An innovation chat with… Alex Penadés

The main objective of this blog is sharing interesting information about Innovation with its readers. To improve in this mission, I will start inviting innovative people to share their views on these matters. For this first “Innovation chat with…” I bring you my friend Alex Penadés, Customisation Technologies Director at Jeanologia, colleague at Deusto’s Master in Business Innovation (MBI), advocate of bringing entrepreneurship education to children, but most of all, a very interesting person to have a chat with.

Q.- Alex, thank you for being with us. Can you start by explaining in a few words what you do in Jeanologia? What is the innovative approach you follow there?

A.- Thank you Alvaro. A pleasure for me too. First of all, and in order to put all your audience into context, Jeanologia is an R&D company, specialised in innovative technologies and processes for the textile sector. Historically, we have mainly focused on Denim (Jeans).
Jeanologia designs, develops and gives support to intelligent textile finishing factories. Currently, we perform in three main product categories: lasers, ozone machines, and micronizing systems (nanotechnologies that apply functionality to garments, i.e. fireproof, water repellence, etc.). Besides that, we also develop control and optimisation supply chain software aimed to achieve maximum efficiency. As a spin off company, we also investigate, and manufacture lasers for medical and scientific applications (i.e. cell observation and image).
We could say that our approach to innovation is multiple in the sense that we approach innovation, sometimes as a collaborative process where we build upon our previous developments, but where we strongly rely on our customers’ knowledge and experiences. We, then bet on our internal R&D, and assume the risks of not succeeding at the end.
However, due to our disruptive origins (laser applied to jeans as a finishing tool was kind of a utopic and rejected idea at its early stages), we sometimes have had to create strategic alliances where external knowledge has been key. Mutual goal alignment and sharing returns has been the key for success in this case.
As a company, we always question ourselves what is next. Our leadership position today and the speed at which we got where we are now, makes us question our success, and we realize of its evanescence.
That is the reason why we daily try to figure out where disruptive competitors are going to come from. We are ready to recruit talent, and to buy ideas as well. There is a leadership culture within the company – specially from the top management – that makes us rethink our reality every day. When working with technologies on these days, we know change is happening today, so we take the innovation process as a customer centric, ongoing, and out-of-the-box one, always having in mind efficiency as our compass.

Q.- You have a quite long list of Academic achievements and a clear interest for Education in general. What is Education for you?

A.- In the Era of Robots, what still amazes me is the human being, from each and every angle. From its shinny and more creative side to its darkest and opaquest one. A human being is a naturally intelligent creature. We were created with the capability for solving problems, and for creating new things. Intelligence is a precious gift, and, unfortunately, as a specie, we take it for granted. Sometimes we do not use it because of laziness; other times we use it for the wrong purpose. Most of the times we take it as something that belongs only to a few, and do not realise of the enormous value each one of us possesses. Education is the platform to optimise that gift. The catalyst to boost it up. Education is more than Academics. It deals with how we, as human beings, relate to our own lives, to our environment, and to the rest of our existence equals. In this sense, Education is the source for understanding our presence on Earth, and in the Universe. Thus, Learning constitutes the lifetime trip towards this full comprehension of ourselves and the Rest. Education has to be considered as the personal experience, and our great opportunity to seize the Universe from our small position on this planet. I understand learning as one amongst the deepest and most intense experiences in life. The Universe, in every little corner, is revealed to us by the process of learning, always nested on a framework such as it is the Education. That is why this latter is so important and has to be given a proper treatment.

Q.- Speaking with knowledgeable people like yourself, I get the feeling that we are on the brink of something really happening in the realm of Education. Do you think Education can become the new “Blue Ocean” for business innovation?

