One of the star proposals from Ciudadanos, one of Spain’s prominent political parties, in order to revamp Spain’s production model is to convert the country into the Silicon Valley of Europe. Personally, and based on my experience, I believe it’s one of the best paths to changing the situation of this country. That said, I also believe that saying it is one thing, and that doing it is quite another. And, moreover, if it can be done with only a piece of legislation.
At least there is a political party putting a change of course on the table, since the reality of technology is creating two types of countries: those that adapt, and those that don’t. We often hear talks about the importance of innovation in our country from the majority of the political parties, but I fear that they all fall quite short when it comes to understanding the real significance of innovation.
With things being the way they are, I would like to look at some pros and cons that the measures Ciudadanos is thinking about taking would entail, in the case that they are not done well or if certain socio-economic aspects of Spain are not taken into account. The first thing we must analyze is what kind of raw material we are working with in Spain.
In fact, I keep hearing about how amazingly prepared and educated our university graduates are, about the boom in entrepreneurship, and about the talent being wasted. Yet I don’t completely agree with that because running a technological incubator, I can tell you that as much as I want to, it’s not easy to find professionals that measure up. In Spain, it is truly difficult to find good people, possibly because many of them leave the country for better opportunities. It’s not like you whistle and 100 educated, qualified, and dedicated engineers come running.
A change in mentality
The first step is creating excitement. The reality is that we are a country focused more on the likes of TV personality Belén Esteban and football player Cristiano Ronaldo than on Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, a reality that we must accept if we want to have some influence on the next generation. Our successful entrepreneurs are more well-known and highly valued outside of our country than within it. Here they are not rock stars or celebrities going on TV programs, yet this is exactly how we need to be seeing and valuing these young entrepreneurs. This is the first seed to be planted in order for innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, and technology-related businesses to prosper in Spain.
A clear example of the social influence we are seeing is how cooks have turned into chefs in Spain. Some 20 years ago being a cook was not exactly a dream job and few aspired to have a future in the kitchen. However, famous Spanish chefs like Ferran Adriá, Joan Roca, Martín Berasategui, and plenty more have figured out how to lay the foundation to changing the concept of a cook and to bring that concept beyond the traditional views. Nowadays, there is real business created in the kitchen and with these chefs.
The youth look to take after their icons, and if we really want them to become successful entrepreneurs, we need to show them truly successful entrepreneurs to serve as their guides.
The second step is training. Universities themselves should be the breeding ground for our entrepreneurs, promoting competitiveness among students, stimulating excellence, and above all, adapting the training to real market needs. Many of the universities in our country have become obsolete because what they teach is by and large useless, heavy on the theory and leaving out the practical part.
Furthermore, the scholarship system is focused on students’ grades and not on their capacity to create or generate business. There are real geniuses that get bad grades simply because they don’t feel challenged or stimulated.
Israel as an example
The third step towards creating a country that can thrive on innovation is investment, because not only are we lacking funds, but on top of that we are at a loss for where and how to invest it. The big problem that we have had in Spain is that those with money to manage don’t have any idea as to where to invest it for it to be effective from a technological point of view.
A good model is that of Israel, who with a population of just over 8 million, is pumping out successful entrepreneurs like a well-oiled machine. It’s with good reason that they call it the Startup Nation. Much of the technology that we use has been thought up and developed in their universities and by their entrepreneurs, and their secret stems from investing 4.7% of their GDP to promote and create startups to maintain their position as a worldwide technology leader.
Although in Israel’s case it is their own government putting forth the funds, it is not the government who decides where to invest it, but rather the specialized incubators that analyze which projects money should be put into. In other words, it is left to the experts to evaluate where and what to invest in based on the agreed upon desired outcomes. Not only do they incubate companies, but they also stay onboard during the growth and maturation process, injecting more financing when necessary, to assure that promising projects don’t get stuck in the mud.
In Spain, it is easy to get ahold of 50,000 or 10,000 euros to get a project started, but the truly complicated part is managing to get funding for the second or third phase. This means that many entrepreneurs end of spending their hard-earned savings or their compensations on projects destined to die despite being great projects, simply for not having enough financial muscle behind them. Therefore, knowing how to invest well and giving the money to people who really understand the market and who stay with those projects and entrepreneurs during the whole business creation process is the key to generating value in our country.
It’s not all money
The fourth step would be explaining what exactly an entrepreneur is. An entrepreneur is not somebody who makes a killing in two years. An entrepreneur doesn’t look for the easy money, but rather to create and to innovate even if that doesn’t mean striking gold. Many of the young professionals I talk to who are meddling with becoming entrepreneurs talk about their hopes of creating something and having Google come knocking to buy it. I always recommend that they steer away from their millionaire dreams, work hard on their projects in order to live well off of what they have created, and add value to the country. This is what being an entrepreneur really means.
Just like private investors, entrepreneurs must know that innovating sometimes means losing money because innovating does not always mean having commercial success.
The fifth and final step is being patriotic. We like things from the outside more than from inside our own country, and if we want to sell something to the rest of the world we must first buy it ourselves and defend it tooth and nail. It is useless to create something in this country while we buy everything being sold to us from the outside. We must be more patriotic and learn how to sell ourselves better.
If Spain’s Ciudadanos is able to popularize entrepreneurship amongst young people, to create true entrepreneurs, with depth and not the Hollywood type, and they can create a new model for training and channel the funds to actually be effective and useful to innovative companies and projects, they will create the foundation upon which Spain can truly become a Startup Nation.