Naïma M. Zodros and her classmates in ESADE’s Executive MBA just returned from an international week in Brazil, one of three trips abroad that will take place during the monthly programme format.
Zodros described a highly practical experience in Brazil, where the EMBA participants discovered the peculiarities of the country’s economy. She noted that multinational companies like Wal-Mart and Lenovo – wrongly assuming that the strategies they used in their home countries would also work in Brazil – have failed in their attempts to enter this new market.
When implementing business systems and procedures in another country, you must also make a cultural change. This is something of a revolution, in which, according to Zodros, women executives can play a leading role due to their management style. Thanks to – or because of – their efforts to reach heights until recently reserved exclusively for men, women have developed a unique entrepreneurial spirit. Zodros trusts that this sort of female leadership will inspire other women to pursue their goals and seize new opportunities in order to achieve their aims in any area.
Naïma M. Zodros (EMBA ‘16) shares her experience in this article
Published in Business Because on Monday 17th October 2016 by Seb Murray
B-school venture Made of Genes scoops award from The MIT Technology Review
Oscar Flores Guri, left, and co-founder Miquel Bru
An ESADE EMBA has been named one of Spain’s top-ten innovators under the age of 35, in an award whose past global winners include Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the entrepreneurs behind companies such as Paypal and Uber.
Oscar Flores co-founded Made of Genes with his former ESADE EMBA classmate Miquel Bru.
The MIT Technology Review, a leading journal in the tech and innovation field, draws up a list of 300 the world’s most talented entrepreneurs under 35 each year.
The judging panel has two criteria in whittling down the list to 10 winners: Individual talent, and the project’s scope for changing society.
Made of Genes created a pioneering world model for DNA analysis that does away with the need to sequence the same genome twice for two different tests.
The Spain-based company has just concluded a funding round of €500,000 and is currently undertaking international expansion.
Oscar, who holds a PhD in biomedicine, met his co-founder and began work on the venture during ESADE’s EMBA program in Barcelona.
“Despite my scientific and technical background as a computing engineer and researcher at IRB Barcelona, I have always been attracted by the world of business. The training I was given at ESADE was vital for making this project a success,” Oscar says.
Miquel added: “This project began in ESADE classes as just another MBA assignment. But it was the ESADE project validation and methodology that told us that we could turn our dream into a reality.”
The pair illustrate the strength of the entrepreneurial ecosystem at ESADE, and the growth in number of executives who are using b-school to launch their own ventures. The business school is home to ESADECREAPOLIS, an innovation ecosystem for students and companies, and EGarage, a space designed for the cultivation of new start-ups.
In June, ESADE was ranked third in Europe for entrepreneurship by the FT.
“Since our founding over 50 years ago, entrepreneurship has always been in our DNA,” says Luisa Alemany, director general of the ESADE Entrepreneurship Institute.
“In the programs that we teach, in our research, and in all of our activities to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem, we strive to go as far as possible by creating networks of collaboration. Making the global top 10 encourages us to keep doing what we love every single day.”
The origins of the company Made of Genes date back to 2013, when Oscar Flores (Calella, Barcelona, 1985) and Miquel Bru (Barcelona, 1978) (then both unknown) decided to take the ESADE Executive MBA. It was in the Business Development Project course, taught by Prof. Jordi Vinaixa, that they met and they got the idea for what would become their company several years later and take up a big part of their lives. Miquel came from the business development field in a technology consulting firm focusing on the Health Sector. Oscar had just finished his PhD and Bio-Medicine in a joint programme between IRB Barcelona and the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre.
We spoke to Oscar and Miquel, two of our ‘changers’ to find out about the project that they started in ESADE’s classrooms and which has ended up as a firm with a bright future.
How did Made of Genes come about?
Oscar Flores [OF]: Made of Genes is a firm focusing on personal genetics. Here, one should remember that genetics is involved in 9 out of 10 of the main causes of death in developed countries. Nevertheless, personalised genetic medicine still needs to overcome several hurdles: the high cost of gene sequencing, the technological complexity of managing the resulting data, and the lack of knowledge of the field by both health professionals and by society in general. In Made of Genes, we try to find answers to these problems, providing technical tools and a legal framework so that experts’ knowledge reaches the man in the street. There are now eleven of us in the company, we have secured over €600,000 in funding and we are laying the ground for the firm’s internationalisation.
