Horizons: Talks and Lectures: “How to Be an Entrepreneur During a Pandemic?”

29 September 2021

On Thursday 16th September the first talk of the Horizons season was held: 2021 Talks & Lectures, in which we discussed how the needs and priorities of the market have changed since the Covid-19 pandemic.

The talk, which was available for live streaming, included the participation of Iñaki Berenguer, CEO and founder of CoverWallet, —start-up technology that has reinvented the insurance industry for SMEs— and Bernat Ollé, CEO and founder of Vedanta Biosciences, one of the first companies specialising in designing drugs that have the microbiome as a therapeutic target. 

The two fellows, international experts in the world of innovation, shared their experiences as entrepreneurs, with the talk being chaired by another fellow Marc Lara, CSO of the digital health company MicroHealth.

The event raised several issues, such as one raised by Iñaki, who stated that Covid-19 had democratised the geographic localisation of innovation, which before had been mainly concentrated in the USA. “Nearly all investment used to be in Silicon Valley, Boston or New York”, he explained. Because of Covid-19, which forced meetings to be online, innovation in other parts of the world is expanding at an increasing rate. “Investors don’t have to travel to close deals any more.” 

Similarly, Bernat emphasised internationalisation and global access to talent. “Vedanta Biosciences works in a very competitive market and many of the company positions that require specific experience are very hard to fill”, he said. With the arrival of remote working, his company saw the chance to expand its boundaries to find new talent. “A few weeks ago we hired our first member of staff in Europe”, said Bernat. 

However, and although the pandemic has brought about new employment opportunities and has accelerated digitalisation by companies at a dizzying speed, one of the drawbacks that both the experts agreed on was the loss of corporate culture. “Remote work has made everything much more transactional. Without a shared workspace, it’s hard to keep team spirit alive”, observed Iñaki. For this reason, both agreed on the importance of making up for this by using different strategies, such as more frequent team meetings or group work. “The human factor is important and it needs to be supported”, added Bernat.

And the future for companies? Has Covid-19 changed the priorities of the market? Iñaki is convinced: “Currently there are four sectors that are reinventing the financial sector: new economies or cryptocurrencies, softwarisation in biology, the softwarisation of the fight against climate change and the autonomisation and electrification of vehicles”, he said.

“The pharmaceutical sector in infectious diseases hasn't been especially well financed over the last decade, but last year changed priorities”, said Bernat. After the pandemic, it’s no surprise that cures for infectious diseases have increased in value. “In 10 or 15 years there will be more kinds of vaccines and new types of medicines.” 

The talk ended with a message of confidence and security from Iñaki to future entrepreneurs: “Think about it carefully and choose your sector well. You’re going to be committed to the same idea for many years, and deep down you have to know that it’s what you really want to do. And remember, it’s always a good time to be an entrepreneur”. And he shared three key ideas to guarantee success: “Before you start, you have to ask yourself: 1. Which market does your project operate in? 2. What is your idea to capture this market? Is it something that people want? Will it be easy to use? and 3. Who is your team to put your idea into action?”. 

Bernat added another point by stressing that understanding the field you are entering is key. “Preparation and research work before starting a company is very useful in understanding whether an idea is fatally flawed or has problems that can be solved. It’s better to reject an idea before you’ve committed to it.” 

“Much of the satisfaction that comes from being an entrepreneur doesn’t come from whether you are successful or not. Half of the payback comes from everything you are learning, experience in itself”, concluded Marc. 

These and other opinions were shared via the Twitter channel of the ”la Caixa” Foundation Grant Programme with the hashtag #HorizonsFundlaCaixa.

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