are currently building right now. We are trying to raise funds to help not only LCSB but the University in general to start a series of initiatives aiming at bridging the gap between researchers and entrepreneurs, such as workshops for building and testing prototypes, or for sharing, conceptualising, developing and formalising ideas for ventures. In this way the change in the mind of our researchers would occur in a structured manner, as they would have the tools to acquire the entrepreneurial skills they need and therefore the venture would not look so scary anymore.
Is the situation specific to Luxembourg?
In other much more entrepreneurial countries such as US or Israel, the living and the economic conditions are much less favourable than in Luxembourg, and people struggle to find a well remunerated and secure job. The ‘stress to survive’, as also Nicolas Buck has underlined is one of the prerogatives for entrepreneurial minds to flourish and succeed. If we look at how over the last years the research centres in Luxembourg have built up their talent pool, the picture looks rather interesting: highly skilled professionals are attracted from all over the world (LCSB and SnT both have people with more than 45 different nationalities), and after a period ranging from 3 to 5 years they find themselves obliged to quit their research job. In most of the cases, they have settled down, and it would be with regret that they also quit the country. In a nutshell, Luxembourg has the tremendous opportunity to retain the talents it has invested into for years by encouraging them to start ventures in the country. It would just need to build up a few initiatives which could help them grow in that direction, instead of letting them go fetch other opportunities abroad.
What are your expectations about the LCSB training in entrepreneurship at nyuko?
My expectations about the training in entrepreneurship and about the role of nyuko in general are extremely high. I’m convinced that the skills of nyuko are the ones we need to help some of our researchers to make the switch, and to eventually turn them into entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurship training is a very good start for approaching our talents, and for having them thinking in a different, more open and interactive way. The training has had a very good feedback, and the approach has been perceived as innovative. It basically pushed people to go out of their comfort zone, and to make them comfortable to address business related matters with a well-defined and structured approach. For sure this training at nyuko is one of the initiatives we are putting in place to shape entrepreneurial minds at LCSB.
Also, we are currently working to introduce this training as part of the Doctoral School the UL offers to PhDs. To conclude, we would like to further work with nyuko for developing other initiatives boosting entrepreneurship in the research centres in Luxembourg, such as the ones I’ve mentioned above. We strongly believe that LCSB alone cannot accomplish such a big task, and that we need to leverage on the strengths of actors such as nyuko to increase the critical mass of entrepreneurs and of ventures in Luxembourg.