Judit Camargo, CEO of Roka Foradada: "Most of the 21 members of the company are doctors"

Judit Camargo, CEO of Roka Foradada at Catalonia Exponential Leaders 2023
Judit Camargo, CEO of Roka Foradada at Catalonia Exponential Leaders 2023

Judit, your childhood in Torredembarra and your relationship with nature seem to have had a great impact on your professional career. How did these experiences influence your decision to focus on sun protection and founding Roka Furadada?

That's right, my childhood in Torredembarra and my connection with nature had a significant impact on my professional career. When I was little, during the summers we went to a very special place: Roca Foradada; It was a rock that gave you an entrance to the sea. This aspect of being open to the sea, and also being able to enjoy protected nature, connects with the photoprotection project. In addition, I have always been interested in environmental conservation: waste generation, pollution and the impact we have on the planet. For this reason, I saw sun protection as an opportunity to combine my passion for nature with my vocation for health. He wanted to create sustainable products that minimize environmental impact while protecting people's skin.

Roka Furadada, founded in Barcelona in 2019, has accumulated several awards in a short time, including the DeepTech award for the most disruptive technological innovation; the Women in Tech Start-Up Award worldwide; the Catalonia Exponential Leaders 2023 recognized by ACCIÓ- Agency for Business Competitivenessof the Generalitat de Catalunya, and the recent selection as one of the hundred best start-ups of science and technology parks in Spain. Against this backdrop of success, what do these awards mean for you and the Roka Furadada team?

Recognition, that's the first thing. We are a start-up, and our day to day is very demanding, we work with limited resources and with a very high level of demand, but with great aspirations. The fact that they recognize us is a great impulse, because it allows us to stop and reflect on the positive impact we are having. But it also allows us to celebrate our successes as a team.

On a personal level, I understand that too?

Yes, definitely! The Women in Tech Start-Up Award, in particular, was a very exciting experience. The Secretariat for Digital Policy encouraged me and other Catalans to apply, and I travelled to Amsterdam for the awards ceremony without knowing if I would win or not. In the end, it was a great honor to be recognized as the European winner for the best technology start-up led by a woman. Afterwards, I was selected to represent Europe in the world final in Dubai, where I received the award again. It was an incredible experience to be able to share space with entrepreneurs from all over the world and learn about their projects.

In addition to personal recognition, these awards are important because they give visibility to women in the technology sector and promote diversity. They are an encouragement to continue working hard and to inspire other women to pursue their dreams.

"These awards are important because they give visibility to women in the technology sector and promote diversity"

How does Roka Furadada manage to create effective yet sustainable sunscreens?

Sustainability is one of our fundamental pillars. Therefore, from the beginning of product design, we take into account both the effectiveness and the environmental impact it could have. For example, when we develop different products, we use a rigorous selection process in which, before continuing development, we perform a series of in silico analyses ("computer done" or "computational simulation"), in order to see what their toxicological and environmental impact will be. And from there, then, we select the candidate products that we carry out.

In addition, we believe that efficiency and sustainability go hand in hand, one thing cannot be without the other. A more effective product needs less quantity to obtain the same result, so it reduces the environmental impact because you use fewer raw materials. Therefore, our products not only offer high sun protection, but are also respectful with the environment and marine ecosystems.

Roka Furadada can boast of having four Industrial PhD projects. Do these projects share goals? 

The truth is that they all share the same goal, but they do it from different branches. I will give you an example: the first molecule we have launched on the market, the one we are now selling, has had a diversity of perspectives that has been crucial to achieve a high quality final product. Each industrial doctorate project, with each of the people who have been finishing their theses, has contributed their discipline to obtain these results. 

In summary, although each doctoral student works on a specific aspect of the product with their specialty, they all have a common goal: the launch of a molecule on the market.

What added value does research within the company contribute to Roka Furadada within the framework of the Industrial Doctorates Plan?

We are a very complete company that, except in the case of manufacturing, which we outsource, we transfer everything: research is essential for us, because it allows us to develop unique and innovative products that would not be possible without this task.