Miquel Bru [MB]: The truth is, the whole thing started as just another assignment in the Master’s programme but Oscar’s vision hooked me from the outset. It was not just a question of solving technical problems — that was the easy bit. The hard part lay coming up with a package that: both fostered tailor-made care for each patient and put the patient’s health and illness first. Moreover, this had to be based on knowledge of the patient’s genome and the testing had to be responsible, efficient, protect users and be sustainable in system terms.
In broad terms, how does Made of Genes work at the technical level?
MB: There are studies suggesting that less than 30% of prescription medicines are effective due to individual variations. This makes one realise that we are not all the same and that the differences between individuals should be taken into account. This is the idea that led us to develop the technological part of our product: a high-performance computing system that allows one to obtain, analyse and store genetic data from a saliva or blood sample. We use the system to provide medical specialists, researchers and customised health services with this genetic data as and when each user wishes. We offer preventive solutions and diagnostic support, and personalised services/products created specifically for each user depending on his genotype. Each person decides what should be done with his genetic data and we do our utmost to carry those wishes out while ensuring complete security and privacy. This ensures that our customers can receive medical care that is both personalised and precise.
On your web site, you argue that “Everyone should be given the chance of improving his or her life”. How do you see this democratisation of technology at Made of Genes?
MB: To answer that, let me put the Health Sector in context. According to the OECD, public spending alone on Health rose from 6.9 % of GDP to almost 9 % in 2030 and will rise to 14 % by 2060. We live in a society that is ever more demanding when it comes to Health Care. In a globalised world in which knowledge flows freely, we have to come up with strategies that allow efficient Health Care through policies and tools that focus on preventive medicine, more effective treatment and the re-use of information by various service providers.
OF: At Made of Genes we have always wanted to provide personalised medicine based on Genomics. That is why our model puts the client first. There are many companies, especially in The United States, which have seen the value of genome data and which gather personal information to commercially exploit it later on. We have always shunned this model. We want to create a genomic service that anyone can use without renouncing privacy, and always have the final say in what information is released and to whom.
You met each other taking an Executive MBA [EMBA] programme at ESADE. What made you decide to take it?
OF: I always knew that I wanted to work in business. I am a Computer Engineer and when I was finishing my degree, I began a diploma in Business Studies, which I dropped when I decided to do a PhD. It was then that I decided to do an MBA on finishing my thesis.
MB: For me, the key factor was the need for a change. After five years working in consultancy, I wanted new challenges and goals. However, I thought that just a change of job was not the answer. I needed to think, acquire knowledge and pool experience with others before taking the next step. Here, the ESADE EMBA seemed just the ticket.
Did you want to become entrepreneurs before you took the ESADE EMBA programme? What influence did the EMBA have on your project?
MB: No, I wasn’t thinking about starting my own business, rather it was part of the process I just mentioned. The EMBA is not an Academic Master’s programme but a change process that gives you the tools to reflect and to plan your next objectives. With regard to how much the EMBA affected our project, it all began as just another assignment and a year and a half later, we are striving to make the dream come true. I don’t think we would be where we are now if it had not been for the EMBA programme.
OF: I had also neither thought about founding a company and in fact I am still surprised at doing so. In the beginning, it was simply a capstone project. We had found we had too good an opportunity to let it slip through our hands. I suppose that the EMBA programme gave me the self-confidence I needed to tackle something as inherently risky as founding a start-up.
What knowledge and values did you acquire during the EMBA programme and that you applied in setting up Made of Genes?
OF: Made of Genes is a firm that is inspired by the Lean Start-up model. We began with an idea and its corresponding Business Model Canvas. Then, after several validations of the idea, we varied it up to eight times until we found a value proposition where we could say to ourselves: “That’s the idea, now let’s register a company”. We then carried out several more iterations of the idea and honed our vision in the light of market feedback and the resources we had available. Nevertheless, having a flexible, dynamic vision at the outset was vital. With hindsight, the first seven business models would not have worked in the real world.
MB: Yes, that’s absolutely right. The obsession with validating the model and focusing on the market has become of part of Made of Genes‘ DNA. It is something that we have established as ‘best practice’ among our various work teams. The key is to meet users’ real needs in which technology has to solve problems, not create them.
What changes has taking the EMBA made to your careers? Did it mark a watershed in your lives?
OF: It certainly made a huge difference. When I joined the MBA programme, my view of things was an entirely technical one. For me, the technical aspects were the most important things about a product and I naively believed that a good product would sell itself. After completing EMBA, I no longer thought that. I had become aware that the market and sales strategy are much more important than the product. Paradoxically, I believe that having the new vision of the market helps technical types like me to identify real needs and thereby develop better products.
