ainia is a technology centre with the legal status of a private non-profit association, created in 1987 and formed by more than 900 companies mainly from the food sector.
SME Activities: Companies from 34 subsectors covering the whole food value chain and related activities
ainia's mission is to add value to companies by leading innovation and technological development in a responsible and committed way.
Accredited with number 3 in the Register of Centres of lnnovation and Technology of Spain, ainia has a clear global vocation oriented to give an effective response to business needs.
ainia belongs to the Spanish Federation of Technology Centres (FEDIT), the Network of Technological lnstitutes of the Valencian Community (REDIT), to the European Food lnstitutes (EFI), as well as numerous entities and associations, and has signed agreements with national and intemational organisations.
Japan is one of the countries which spend the highest proportion of GDP in research, development and innovation. Japan is also the leading country in some key enabling technologies, including nanotech. Thus, these two reasons served as a basis for Mr Saludes, working at Ainia Centro Technologico (ainia) as head of International Area, to participate in the EU-Japan Centre’s Nanotech Cluster and SME Support missions and try to do real business with Japan.
The Nanotech mission organised by the EU-Japan Centre was a real discovery for ainia. In the last few years, the company has taken part in it twice in row. In 2015, he was very pleased with mission’s organisational and administrative matters and gained a lot of useful insights ranging from patents, inventors to applied techniques during the company visits. Since the 2015 Nanotech mission met all of their expectations, they decided to apply and eventually participate in the 2016 Nanotech support mission, yet this time, with a bit different goal in mind – to gain new leads and expand their network.
Before going to the Nanotech mission in 2015, the organisation already had some contacts in Japan. Previously, they were in discussions with several Japanese companies (mainly working in advanced material sector) and wanted to explore opportunities for new packaging material.
The objectives of the participation in the 2015 mission were twofold – not only to strengthen their pre-existing contacts, but also to understand complexities of the country in terms of research, development and intellectual property rights.
Furthermore, Mr Saludes explained that in the beginning, they were not entirely sure about their chances in Japan; hence they were not very keen on widening their network and gaining a lot of new contacts for potential business partnerships. At first, they wanted to see and test whether their organisation was able and stood a chance to cooperate and do business with Japanese companies. Therefore, at the time, their key goals were to concentrate all their efforts in analysing the complexities of the market, understand R&D ecosystem, familiarise themselves with the Japanese culture and identify the potential interest of Japanese organisations in ainia’s goals.
However, the 2016 Nanotech mission proved instrumental in gaining two new leads and eventually signing a partnership agreement with a leading Japanese company in the petrochemical sector, as part of a consortium of Spain and Japan. Currently, they are also in communication for other potential projects with different partners.
According to Mr Saludes, there’s a relevant gap in technological advancement between Japanese and Spanish companies working in packaging materials. In Japan, there are different institutions, companies and business ventures which focus on different food-related sectors that can take a lead worldwide. Naturally, for their company and any other European company, it would be very useful to turn all of this knowledge and potential into certain development areas in their home countries and in their markets.
For ainia, the opportunity of project came with the new polymeric materials developed in Japan that can be used combined with plastics for food packaging which will be applied in several industries of food-packaging material in Spain and potentially in the rest of the EU. As ainia explained, both sides are very important, the chemicals developed in Japan, but also the capacity of industries at home to bring these new materials to the market, give new properties, and eventually ensure the better quality of the packed product. The biggest challenge yet remains that they have to conduct the research with the most suitable and relevant technology and/or a product in Japan and then successfully apply it in their home country.
In addition, ainia mentioned that before going to the Nanotech mission in 2015, they had difficulties in understanding the Japanese business culture, their business protocol as well as decision-making processes in companies. However, these matters are no longer an obstacle, as they know what to expect from their Japanese counterparts: ‘They like to take their time and discuss matters internally, but we know that every step forward is a solid step forward, when our partners say ‘we are ready’, it means they are actually ready to move forward. Finally, we are very happy with Japan’.
ainia has the ambition to be very active in Japan. To their understanding, the type of applied research practiced by ainia can be fostered when includes the results of the leading research of Japan, from private companies and big corporations, hence, for now, their main focus will be on the private sector. However, universities and research centres will still remain of interest to them as well. They believe that R&D ecosystem of Japan is very promising to them, the mutual understanding is growing and that’s why they are absolutely sure that they will ‘follow the tracks’ of Japan in the years to come.
Interview made with Mr Jorge Saludes, Head of International Area at ainia centro tecnologico