Innovation and entrepreneurship in Catalan private laboratories: origins and rise of Grifols Lab (1880-1955)

Abstract: Studying the evolution of private medical clinics is extremely useful in understanding the history of the Catalan healthcare system where, from the 19th century onwards, a Marshallian atmosphere of flows of knowledge, people and technology has resulted in close connections between the public and private practice of modern medicine. The history of the Grifols Laboratories, from 1880 to the 1950s, is a relevant case study in this context, as it highlights patterns that were repeated in other medical laboratories in Catalonia a century ago. But Grifols is also particularly interesting both because of its survival and evolution to this day, and for its curation of its own historical archive.This article aims to understand how a small laboratory in the healthcare district of Barcelona built its scientific foundations on laboratory medicine during the early 20th century, and finally changed its business strategy because of the Spanish Civil War, becoming a family pharmaceutical company. The sources are documents from the Grifols archive and interviews with managers at the company. The findings highlight the importance of interdisciplinary analysis, suggesting that both scientific and business adaptations by successive generations are equally important in explaining the success of Grifols Laboratories. Science-based family firms that endure over time not only acquire specialised knowledge to compete in the market, but also knowledge about transferring entrepreneurship in the long term. In Grifols case, knowledge from younger generations was crucial to adapting their activity, first to a changing scientific paradigm and then to a precarious national market.