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R&D+i in Basque Business: Achievements, challenges and unresolved issues


Orona, CAF, Fagor Arrasate and IK4-IKERLAN hold heated discussion on the 40 th anniversary of the technology centre.


Before an audience with the leading representatives of the main Basque institutions and the top companies across the country, IK4-IKERLAN delivered a clear message as a pioneering applied research centre in Euskadi on the occasion of its 40th anniversary: R&D+i is the driving force behind competition.

This was precisely the title of the panel session held on 18 June at the Garaia Innovation Park in Arrasate-Mondragón, presided over by Basque Lehendakari Iñigo Urkullu.

Moderated by Vice-president of IK4 and Chancellor of Deusto Business School Guillermo Dorronsoro, the panel included Corporate Director of Information and Technology Systems at Orona Miguel Encabo, Corporate Director of Information and Technology Systems at CAF José Gortazar, Director of R&D at Fagor Arrasate David Chico, and General Director at IK4-IKERLAN Javier Mendigutxia.

Although the three companies operate in different industries and markets, their executives agreed on the importance of technology to business competitiveness. The CAF executive made the following enlightening remark: ‘R&D allows us to sell trains around the world that otherwise we wouldn’t be able to sell.’
Javier Mendigutxia agreed, recalling the recent sale of 21 units from CAF to the Istanbul underground for 120 million euros: ‘R&D played a fundamental role in this transaction.’

Although they assessed R&D as a successful enterprise, the speakers expressed some criticism as well. Miguel Encabo, for example, pointed at the ‘need to translate R&D into actual business’ as an area where much needed to be done, since at present ‘Euskadi is not among the European leaders.’ All participants agreed.

The path to excellence is paved with difficulties and risks. ‘Protecting knowledge requires considerable effort and money, and sometimes you need to know if it is worth it,’ David Chico remarked. According to Javier Mendigutxia, to overcome these obstacles, patents should be ‘more than a protective element; they should be used as source of business themselves.’ Mendigutxia revealed that patent exploitation represents 0,9 % of GDP in more developed economies, while in Euskadi it amounts to 0,1 % only.

As a member of the all-male panel, Guillermo Dorronsoro hit a raw nerve wondering whether the fact that there were no women participating in the discussion of the day was merely accidental or meant ‘something else.’ All the members of the panel remarked there were only a few women in the field of R&D but explained the numbers were likely to change, since currently there were 35 % women working in their companies.

The moderator pointed at yet another key issue: the role of the Basque industry in an increasingly global market. Everybody agreed on the need to join forces with relevant actors from other regions to face those challenges that are difficult to deal with in isolation. Miguel Encabo suggested they should look for allies both abroad and in the Basque Country: ‘We need to incorporate partners in our land too.’

Mr Encabo’s interesting comment brought the lively debate to a close.

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