Salvador Naya (UdC): “We want the AESIA to attract investment and talent”

The Vice-Rector for Science Policy, Research and Transfer of the University of A Coruña gives a balance of the award of the AESIA to the city, the takeoff of the Cidade das TIC and its fit in the RIS3 Galicia

A Coruña is on the lips of all those involved in technology or research in the ICT field. During the last few months everything has been good news. The designation of the city as the headquarters of the Spanish Agency for Artificial Intelligence (AESIA), the definitive backing of the Cidade das TIC and the support of multinationals such as Inditex for projects linked to R&D&I seek to raise a technological ecosystem capable of completely transforming the city.

And if there is one person who is especially happy with this news, it is Salvador Naya, Vice-Rector for Science Policy, Research and Transfer at the University of A Coruña. A man who does not hide his satisfaction with the future plans of the University and who aspires to make his city a capital capable of attracting investment and talent linked to digitalization.

Salvador naya, vicerrector Política Científica UdC

A Coruña, and especially its university, is going through a sweet moment. The AESIA, the Cidade das TIC, the support of Inditex to AI… And, in addition, the RIS3, the regional strategy to promote innovation that seems to fit with the plans of the institution.

RIS3 is a strategy that interests us a lot. The UdC was in all the preparatory meetings with the Axencia Galega de Innovación and we are totally aligned with it. Any request for funds to develop technological and sustainable projects must comply with its requirements and we are working on it. The University has been developing initiatives that fit very well with the strategy, such as the project we are developing with Navantia to design the shipyard of the future through research and development of 5.0 technologies. Or the commitment to open lines of research in green algorithms to develop ICT solutions to ecological challenges based on Artificial Intelligence. All these projects fit perfectly with what is asked of us in the Galician strategy.

AESIA can be a before and after. When do you foresee it becoming operational?

It is a pity that we have to wait until September, but we have to launch a call for 40 positions for the agency and we have to meet deadlines. We are living a transcendental moment in the development of AI and we should congratulate ourselves for becoming one of the centers where the future of artificial intelligence in our country will be discussed. It is increasingly important to regulate everything that has to do with AI and it will be difficult to stop what the big companies want. To contribute to this regulation we have already requested a chair of Artificial Intelligence linked to green and intelligent algorithms. And to achieve this we have the support of Inditex, a company that is very interested in everything to do with AI. Technological development must not only generate progress but also be sustainable and linked to the objectives of the RIS3. Big data consumes a lot of resources and we must go further along the lines of being more efficient and sustainable.

Developments are giving us a city profile that is closely linked to ICT and artificial intelligence. We want the city and the Agency to become a pole of attraction for companies, startups and talent.

The Administration should be more flexible to create spin offs but also to encourage them to grow and not disappear or be bought by large companies.

How would you like to see A Coruña in a decade?

Developments are marking us a city profile closely linked to ICT and artificial intelligence. The city will have a fundamental role in the regulation of AI, through AESIA, and sustainability, with the new chair. We want the city and the Agency to become a pole of attraction for companies, startups and talent.

Do you have a reference?

Malaga is a great example and I have said it directly to the mayoress of A Coruña. Malaga has managed to become a top-level technology hub that attracts digital nomads from all over the world. And, humbly, we believe that A Coruña has all the facilities with a robust ecosystem of companies closely linked to Inditex, with 2,000 direct jobs and 12,000 indirect jobs. We have potential and the risk, perhaps, is to find talent.

 What do you mean?

Many young people escape us. They are recruited before they even finish their degrees by private companies. It is difficult for someone to want to do a doctorate because the offers that young people receive are very tempting. But we must not give up. There is talent and possibilities for young people to achieve their professional goals. I will give you a clear example: the five executive positions at Inditex have studied at the UdC.

 Speaking of the UdC, how do you see it in the future?

I see a university focused on ICT and sustainability. Close to companies and with specific degrees in Data Science and specializations to adjust the demand for technological profiles from companies to the university offer.

Where do we need to improve in order to deepen the transfer of knowledge from the university to the company?

A month ago I visited Boston and MIT to visit their labs and meet with the head of Innovation. Of course we are not comparable, but that is the way to imitate: to be able to create business accelerators and spin offs coming out of the university. In Spain we have plenty of bureaucracy to create startups. It should not be so difficult to create a company. MIT creates an average of 800 companies a year thanks to the impulse of the university centers, but also of the private capital that we lack in Galicia. The Administration should be more flexible to create spin offs but also to encourage them to grow and not disappear or be bought by large companies. We have set up a mixed university-company center with Navantia that is working well and is an experience that could be extended to tractor companies in other sectors with the sponsorship of the Xunta through GAIN. These are initiatives with many advantages: development of patents, attraction of investments, possibility of entering into European digitalization projects…

What is your recipe for attracting foreign investment?

 Galicia has to sell itself as an attractive area for investment. Fortunately, and increasingly so, Galicia and what is Galician sells itself. Few people beat us Galicians in ingenuity or entrepreneurship and that is not going to disappear with AI. We are seen as hard-working and discreet and that is ideal for attracting investment. But I would also like to talk about Galicians who, due to circumstances, are working abroad and who could return or collaborate in some way through investment. For this we would need a Patronage Law that would legally guarantee these investments and make them attractive, as in the United States with universities and research centers linked to them. In addition to this law, it would be desirable to create new tax credits and tax breaks to make investment in science attractive.

 How can we get talent to return?

There is a very interesting figure, that of distinguished researchers, but in Galicia there has only been one call for applications and the Xunta should consider launching another one. During my visit to Boston I was able to meet many Galicians who would love to return but to do so they need programs that give them guarantees and job stability. Galicia should bet on that.