Mounir Zok: "You can innovate with almost zero cost and have a very big impact"
"There are organisations that talk a lot about innovation but when you ask them what innovation means to them they don't quite know what to answer." During the six years that he was director of technology for the United States Olympic Committee, Mounir Zok, born in Lebanon in 1977, travelled around the world speaking at conferences where he explained how technological innovation was revolutionising the world of sport and how many of these advances would end up being applied to other areas such as health or nutrition. In 2018 he decided to settle in Barcelona with his own consultancy, N3XT Sports, where he coordinates a team of professionals spread across France, the United States, Italy, Switzerland and Lebanon. With the pandemic he has changed constant flights for video calls and a more settled lifestyle: "We created the company in Silicon Valley but we wanted to move it to Europe. We made a list of cities where the sports and innovation industry was strong. London, Paris, Stockholm and Barcelona were pretty evenly matched. We made another of cities with the best quality of life, a place that was attractive enough to attract foreign talent. And in this Barcelona was unrivalled".
Zok trained as a physicist and biomedical engineer at universities in Lebanon, England and Italy before going to the United States: "When I started there was no such thing as a start-up. But in Silicon Valley I discovered that the things I wanted to do had a name. There were even books that talked about it". Working for the American Olympic Committee, Zok had the opportunity to supervise technological programmes that tried to improve the performance of superstars such as swimmer Michael Phelps, for whom they even designed a sleep meter. Now he has turned his attention to business issues, such as digitization. He explains how his company helps organisations - the Euroleague basketball league is one, but they also run a programme to modernise the entire sports structure in Guatemala - to get to know their fans better or to get more revenue. And it also supports some projects aimed at revolutionising the world of sport: from a urinal converted into a technological station that measures the athlete's hydration, to smart surfaces that allow you to operate devices by touching the palm of your hand.
Although Zok and his team work on an international scale, they also have their feet firmly planted in the city. "We don't want to be the typical American company that comes to Barcelona, takes advantage of everyone and offers nothing in return. We organise events on sport and innovation, we collaborate with Pompeu Fabra and Esade, we have a good relationship with CAR in Sant Cugat..." He has a positive opinion of the Catalan entrepreneurial ecosystem: "There is a lot of talent and good ideas; the problem, perhaps, is investment. You look for funding for a project here and find nothing; on the other hand, if you take it to the United States, it immediately generates interest".
For many companies that find it hard enough to stay in the black, innovation may seem beyond their reach. However, Zok tries to break the cliché. "You can innovate with almost zero cost and have a very big impact". And he talks about a recent example in the world of sport. "The Norwegian Football Federation couldn't get their fans to stick with them. Then they commissioned a study at the University of Oslo on the path that a fan took from the moment he left home until he went to the stadium, and they filled it with content: with activities, leisure proposals, visual elements... They increased revenue with an idea that cost them almost nothing economically".