A.- Absolutely yes. All “AfterBabyboomers” – Gen X, Y, Z – are most education sensitive than ever. Nowadays, we are getting conscious of the knowledge we have mashed up, how valuable it is, and we know of the potential we have for transmitting it to the new generations; and that means not only knowledge but also experience. Next generations are building their reality upon the educational standards we are just setting up. This is tremendous, and it is one of the reasons why there is all this global debate on where, and how the system has to go to. We are now, in Education, speaking of “exponential knowledge”, “exponential education”, “boundless education”. Education is definitely a Blue Ocean for Innovation. What that is going to give at the end, only Human imagination is capable to tell. Experts are always speaking about hyper-specialization. I believe more in a more holistic approach to Education. The Ocean is huge, why then, should we just stay inside a small puddle? It’s the time for the redefinition of humankind. Our relation with Nature. Our role in the Universe. The exploration of the micro & the macro, from the DNA to the outer Space. I do not want my kids to miss anything. Do you?

Q.-You published an entrepreneurship book for children, “El Chiringuito de Martín“, a lovely piece of work. What was your goal with this book?

A.- When I first started writing it, I didn’t really have a specific goal. It was just a revelation after many years of teaching and facing the fact that Spanish youngsters’ attitude towards entrepreneurship, self-empowerment, and life meaning was increasingly getting worse and worse. It was also a reaction, and a catharsis right after my mother’s death; a declaration of gratitude to my parents for their support educating me on how to understand that I’m the only one who is going to design my own existence. Them, together with my parenthood were the triggers that made me start writing and I did not stop until I had the first draft.
I, then believed and still do, that the only way we can change the fate of our lives, our environment, or our country, is to educate our children on how they are to lead their own lives and how they have to live up to their dreams. Then I felt it was time to also awake some consciousness, and I am happy to say that I did – not as many as I first wanted, but “
El Chiringuito de Martín” has inspired some people to start up new projects and programs on kids’ entrepreneurship education. I am happy that has happened. I still dream of making my living while I change the world. Call me a dreamer…

Q.- The national mantra these days is “Entrepreneurs are the solution”. What is your view on this matter? Shouldn’t someone also explain that building your own business is very difficult?

A.- It sounds funny that the ones who have a fixed job advise you to go entrepreneur. Well, it’s not that at all. The entrepreneur approach is the right attitude but it is not the solution to the current situation. Entrepreneurship has been considered to be the solution to the high rates of unemployment in Spain, and the ultimate antidote to the crisis. Thousands of people have decided to step forward and create their own businesses without a basic understanding of what being an entrepreneur means. Unfortunately, the consequences of this extended belief has not been measured yet, and possibly will never be estimated. Yes. You are right, entrepreneurship should be explained more as a choice in life. You risk, you win. You don’t risk, you don’t win. But knowing when, how, and why to risk is a preliminary move that has to be done. Today is the time for the particular individual to believe in oneself, to take some risks and to learn from his mistakes. It is also a way to breakout from the anachronism of the industrial system. So when people say “Entrepreneurs are the solution”, they actually mean: “the solution is in activating yourself”; do not believe in the system; do not believe in the government, not even in the ideas by themselves.
The future is in the belief and trustfulness you have in your own ideas, and how you start to mould them into a business. The constant effort and engagement you have for your own dreams. The time, money, and action you dedicate to the project. At the end, that process ends up in what we commonly know as an Enterprise, and you become, then, an entrepreneur; and yes, as we can imagine this is not as simple as writing down a Business Plan, designing a Business Model Canvas or building up a story from a Design Thinking Process. A successful entrepreneurship story’s ingredients are mainly passion, detail, stubbornness, hard work, and a little bit of insanity (and always the “deserved” good luck).

Q.- If you could magically do one thing to improve the Innovation environment in Spain, what would it be?

A.- I would start right from scratch, down from kindergarten schools to elementary institutions and have kids learn to take their own risks, trying to get them out of their comfort zone into the trial & error experiences. Right there, where the true-life lasting-learning starts. Innovation is based on observation, interaction, idea association, trial, measurement, correction in a low risk aversion context, and positive / pro-active environment. The experimentation attitude that historically has been castrated in our society back from childhood.
Not only Schools have a key role on this. Governments also should establish legal and tax frameworks that favour such bold behaviours and that reward individuals or groups that build up success stories from previous learnings and failed experiences. These people constitute the vivarium of all future job creators and disruptive innovators.

Thanks a lot Alex. Your words are always inspiring. Keep dreaming and working on making those dreams come true!

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