Spain can boast a healthy startup ecosystem. At the end of last year they already exceeded 23,000, the majority concentrated in Madrid, Catalonia and Andalusia, which host six out of 10. But the number grows year after year. And also its territorial reach. More and more people are choosing to start their own business. The figures prove it: Spain is the fourth European country in number of emerging companies.
In ‘Meetings of La Vanguardia’, in collaboration with CaixaBank, the present and future of this sector was discussed, in the context of the EmprendeXXI Awards, promoted by the banking entity. Participating in the debate were Javier Silvestre, director of DayOne Barcelona; Helena Torras, Venture Partner at Hans(wo)menGroup; Iván Bofarull, CIO of Esade; Sara Toledano, CEO of Sycai Medical, and Marc Coloma, CEO and founder of Heura Foods. Expert economists, businessmen and financial agents agree that the sector has a lot of room to consolidate and a long future. Iván Bofarull points out that “there is a global trend, in the last 25 years, of increasing business creation. And it is logical.
Madrid, Catalonia and Andalusia host six out of every ten Spanish startups
Both technology and ideas are becoming more accessible. 30 years ago accessing computing power was very expensive and complex. Today it is a ‘commodity’. The radical accessibility of technology makes it easier for people who have a dream to transform it into reality. Despite a certain correction in global investment in startups in the last two years, in Spain initial investment, the seed phase, has not reduced, which is crucial. Furthermore, the level of maturity has increased. This information is relevant, because the first objective of a company is not to scale, but to survive, with super-focused execution, to be able to take advantage of emerging opportunities.”
To stay on track, startups have initiatives like DayOne. This CaixaBank service emerged six years ago and demand has made it grow in volume, physical presence and advisors. Silvestre emphasizes that “many times, when we talk in the traditional financial sector, we think about opening an account, requesting a card, managing your collections and payments…, but we must not forget a factor that startups value significantly: support . It is very important to adapt to each one of them and offer them a tailored suit. Many, in the seed phase, do not have great financial knowledge. We not only advise them, but we also accompany them.”
In the financial sector we think about opening accounts, requesting cards… but startups value support”
And “starting a business is very lonely and hard. When you are an entrepreneur you have to have a lot of resilience. Don’t get discouraged. Every time you fall, you must get up quickly. The winners are not those who never fail but those who never stop getting up,” says Helena Torras. The entrepreneur can rely on proposals such as CaixaBank DayOne, mentors, investors or even other entrepreneurs.
Surfing waves is the metaphor that Marc Coloma uses to explain his experience as founder of Heura Foods, a startup that was born with the aim of creating a food system where animal meat can be dispensed with. It was founded in 2017 and now they are the ones creating the waves. “There are no magic wands, but the challenge of entrepreneurship is so complex that it is very important that you are very passionate about what you do. There is a very complex balance between determination for what you believe, humility to listen to the signs that reality shows you, and a point of naivety that is essential to generate any disruption. This recipe of these three elements is the one that we should all look for.”
Starting a business is very lonely and hard. When you are an entrepreneur you have to have a lot of resilience. If you fall you must get up quickly.”
For this successful entrepreneur, it is incredible to look back and see that they have gone beyond what they initially dreamed of. Helena Torras believes that “starting a project, creating it from scratch, is an adrenaline rush that only those who experience it can explain. It is a roller coaster with very good moments and other horrible ones. But being an entrepreneur is a DNA thing. You can do it by setting up companies, within large corporations or in your daily life, in anything you do. I have that entrepreneurial DNA and now I also use it in the investment sector to make other people’s dreams come true, trying to make others shine.”
Starting a startup already represents part of this brilliance in the face of the outside world because, in recent years, these companies combine the intention of improving their environment and the business itself. It is entrepreneurship with a social objective. This mission has also permeated the EmprendeXXI Awards, promoted by CaixaBank, through DayOne, and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, through Einsa. Javier Silvestre specifies that “these awards set six very concise challenges to improve society. They are aimed at companies with a degree of digitalization, but that have an impact on the community; In addition to the winners in the Challenges of Tomorrow category, there is also a winning company in each autonomous community in Spain and Portugal.”
There are no magic wands but the challenge of entrepreneurship is so complex that it is very important that you are very passionate about what you do.”
One of the winners of the last edition, Sara Toledano, founded the innovation company Sycal Medical to fight cancer. “There are times when you don’t see a way out. You should listen a lot and try to learn from everyone who tells you something. And wake up every day with a smile and accept criticism with a constructive spirit.” Marc Coloma agrees on the importance of traveling companions to “solve equations that allow us to find solutions to problems that, in the end, as an entrepreneur you encounter at a very high magnitude.”
There are times when you don’t see a way out. “You must listen a lot and try to learn from all the people around you”
The cases of Sara and Marc are a clear example of what Iván Bofarull, academic director of the Emprende XXI training program, explains. “A few years ago, in Spain, when we analyzed founding teams of emerging companies, we saw that the level of talent was spectacular. Similar to ecosystems like Silicon Valley. But we realized that there was a lack: the level of ambition. Not only think more globally, but also in projects that solve larger problems.
Create new waves that will be transformative for the entire world. These are projects that assume a slightly higher technological or technical risk, but have a market risk that is close to zero. If they work, almost everyone will adopt that solution that they are bringing to the market.” In other ecosystems, errors are accepted, there is a greater predisposition to make productive errors that generate constant learning. Helena Torras believes that the tables are changing and “that acceptance of the culture of error has finally arrived in Spain. Without error, there is no innovation.”
The first objective of any company is not to scale, but to survive in order to take advantage of emerging opportunities.”
Travel companions and the ability to fail and overcome. These two concepts are essential to carry out an emerging company. But there is another key: timing. “The moment in which you place yourself in the market is very important. Being in the right place, at the right time. “You have to have a waist, flexibility and mental agility to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that will make you be in the right place and place,” argues Bofarull. Sara Toledano corroborates this. “You have to know how to create your timing, reorient your idea if necessary. Sycai was born like this. We had to pivot during the pandemic and the current idea was born.
It is important to have good timing. But if you don’t have it, you have to pivot and have a waist to get the best possible.” Marc Coloma adds another ingredient to be a good entrepreneur: “timing and momentum are not a still photo. Cyclicity will be part of your journey as a company and you will have the ability to adapt to the context. This is what will allow you to survive. We live in an increasingly volatile and cyclical world, which requires more speed when making decisions.”
Access to technology has multiplied the number of startups in Spain
To make these decisions, it will be important that the entrepreneur does not stray from his initial objective, even when he must change the business model. Helena Torras advises “to be faithful to what you wanted to change, your objective. There are a thousand ways to achieve it. You must be wondering why I started the startup. And if you consider a change, remember that initial why so as not to lose the essence. And because it is what will allow you to stay alive.
Coloma admits that “when we talk about purpose you must be in love with a problem, not a solution. Solutions expire with contexts, but the problems can be very deep. It is key that you care deeply about a problem in order to understand the first principles that can generate consistent solutions to that problem. If there is no clear purpose, it is very difficult to innovate in a constant, permanent and transformative way.”