MB: The key point is the 360-degree vision EMBA gives you in a classroom with 50 professionals drawn from different backgrounds and experience. In the year and a half that the programme lasts, you take this in and it changes your way of seeing a company and helps you grasp and take decisions far beyond your context or position. Having founded a start-up marks a watershed in one’s personal and professional development. Why would you recommend taking the EMBA?
MB: Taking the EMBA is a unique opportunity for personal, professional and intellectual growth. I would recommend it to anyone who is eager to grow and learn in ways that go beyond the strictly academic.
OF: As I mentioned, I believe that the EMBA programme is a way of giving a technical type like me the tools they need to thrive in senior management. To be honest, I would not recommend EMBA for everyone merely as a way to get a better job. I think such an approach is the wrong one and that there are many other ways of climbing the ladder — for example, through professional specialisation. An EMBA is a way of getting a better grasp of business complexity while renouncing greater specialisation. If you aim to get this wider grasp of business, the EMBA programme is undoubtedly one of the best investments in time and money that you can make.
How would you sum up your experience as entrepreneurs? What would you say to someone who was thinking of setting up his or her own company?
MB: Entrepreneurship is a way of life for us. We think about Made of Genes 24 hours a day. Passion for one’s project is vital for anyone thinking of starting their own business. Second, I recommend that the decision be a family one. Do not even think about starting a business unless your wife or husband is willing to back you to the hilt. Last, when it comes to finding those who will help you along the way, seek people who complement your skills, who you can rely on, trust and learn from.
OF: I would ask someone thinking of beginning a firm whether they are just looking for a job tailored to their needs or for a scaleable solution to a social problem. They are two very different notions of entrepreneurship and involve different levels of risk and self-sacrifice. When it comes to scaleable business models, we in Spain cannot afford to continue thinking only about the domestic market. This means that we need to plan internationalising our business from the outset despite limited resources and access to funding. Whether we like it or not, we still have a lot of catching up to do when we compare how things work in the start-up eco-system in The United States.
The Third Stage of the EMBA programme contains a high-profile subject that also happens to be one of the most interesting. It is the Business Development Project (BDP) and its purpose is to develop a project from a start-up’s perspective, whether the business is a new independent one or is an In-Company project. In either case, the methodology is one specially tailored for such embryonic firms.
Once the project’s initial stages had been finished (setting up teams, brain-storming, defining the project and so forth), work was begun on building the foundations for sound development of the business, incorporating the knowledge and skills acquired in earlier stages of the EMBA programme. The process ends with defence of the project before the examiners.
Project progress is monitored and milestones and part submissions established. These are tweaked in the light of any deviations from plan.
“The world is run by those who show up, not those who wait to be asked” (Steven Blank)
How can we re-invent our profession so as to be happier in our jobs? This interesting question was the subject of the first Update Session in the #ESADEguests series held on the 10th of November. David Tomás, CEO of Cyberclick (a Spanish company that received the 2014 Best Place to Work award) and author of the book La empresa más feliz del mundo [The Happiest Company in The World] revealed the keys to developing an outstanding corporate culture.
Tomás believes that the best way to be happy at work involves developing an outstanding corporate culture. Design of the corporate culture is important but so is ensuring that new recruits fit in with the company’s values.
David Tomás illustrated his argument with 12+1 keys for developing an outstanding corporate culture:
1. What culture do we want? He recalled that “No culture is better than the rest but if we do not clearly define the culture, we will end up with one that we dislike”.
2. Values. These should not merely be listed, rather they should help us take decisions.
3. Recruit top-quality staff. It is important to ensure the company is staffed by top professionals whose values are aligned with those of the firm.
4. Selection process. David Tomás noted that the key lies in detecting the patterns that lead to the professional success of those whom the company recruits.
5. Spend more time on the selection process. The whole team needs to be involved to ensure that the right person is chosen for the job.
6. Call referees. This is another way to check that the right person is chosen for the post.
7. Sell. It is important to convey the company’s values to someone joining the firm.
8. Review. The speaker explained that his company holds a meeting with the individual after three weeks in the job to check whether his or her values are fully aligned with the firm’s business culture.
9. If you believe you are in the wrong place. Companies in Grupo Cyberclick offers two months’ salary to those who feel the post is not for them so that they can look for a new job.
