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Romero (UNAM): "All members of the university community should be entrepreneurs"

Academic and research centers have no other way but to innovate, reinvent themselves and bring new ideas to change the way they work. This is how it is considered by the master Juan Manuel Romero Ortega, who has headed the Coordination of Innovation and Development of the National Autonomous University of Mexico since August 2013. Romero is one of the 33 innovators in the ebook Hablan los protagonistas (The key players speak).

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Describe your organization.

Coordination of Innovation and Development (CID) was created in 2008 as the Knowledge Transfer Office of the University. It has two main tasks: the first is within the institution and consists in disseminating and fostering a culture of innovation, entrepreneurship and protection of intellectual property. The second objective has to do with linking the capabilities that are in the university to make them available to other institutions, businesses and citizens of society at large.

How do these linkage channels work?

The linkage is given in three ways: by providing technical and technological services to the sector of the society requiring them; second through licensing or transferring patents to those who want to exploit them commercially and the third is by incubation or forming new companies that are proposed by the university community, comprising students, teachers, researchers, alumni and even workers. We are responsible for the Business Incubation System of the UNAM, which supports business projects derived from knowledge that is generated or taught at the University.

What is the relationship between entrepreneurship and innovation?

For CID entrepreneurship has a broad meaning that not only refers to setting up companies. Being an entrepreneur has to do with a way of thinking, acting and facing professional and personal challenges. In our opinion, all members of the university community should be entrepreneurs. In addition, entrepreneurship is the route to make innovations feasible, implementing new products, services or solutions that are generated in the daily tasks of our institution.

What is Coordination's role in the entrepreneurial environment?

Once there is a new product or service, the analysis conducted by the institution is based on how to make it available to society. It may be that knowledge is retained and used to provide services. In other cases, existing companies are used that can commercially exploit patents and pay royalties or forming new companies is promoted. CID uses all these options to interact with the entrepreneurial environment.


What features should a business project have to be incubated by Coordination?

The UNAM has a system of 10 incubators clustered in high tech or technology based, intermediate technology and traditional business.

High tech means that it commercially exploits new knowledge, intermediate technology means that it leverages expertise and traditional businesses means that they are based on conventional wisdom or the public domain. To enter in any of these headings, the business project must have an innovative component, which entails a new and effective way to solve or address real or perceived needs of society.

What's the DNA of the Mexican entrepreneur?

Mexican entrepreneurs have great creativity; they are determined to learn, willing to generate innovations and seize opportunities. They must learn to better manage risks and business failures and to work in multidisciplinary teams.

How do official institutions work within the innovative/entrepreneurial ecosystem?

I believe that they have made significant progress in recent years. They have a better willingness to function as development institutions, but in my opinion they should pay more attention to training entrepreneurs and businessmen.

In addition, it's important to make a greater effort to promote a more appropriate legal and regulatory framework for knowledge transfer activities. I'm referring to the scope of statutes of general application as well as interest standards for institutions offering knowledge transfer actions.

How does the current regulation affect researchers?

In some state institutions researchers are considered to be public servants and this limits their ability to engage in knowledge transfer activities outside their organization. Fortunately, lawmakers are already discussing initiatives that will change this.

The next step is that higher education institutions can have a regulatory framework that clearly defines the rules for our teachers and researchers, to know what they can do, where they may have conflicts of interest and how to resolve them. On the other hand, we must seek more effective ways to achieve better linkages between industry and academia in Mexico.

What are the most important areas of research of the UNAM?

Although UNAM research projects cover virtually all areas of knowledge, research highlights health sciences, then Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), followed by alternative energies and sustainable development, in addition to social sciences.

What advice would you give to Mexican entrepreneurs/innovators?

They should consider the idea of being part of business projects with multidisciplinary teams that facilitate complementary competencies and are prepared to receive the guidance of mentors with significant experience in training, operations and business management.