Welcome to Europe, Nomads! I’ve been here in Spain for a little over a month now and have only started to scratch the surface of what’s going on in the entrepreneurial ecosystems on this side of the pond. The energy is quite a bit different here than it was in most of Latin America, but the struggles are the same.
I kicked things off in Barcelona speaking to Damien Bruneau. Damien is co-founder of TutoTOONS and an organizer of Startup Weekend Barcelona. While he and his company call Barcelona home, Damien is French and has also lived in Italy and the UK, so I was excited to pick his brain about what’s going on in the entrepreneurship world in Europe.
Damien and I started out talking about how Barcelona’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is expanding:
“It is growing really fast but it’s still small,” he told me. “The city has big potential and that’s what driving a lot of talent and entrepreneurs to come to Barcelona…[but] there are not enough success stories or big experienced entrepreneurs to really inspire. That’s what’s missing but I think it will come quickly.”
The idea that this startup community lacks success stories to mentor new entrepreneurs and to show them that success is possible outside of the major startup hubs is something that I heard throughout Latin America, so it was interesting to see that the same is true outside of the so-called “emerging economies.”
Damien attributes part of the lack of major success stories to the fact that entrepreneurship has not, until recently, been seen as a desirable career choice.
“There is still not yet this big wake-up for the Spanish to be entrepreneurs,” he told me. “They’re still just starting.”
Additionally, regulation has made Spain undesirable as a place to legally locate a company, despite Barcelona being an attractive place to physically locate it. “Usually a company is based here and somewhere else, either in the US or London,” Damien said, “because investors don’t want the company to be based here,” due to things like a complicated process for issuing stock options and a slow regulatory system.
But foreigners have been flocking to Barcelona recently and breathing energy into the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem in a way that is different from the country’s other ecosystems. “There’s more startup energy and more of an international feel here [in Barcelona than in Madrid],” Damien said. Additionally, “Barcelona has a number of good MBA programs and so attracts a lot of MBA students, so usually those MBAs start to become entrepreneurs at the same time [that they’re studying].” He also mentioned more than once that there were lots of talented people in Barcelona and that it was fairly easy to find people to add to a growing startup team, though he felt it was harder to find co-founders as the pool of talent lacks experience in what it actually takes to build a business and is instead attracted to entrepreneurship as the “sexy” career option.
As the ecosystem matures, however, that will become less of an issue.
“I think it will grow fast and then it will be quite stable because of the quality of life,” Damien said about Barcelona’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. “Maybe in 5 years it would be like Berlin and in 10 years it will be like London, that would be nice.”
The unavoidable question, of course, is how does Spain’s troubled economy affect its entrepreneurial ecosystems? Damien had an interesting answer:
“It affects it in a positive way,” he told me. “People actually start to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to do my own business,’ because they lost their job, or because they don’t see a good future in the economy, or because they can’t get a job so they create it, and I think that’s good. That drives people to be an entrepreneur. You see a lot of young Spanish kids too that get really motivated and enthusiastic about being an entrepreneur.”
Wrapping up the interview the same way I always do, I asked Damien to share some advice for new or aspiring entrepreneurs:
“Focus, focus, and focus,” he told me. “When you do a startup, do one thing at a time, know where you’re going, and really focus.” Also, “don’t be afraid to fail. Try things, learn from it, and move on. Learn how to manage fears and get that feeling of being able to go for that thing that is difficult, that is new, and that you don’t know how to do.”