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This MBA’s Taking On Elon Musk & Facebook With Her Neurotechnology Company

Maria Lopez used an MBA from IE Business School to grow her healthtech business Bitbrain Technologies


Wed Oct 10 2018

When BusinessBecause first spoke to Maria Lopez in 2013, she was only two years out of the MBA at IE Business School in Madrid, Spain.

Already, she had achieved exciting things in the realm of neurotechnology, the branch of technology that looks to optimize and implement human cognitive function through computing.

Her company, Bitbrain, had developed prototypes for thought-controlled wheelchairs, robots, and prosthetic limbs, plus created hardware and software technology to optimize human brain function.

Now, five years later, Bitbrain has reached new heights—and Maria believes that the MBA at IE was instrumental in preparing her for its growth.

BusinessBecause caught up with Maria to find out more.

How did Bitbrain start and how has it grown in the past five years?

Bitbrain was born as a spinoff of the University of Zaragoza, with the aim of bringing neuroscience and neurotechnology closer to society. Our main objective was to focus on health, but since then, we have grown and have covered many other areas of application.

Today, we have several business lines, providing solutions in health (for cognitive enhancement), neuromarketing (to get a better understanding of the non-conscious reactions of consumers), research (providing universities an easier way to make research in neuroscience) and in development (as platform in which companies can incorporate neurotechnology in their products). All these solutions are present in more than 35 countries and we continue growing and expanding markets.

We work increasingly under an open innovation framework with large multinationals. An example of this is the first prototype that connects human brain to vehicles that we run together with Nissan. And we are still involved in leading projects in scientific research such the MoreGrasp project.

How has the industry changed since Bitbrain was founded? What new challenges are you facing?

During the first [few] years there were very few players in the industry. However, last year Elon Musk and Facebook announced to be working in neuroscience and neurotechnology—this has increased interest in these issues (especially in big technology corporations) and new startups that have emerged (especially in Silicon Valley).

This is very interesting for us because when we founded Bitbrain we knew that it was going to be very hard to survive the first years. [However,] we also had the conviction that neurotechnology was going to reach society and those years of advantage would be highly useful for us—indeed, we have become a reference in the sector.

Today, the main challenge we face is to maintain that position and take competitive advantage of the scientific, technical, and market knowledge that we [gathered throughout] all those years.


How has your MBA at IE Business School equipped you for running Bitbrain?

I strongly believe that my MBA has been very useful in the different phases of the company's growth. At the beginning, it helped me to learn the business language, something that I clearly did not know, [as] my professional experience was as a teacher and researcher at the university.

For a long time, I thought that this was the main value that the MBA had given to me and I did not give [enough] importance to the other knowledge I acquired that I considered to be ‘only for big companies’.

However, with perspective, I realize that this knowledge has been extremely strategic for the development of Bitbrain. It was a key pillar to build the company on a basis that would allow us to grow. Now, this knowledge gives us a huge competitive advantage when we work in an open innovation context with multinationals.

I have observed that many of the problems [with] collaborative projects between startups and large multinationals [is that] the objectives, processes, or timing are remarkably different [between companies]. So, being able to understand your partner [company] allows [us] to address those projects successfully and achieve a win-win situation with ease.

What advice do you have for anyone looking to start their own businesses?

First, you must be ambitious. Ambition is something that, in our society, is often seen as negative and yet, [when it is] well-managed, it is essential. Many times we limit ourselves by not being ambitious enough.

Second, it is necessary to understand that the world is changing at breakneck speed and that the rules of the game also change very fast. You have to be agile; you have to constantly retrain, and more than ever, you have to be aware of progress. Not only technological advances, but new business models, new styles of leadership, new ways of collaboration, new market trends.

Many entrepreneurs with whom I talk are too focused on their idea and they don't take a look to what's happening around them, nor do they think about how the industrial revolution will change everything.

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