Starting Spin-Off Requires Courage but It Brings New Opportunities, Colleagues and Great Satisfaction, says Julie Dobrovolná.

Julie Dobrovolná works at the Faculties of Science and Medicine. She has published hundreds of papers in science journals, collaborates with many a renowned university abroad and has received many scientific awards. In 2020, she was voted one of the faces of the #EUwomen4future campaign. She is also the head researcher of the newlyestablished Masaryk University spin-off, Entrant s.r.o., which focuses on measuring stress by means of a unique thermodynamic method. The spin-off collaborates, among others, with the European Space Agency.

29 Jan 2021 Ondřej Franek

What did you need to do as a scientist before the spin-off could be formed?
From a practical point of view, it was necessary to discuss with the university the issue of intellectual property protection and determine who will be responsible for the business part of the new company because neither I nor my colleague Petr Lenárt considers the business part our strong suit. Our job is to take care of the science part. Our technology is entirely unique; no one else in the world works with a similar technology so there was no similar company we could draw inspiration from when establishing the spin-off. On the one hand, it was a drawback, on the other, it felt great to find out that we are doing unprecedented research and creating something entirely new. The business side of things was taken care of by the university and our partner UNICO.AI who help us with business processes with which we do not have much experience as scientists.

What was the hardest part of founding the spin-off?
We thought we would struggle mainly with the administrative and legislative processes related to intellectual property and the practical side of running a commercial company. However, the toughest nut to crack was to define the specific type of product we would be aiming for. As scientists, we mostly come up with theoretical methods and we think in a certain way that differs from the kind of thinking required for applicable solutions. I think that this change of perspective was successful in the end and our research is now leaps and bounds closer to practically applicable technologies and products.

In what ways did founding the spin-off help you?
One of the primary motivations for establishing the spin-off was looking for new technology partners that would contribute to the further development of our product. Even though at the beginning we carried out market research, we were afraid that no one will be interested in our technology. After establishing the spin-off, finding new partners from the industry was surprisingly quick and we’re still finding more. The foundation of the spin-off also helped us to focus on concrete products and gave us the answer to the question of what our research results should look like. We are now giving more thought to the applicability of our scientific research and its utility for the end-user. We have also learned to speak in a way that is intelligible to our colleagues from the industry. Starting a spin-off requires courage; however, in return, it brings new opportunities, colleagues and great satisfaction. Entrant has become
a memento of how important it is to do research with a specific benefit for the society or an individual in mind. I think the spin-off gave us more confidence as well because we see that our research has meaning and there is a lot of interest in our work on the part of the industry.

How did the cooperation with the European Space Agency start?
Our cooperation with ESA was a natural result of us testing the prototype of our stress-measuring device. To induce stress in our test subjects we were using the WinsCAT software that was loaned to us by our colleague Prof. Gabriel de la Torre from Universidad Cadíz in Spain. This software is used in astronaut training as well. That is why we started exploring
our options in space research. The collaboration with ESA was then formalized by the grant support within the ESA BIC Incubator where our company managed
to get funding for the construction of the prototype of the measuring device. Now, we are in close contact with ESA BIC. The field of space research is very promising and, from the point of view of physiology as my primary expertise, this is a very logical connection.

What is your idea of the company’s end product?
Entrant s.r.o. currently has two research branches leading to two different types of products. The Space branch focuses on finalizing the prototype of a portable measuring device to monitor stress in mobile scenarios such as testing of military personnel or high-stress jobs such as pilots. The second branch is Health which aims at utilizing our technology in the field of
healthcare for critically ill patients. Here, the end product is a hardware solution with special software that will allow our sensors to be connected to other parts of hospital equipment, ideally to ventilators and hospital information system networks.

 


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