Consolidating a good team is key to the viability of companies
Developing a quality and personalised matching process is crucial
The creation of science- and technology-based companies is a complex process, especially in the case of deep tech spin-offs, business initiatives promoted by the scientific community. In said cases of technology transfer, venture builders play a key facilitating role in validating business opportunities and creating skilled teams to lead disruptive startups.
When science requires entrepreneurs in order to evolve towards a business reality, developing a quality talent matching process is key to the success of the project. Teams must combine multi-disciplinary skills, both entrepreneurial and technical. Thus, to achieve this perfect balance, tailoring the matching process makes it possible to find a suitable, skilled team to form the startup.
The ingredients of a good matching process
The composition of academic spin-off teams requires a very specific balance of strengths for the successful development of the project. In fact, a study by the professors Juan Pablo Diánez-González and Carmen Camelo from the University of Cádiz published in The Journal of Technology Transfer confirms this: having non-academic managers in management teams is key to academic spin-offs demonstrating higher levels of entrepreneurial orientation.
Candidates aspiring to lead a tech startup, and even more so if it is deep tech-based, must speak the highly-specialised language of their scientific counterparts, who have years of development behind them in terms of their process of technological innovation and are far removed from the mechanics of starting a company. With two such disparate forces coming together, the disruptive power is as great as the risk of misalignment.
Another important factor is the management team’s faith in the project. This means understanding the risk involved in such business ventures. Failure is part of reality and the day-to-day running of countless startups that flourish and die. If developing the technology—the minimum viable product—is delayed or comes to a standstill, these are possibilities that the business side of the startup must take on board, from the outset, as a personal gamble.
For this reason, the ideal candidate is usually a serial entrepreneur with similar experiences, with successes and failures behind them, who is aware of the process’ profound risks but also its significant rewards.
Like in any relationship, a good connection and consent from both sides will underpin the direction of the project. Aside from technical understanding, it is essential that all the parties involved, not only the business and academic parts but also institutional ones, are in tune with one another on a personal level. As part of the process behind the creation of spin-offs, the university or the centre to which the researchers are linked has a vital role to play in technology licensing and the setting up of the company.
In order to support such a diverse team towards a commitment as decisive as co-founding a company, the venture builders that back these talent matching processes, such as in the case of The Collider, have tailored mentoring programmes to orient business validation (value proposition, product-market-fit, etc.) as well as for the consolidation of teams.
Said backing will prove to be a roller coaster ride for all involved, especially in the first few months when the clash of realities is most evident, as well as a learning opportunity
A good matching process
To create a well-functioning mechanism, it is important to follow a highly-customised process with certain stages that must be overcome. The general phases of a good talent scouting and matchmaking process are:
- Seeking a CEO: each technology has its entrepreneur. This is the most artisanal part of the process, featuring calls for an entrepreneur in residence, with a documentation and CV analysis phase.
- Screening: the initial screening must ensure that the candidates are aligned with the programme so that they understand that you are looking for partners, not employees, who accept and understand the project’s risk.
- Selection: once the initial screening of candidates and the gathering of volunteers is finished, the next step is selection. This can be either through traditional methods such as rounds of individual interviews and meetings between candidates, the institution and scientists. Or more innovative methods of artificial intelligence can be employed, such as the KEPEM programme used by The Collider: an AI solution that offers personality and entrepreneurial mindset tests for the initial phases of the talent matching process. In this stage customising the process helps to tailor it to the needs of each specific case.
- Cohesion with the team: the next step is a meeting between the CEO candidate and the team of scientists. If there is a mutual understanding between them, the agreement can be closed.
- Looking for a COO: in the case of The Collider, once the management team is in place, a junior entrepreneur is selected to be in charge of operations. The CEO is included in the selection process, which must also be verified by the research team.
- Time to get to work.
Talent matching success story: Deep Detection
One of the success stories of the entrepreneur and scientist-technologist matching programme is the startup Deep Detection, founded in 2021 by the Institut de Física d’Altes Energies (IFAE). The company develops a spectral X-ray camera for online scanning that improves upon existing detection technologies by providing sharper images at high speeds, achieving so-called spectral definition.
This case is a clear example of an extremely niche technology that required a very specific understanding of the sector in which they were working. The talent matching process that The Collider followed was crucial to the success of the startup. Thus, the CEO’s experience in tech transfer and with scientific teams and the COO’s background convinced the scientific team.
Deep Detection’s results support this. The company has already spearheaded ten pilot projects together with the manufacturers of X-ray cameras and international companies from the food and drinks industry. It has also completed its first round of investment of 600,000 euros with the aim of accelerating the industrialization of this technology.