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Passion, challenges and perspective of applied research to develop agrobiological products.

Carolina Fernández, Director of the R&D Department of Futureco Bioscience

Carolina Fernández, Director of the R&D Department of Futureco Bioscience

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One of the greatest assets of Futureco Bioscience is its R&D Department, where new biopesticide, biofertilizer and bioactivator products are generated, besides being the engine that demonstrates that the company's products work, have an excellent quality and meet all legal and safety standards to register and market. The Department, which now counts with the 35% of the company’s staff, started with some agreements and contracts with units of Research of the University of Barcelona. Later, Futureco Bioscience decided to implement its own R&D Department following those lines of research already defined and building new ones. Since then, Carolina Fernandez, PhD in Biology and Agricultural Engineer, a researcher who just landed back from a postdoc in the U.S. fifteen years ago, joined Futureco Bioscience as R&D Director to develop a Department that could become a worlwide reference in research on sustainable solutions for agriculture.

You come from the world of basic and public research, how did you start the journey in the business world?

By chance. In year 99 I returned from the USA after doing a postdoctoral fellowship of two years and a half, and I joined as a researcher in Agromillora (a company dedicated to in vitro selection and production of fruit) with a contract linked to a project. Anticipating that the project was going to conclude in one year and not knowing if I would continue, I sent my CV to a lot of companies in the agrochemical sector of Barcelona.

Fuensanta Santamaría, Director of HR of Futureco Bioscience sent me a letter saying it was interesting and would contact me soon, I did not even think that going beyond a detail engagement. Agromillora finally renewed my contract.

But finally you got the call from Futureco Bioscience.

Just the week that I was going to sign my renewal, Rafael Juncosa called me to interview me. The conditions were better, but overall, what motivated me was the task to start the R&D department in a truly different, innovative company that certainly was anticipated to time.

Quite a challenge.

Yes. The company struck me: I loved its philosophy, goals, and the personality of the team that I was going to be part of. I decided to risk everything and went in a whole new project for me.

How has been the journey of these past 13 years by starting the R&D Department?

It has been great, creative, motivational, and due to learn a lot. I had a scientific background in the field of Plant Pathology and Biocontrol, but there were aspects such as the development of microorganisms that had not worked in life. Until then I had a very scientific view of things. In the business world it is clear that research must be fully applied and practical. You have to perform things at a different pace and with other objectives, without losing the scientific criteria that is giving validity and weight to our results. Initially research was outsourced, because we did not own laboratories.

From having no pipette to manage all the processes of R&D in house.

Indeed. When I started in Futureco Bioscience, in March 2000, research was outsourced by contracts with universities and research centres. In 2005 we made the first turning point, when we equipped our own laboratory of R&D. From business relocation to the new headquarters in Olèrdola, in October 2011, the Department of R&D has grown exponentially in investment and equipment, space and research staff. Of course we are still working with Universities and Institutions of external research, but we perform 100% of most of the stages of development, at least the early ones to evaluate efficacy of new formulations in climatic chamber, in our Department, and we save time and resources, as well as we manage much better information and confidentiality.

One of the values ​​of R&D of the company is the systematization and efficiency. Developing the most effective, innovative and reliable products in the shortest time.

Right. We have worked hard for it. At this point I am very happy because it really is a dream come true. We have industrialized our investigation. We've created an industry of research and development of Biopesticides, Bioactivators, and effective Biofertilizers, with a series of standardized stages, which we increasingly shorten, what permits us to get faster and faster to the market.

Have you changed your way of investigating during the process?

Yes. In private enterprise the research should be applied logically, practically and with the ultimate goal of bringing a product to market. Researchers who work in companies, in general we know that the research we do obviously implies a benefit to our company. For Futureco Bioscience’s addition, the benefit also affects society. I am proud to be part of a company that is as committed human and environmental profile. That also has changed the sense of doing research. That makes you involve in your job more passionately and believe in what you're doing and you are going to achieve.

Do you like your job?

I love it.

What is the most difficult task to lead the Department of R&D?

The hardest part is to profit as much as we can time and the resources invested. We must accept that we cannot always go as fast as we would like, is what science is. In developing a product, we have identified a series of milestones that we have systematized in a methodology that allows us to achieve different developments depending on the activity of each of the products. I admit that sometimes I'm too optimistic with formulation then later somehow doesn’t continue the process to product.

And how do you solve those difficulties?

Well, despite that we are tireless! We have lots of prototypes under development, so there are always other formulations to test that can go ahead and end up in the market. To be effective in our developments, we have invested heavily in laboratory equipment and specialized in each of the stages of development staff so that we could say that the way we work now is equivalent to a production applied to R&D. Since entering a sample of soil or plant tissue, until we get a commercial prototype development phase in what we are doing and what is up to each team member.

Pure applied R&D.

Research is for that. With the resources you have you go as fast as possible developing products, but not at any prize, because everything must be very rigorous, achieve the exact standards and be effective. That's why we 've spent so much time optimizing the best way to do research, product development oriented. That the process is suitable is fundamental.

Could you say that they have already succeeded in that R&D fabric?

In many ways yes, but we are optimizing some stages. For example, in the case of evaluation of in vivo efficacy of biopesticides, we are constantly designing new pathosystems on which test prototypes. We now count with 11 pathosystems: 7 to evaluate fungicides, 2 for nematodes and 2 for insects. We still have time to develop other models of pathosystems, a context we're already reaching. Also we are putting in place some standardized methodologies that allow us to validate the effectiveness of our new bio-fertilizers and bio-activators.

For biopesticide development, has NOFLY been the trigger?

It is the model without repeating mistakes. It has really been a whole training. Now we run more and go directly. Authorities are also a bit more efficient, so that the times for registration of such products are shortening. I think this is great, I 'm very happy.

What about managing an increasingly larger group of people?

I am fortunate to have a very good team, both professionally and personally. They make it very easy! Currently we are working on two programs: Biopesticides on one side and Biofertilizers and Bioactivators on another. We are organized into four units or work teams: Microbiology is Unit 1; Screening is Unit 2; Formulation is Unit 3 and Physiology is Unit 4. What is important in the management of people is the team concept, know that you are part of a group with a common goal and that everyone has clear its responsibility, is committed and motivated.

Besides your job, do you have any other passions?

Travel, travel and travel ...and attend the basketball matches of my children!

Do you have any recommendation about a book or film that defines you?

As a movie: Thelma & Louise. Referring to a book, it’s a little bit personal. I'd rather not tell you! (laughs).

And what about a disc?

Any disc of Norah Jones or the Rolling Stones.

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