10. Three drivers of happiness in one’s job. These are: having freedom to take decisions; feeling that one is continually improving; finding purpose in what one does. Tomás noted that these principles are based on the book Drive by Daniel Pink.
11. Always learning. It is important not to get stuck in a rut and to feel that one is making progress in the company.
12. Open Book Management. The company must be open and give its staff full information on how the business is doing.
12+1. The importance of measuring happiness. David Tomas explained that his company uses daily questionnaires in which staff are asked about how satisfied they are.
It is hard to briefly summarise the nature of the experience of the stay at Món Sant Benet. The Outdoor Experience Learning Programme marks a watershed in our EMBA studies. From the standpoint of leadership and self-leadership, the programme is an initiation in personal and social management under changing conditions. The nature of the change may be personal, professional, or even corporate. Working together to deal with changes of various kinds helped us strengthen relations and improve teamwork.
These are just some of the terms participants used to sum up in a few words what the programme meant to them.
It is hard to return to the daily grind after this experience in such an idyllic setting yet one has to make the most of every waking moment. The daily routine takes up most of our time and makes us lose touch with what is really important. That is why we are often loathe to stray off the beaten track or to face the need for change. Such shortcomings are part of human nature but we can overcome them with enthusiasm, initiative and determination.
“The future depends on what we do today” (Mahatma Gandhi)
Yes indeed, the quickening pace of the programme over the last few weeks makes it seem like ages since we began it. Yet a look at the calendar reveals the shocking truth, it all began just two months ago! It is hard to believe.
We feel we are building something that will underpin our knowledge. At the same time, we are enjoying the truths that emerge as if by magic from each Master Class. These truths span everything from leadership and geo-politics to entrepreneurship, complex supply chains, and common-sense marketing. This was all inter-linked to form an intrinsic part of our business judgment.
At the same time, we were also engaged in ‘de-construction’, learning to ‘unlearn’ and reverse engineer pre-established concepts to create a 360-degree approach to reasoning that was linked to one’s emotions. Our quest revealed the nature of the unknown.
“Investment in knowledge pays the best interest” (Abraham Lincoln)
A gathering was held on Friday the 13th of February. It brought together graduates of the 2015 weekly, fortnightly, and modular formats of the EMBA programme.
Apart from the usual networking stuff — swapping names, companies, posts, e-mails and so on — there were also some fun moments in which we had to let our imagination soar to play out key moments in our careers. We used PlayMobil® figures to convey the epic proportions of our achievements.
Using this original idea and mixing the figures and drama skills in equal measure, we pooled experience, discovered new cultural and professional dimensions and perspectives.
“It was something different and was great fun¨.
“It was ideal for forging contacts and pooling knowledge”.
“I hope there are more events like this”.
These are just a couple of the impressions of those who took part in the gathering.
The EMBA Class of 2013-14 (fortnightly programme in Barcelona) began an initiative to bring together programme participants and entrepreneurs with a view to pooling experience and fostering an entrepreneurial spirit.
Those behind the project were Javier Peso, Founder and CEO of PAY TOUCH, Adolfo Santa Olalla, CEO of GLOBAL AQUATIC TECHNOLOGIES, Joel Vergés, Founder of SMARTBOX Mexico, and Axel Yidiz, Founder of the ALTALEX Law Firm.
At the November gathering, the speakers included Lluís Serra, founder of www.bricomania.com, who explained the transformation of a traditional ironmonger´s into a successful e-commerce project.
¨Having time to think”
The founder of Bricomania.com stressed the importance of spending time on reflection, strategy and the search for new ideas: “I make myself to go to the office each day between six and eight in the morning when there is nobody there and I have nothing else to do except think¨.
EMBA participants (fortnightly format) visited the ESADE campus in Sant Cugat (Barcelona) on the 8th of November. There, they completed the In-Company Project assignment in the E-Garage facilities.
The session was led by ESADE faculty members Jordi Vinaixa of the Department of General Management and Strategy, and Ivanka Visnjic of the Department of Operations and Innovation.
The E-Garage acts as an ‘incubator’ for projects by those taking ESADE programmes and provides the resources and setting needed to create new business ideas. The E-Garage is also a meeting point and a forum for collaboration between entrepreneurs and investors.
The day ended with a visit to the ESADECREAPOLIS complex, whose purpose is to inspire, foster and speed up innovation and entrepreneurship.