MycoGalicia is a start-up within the field of Mycology in Galicia, in the northwest region of Spain. This start-up was created by some students at the Universidad de Vigo with a huge interests in this field. Today, we have the pleasure to show you a brief interview that we have had with them. Enjoy it!
1) How and where did the idea to start your company come about?
The idea is based on a bachelor thesis about the mycological management of the forests, which corroborates a tendency seen in the mountains of Galicia to fail to follow the necessary guidelines which ensure an adequate upkeep. Galicia is traditionally an Autonomous Community in which a mycological culture does not exist, and in which the exploitation of wild mushrooms has never been done properly.
Only now are we beginning to value this resource as we should, although there is much to be done until it is sustainable, both environmentally and socially. Our idea is to try to help change our mentality and the way we use our mountains.
2) You submitted your project in a competition organized by the Universidad de Vigo, so we could say that that is where it all began. Would you have gone ahead with this idea if there hadn’t been that type of competition?
Probably not. In our case, the project we submitted at the beginning was not very developed, there were many things missing that we weren’t aware of at the time. Having won and being able to work out our idea in detail, along with the training we were given, made it possible for us to see the viability of the project and to now be confident that it can become a reality. If we hadn’t had a competition like INCUVI, all of this would probably not have come about and the idea might have been stuck in a drawer.
3) What have been the greatest challenges you have faced?
For now you could say that we have faced three major challenges:
- The first was precisely because of our professional careers. The four team members are biologists with very little knowledge about what it takes to start a business: business plan, potential clients, forecasting, legal aspects,…we were able to settle all these things thanks to the mentoring we received from the INCUVI program so that this aspect is no longer a weakness.
- The second was how to focus the aim of the business. We are biologists and we want to work in what we have studied, but one normally forgets the line of private research, so we failed to realize that that would be one of the pillars of MycoGalicia.
- Finally, another important thing is the search for seed money to become incorporated and stay afloat. But that is something that all of us who have been on a project like this know ahead of time and luckily our investment may not be one of the biggest ones we have to take on in this world.
4) MycoGalicia focuses on three main areas: scientific publications, advice, and research. What has been your experience with each one of these areas?
We have more experience in some areas than in others.
- In publishing and teaching: this year we have taught two continued learning courses at the Universidad de Vigo, one in the autumn about mushroom identification and another in the spring on farming mushrooms. Additionally, this past autumn we have given talks on mycology at various gatherings (Asociación de Casco Vello de Vigo, for example), as well as organizing outings to the mountainside with people to gather fresh mushrooms to be identified and setting up various exhibits with fresh samples.
- The mycological advice is the area we have developed less. We would need to work with a land owner who wanted us to study the mycological diversity of his plot, to then propose a plan of use for his land.
- The research area is what we have most recently added to our list of services, but it is also one that we are very excited about. Thanks to having studied biology we have had to develop a few small scale research projects, although the most important ones were those we completed for our bachelor theses. We are also carrying out a study on the farming of mushrooms on forest waste.
5) Do you think that course development or initiatives like competitions should be encouraged at other universities to help raise awareness on entrepreneurship in biology?
Similar competitions are necessary. It is a way for universities or institutions to show interest and support youth, innovative ideas and entrepreneurship. It is also necessary to make this option available within a degrees’ program, not only with theory but also instruction on how to carry out and present a project. The management and writing of projects in a useful skill for any professional in any field.
6) What projects are you currently working on?
We are in contact with a mountainside community which has been recycling forest waste, such as compost or recycling wood for furnaces. They are interested in knowing what they can do with these resources so that the farming of edible mushrooms is possible on composted soil. We are also researching efficient farming methods and creating a database of mushroom species found in northeast Portugal.
7) You have all completed degrees. How has the transition from a university setting to a work setting been?
One of the biggest things is the change from having obligations determined by other people (family, professors) to those you set for yourself. It is important to be dedicated and committed to the project and to be conscious of the fact that the initial idea will change as you discover new ways to take the company forward. You mustn’t get lost along the way with ideas that will not be productive or to try to get ahead and do things that should be done at a later time. At the same time you can’t allow perpetual fear to get in the way of innovation and creativity. In our case, we can say that we are still in the academic setting, in part because we want our business to be connected to the university.
8) Any advice for science students who want to start a business?
Patience and commitment are the two most important pillars to completing a project. We all have fears when starting something new, and even more if it is something outside of what we usually do. But with time and effort everything starts to take shape. The ideas that are very shaky start to settle down and little by little one sees the project in a more tangible, real way; not just as an idea but as something that can be achieved with hard work. having studied something unrelated to business should not deter people from taking on a project. The knowledge that is lacking can be gained and hard work can help overcome many obstacles. It is also important to know ahead of time what type of investment is required and if the project is viable before going for it. It can be done but it is a matter of weighing the pros and cons before jumping in.
9) What are your plans for the future?
Short term, we would like to consolidate as an affiliated company of the Universidad de Vigo before the end of the year. Also to become known to our potential clients and take advantage of the campaign this fall to run mycology activities.
We will also continue with our research projects along with the university and have a few projects on the use of fungi in mind.
Thanks to the database we created with data from northeast Portugal, we will be known in a neighboring country and will try to take our line of work there as well.
10) What do you think about YEB?
An association of biology students at an european levels is a great advantage. To have an association that looks out for the interests of the student body and facilitates communication between it and other entities, working to clarify questions, is a great advantage.
Interview done by Ana Horta
Translated by Sarah Westergren