“It’s important to jump into things even if their design is not perfect, you have to use trial and error a lot to get things done”

María is Director of the MBAe3 Master’s at the University of the Basque Country and from early in her career she was involved in the design of employment and self-employment policies in Biscay and participated in European projects.

María’s role as a Spanning Boundaries agent

María became part of Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) and developed her PhD on entrepreneurhip. Shortly after defending her thesis, she was appointed Director of External Relations at the University of the Basque Country, and created and managed four university incubators. Nowadays, she is an Economics and Business professor and researcher, Executive Director of GEM Basque Country and part of the Management Committee of GEM Spain, chairwoman of Basque Entrepreneurship Observatory EEB-OVE and director of the Entrepreneurship Master’s MBAe3.

  • Creation of the University of the Basque Country’s incubators. She designed the operating structure of the incubators and created the alliances with the collaborators, establishing the network to obtain the necessary resources (connections between the University, the Provincial Council of Biscay and the banks);
  • Development of top-down initiatives, e.g., creation of diverse entrepreneurial programmes, spaces and technology transfer possibilities;
  • Implementation of a bottom-up strategy, fostering the entrepreneurial spirit and intentions, developing entrepreneurship training in the university (e.g. MBAe3);
  • Spanning Boundaries initiatives in the teaching context, encouraging and helping students to do internships and take advantage of different work experiences.

What is María’s main motivation?

María finds it very motivating to have the opportunity and the freedom to design and execute innovative initiatives. She is passionate about improvement. In the university context she is motivated by the idea of promoting and facilitating the transfer of research results to society. It is very important to her that the research done at the university does not remain in publications that nobody reads, but that it ends up becoming companies and products that reach society. Another motivation for María is the the growth of the projects she has helped over the years. In this sense, she explains that the recognition received from these entrepreneurs is higher than that obtained from the university. Many current leaders of large companies, which are now benchmarks in their respective sectors, were once entrepreneurs in the incubators that she created. This is the best example of work developed that is useful, and produces a significant change in society. Finally, obstacles are also a great motivation for María. She highlights that they are one of the key aspects that have driven her to continue during the years. She is motivated by challenges and prefers complex projects to simple tasks.

How important is having specific knowledge, skills or traits?

Her PhD in entrepreneurship and employment policies served to theoretically base her Spanning Boundaries activities. Her continuous acquisition of knowledge has gone hand in hand with the development of boundary projects. The skills that have helped her most in her career have been her tenacity and her capacity to create bonds and communicate. In this sense, her ability to convince people has been fundamental. She works at a very high pace and demands a lot from her team members. She considers herself as a passionate, courageous and impatient person, who prefers to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

What are some drivers or success factors for a fruitful cooperation between academia and industry?

Firstly, the position is an important success factor of Spanning Boundaries initiatives, it gives the capacity to act. María believes that without a position like the one she has, she would have had the same attitude but would not have been able to launch initiatives with such an impact.  Secondly, the network is also a driver. Both the internal relations within the university and the external alliances with governments, other institutions and universities condition the success of the project.  Finally, the communication strategy and the visibility. She highlights that if you do not make yourself visible you don’t exist. There are barriers both in the university and in the industry context. The university culture influences the researcher’s behaviour and entrepreneurial intentions. It is very difficult to promote technology transfer in an environment where the focus is on academic publications. Also, companies do not completely understand the functioning of the university environment and are not so open to invest in it.

To overcome barriers, it is essential to find Spanning Boundaries agents, to create good teams, to know how to adapt the message to the interlocutors and to be very convincing in expressing what you want to do.

María was interviewed by Clara Plata Ríos (University of Málaga)