At Roka Furadada we carry out "pure and hard" research to develop a unique technology that allows us to evaluate various candidate products. In this sense, I think industrial doctorates are interesting for two reasons. First, we are a small company with limited resources, and when we started we were allowed to have different PhD students in different laboratories. And second, there is a part that is very important within the industrial doctorate, which is the support you receive from academia. That is, we have been able to collaborate with very experienced research staff and use their knowledge, this has helped us to move this project forward. In fact, they are the thesis tutors of the different industrial doctorate projects.

Today, we find access to this valuable focused and applied knowledge very interesting, with the aim of solving problems that we are encountering or learning more about subjects that we are using.


"Research is essential for us, because it allows us to develop unique and innovative products that would not be possible without this task"

What are the main challenges you face in the development of Industrial Doctorate projects?

At first, one of the biggest challenges we had was to build a team with people in different spaces: someone in the offices, another person in the pharmacy faculty, another in the chemistry faculty, another in the Autonomous University of Barcelona... There comes a time when you say: how can I integrate all these people into the same team? First we managed it with coaching, a system that we have been using for three years with two coaches who accompany team members creating cohesion, making them known, etc. It is a method called Agile, and it consists of seeing the whole team every day, even online, we explain a little what we have for the day, what we need, and so everyone is on the same page.

Secondly, another challenge is to coordinate with the thesis supervisor of the project and align ourselves a little with the work that needs to be done. I think the truth is that we have done quite well in this regard, because from the university there is a lot of cooperation.

From your experience as an entrepreneur, what has been the most valuable lesson you have learned and how has it influenced your way of leading Roka Furadada?

When you start is when you realize that no matter how much you know many things about your product, the market or the sector, you need many things that you have no idea about and that you have to ask for help.

And the other thing that is also very important, for me, is the team, the people. That is, to achieve objectives it is necessary that the whole team is aligned; And if it is as in our case, we carefully select the professional profiles necessary for the specific tasks involved in the project. Dedication to the team and people is essential.

How important do you think female leadership is in the science and technology industry, especially in innovative areas like yours?

Although in certain fields such as chemistry, biotechnology or biology there is a notable presence of women, the reality is that it is difficult for us to reach positions of responsibility. I believe that increasing the presence of women in these positions is crucial, since, naturally, this will facilitate the promotion of more women in the future.

In addition, I think that women bring a different vision of leadership, a more holistic and global perspective that perfectly complements the more concrete approach of men. The combination of both visions is crucial to success in any sector.

Therefore, we need women to occupy more and more leadership positions. This will not only benefit women, but society as a whole.

"When you become an entrepreneur you realize that no matter how much you know about your product, the market or the sector, you need many things that you have no idea about and that you have to ask for help."

What are Roka Furadada's long-term goals? Is there a new area you'd like to innovate in?

In the short term, Roka Furadada is focused on marketing its two current products and launching four more in the coming years. Regarding the lines of research, we are very focused on cosmetics, but we are interested in exploring applications in the field of materials; To do this, we are now collaborating with the Materials Cluster and seeking alliances with companies in the sector. And, on the other hand, apart from cosmetics, we are exploring the possibility of working with more therapeutic actions.

Is that why you are collaborating with the Hospital del Mar?

Exactly, in fact I am a researcher at the Hospital del Mar Research Institute – IMIM. It is from this connection that they propose us to collaborate on a project in their ICUs. For us, it is a very interesting initiative, whose objective is that patients can enjoy the outdoors, taking advantage of the location of the Hospital facing the sea, with our protection product, avoiding umbrellas, etc.

How does Roka Furadada face the challenges of constant innovation in the cosmetics and sun protection sector?

I think we are a brave company, we are very clear about what we want to do and, to stay at this level, we need good research staff and, obviously, resources, and we need the staff to be very good in all the areas we work in. Not only is good human capital needed in R+D+I, but also in other areas.

Most of the company's 21 members are PhDs, with a high level of experience in various fields. In other words, the level of excellence and knowledge is very high. And that's why I think we can continue to innovate, because the talent we have is very good.

And industrial doctorates, do they stay in the company?

In some cases, yes, if the skill acquired during the doctorate continues within the company. The Industrial Doctorates programme provides companies with in-depth knowledge of the work and way of functioning of doctoral students, which facilitates their integration into the team.