Spain’s ten-year plan to put startups in the economic driving seat – TechCrunch

Spain is getting ready to push ahead with pro-startup laws, having just lately unveiled a giant and daring transformation plan with the headline objective, by 2030, of turning the nation into ‘Spain Entrepreneurial Nation’, as the barely clumsy English translation has it.

Prime minister Pedro Sanchez took a activate Web Summit’s stage in December to announce the introduction of the forthcoming Startup Act — and to trumpet a brand new position, a excessive commissioner, tasked with bringing off a nationwide entrepreneurial economic transformation by working with all the related authorities ministries.

The broad-brush objectives for the technique are to enhance development in startup investments; appeal to and retain expertise; promote scalability; and inject innovation into the public sector so it may bolster and help Spain’s digital growth.

The aforementioned Startup Act is the first piece of devoted laws for the sector — and is meant to simplify beginning up in Spain, in addition to bringing in tax concessions and incentives for international investments. So it is going to be one thing of a milestone.

Chat to native founders and there’s a litany of administrative, tax-based and fundraising pain-points they’ll rapidly level to as frustrations. Wider points appear extra cultural; startups not considering large enough, buyers missing the vital urge for food for threat, and even — amongst wider society — some latent suspicion of entrepreneurs. While Spain-based buyers are champing at the bit for administrative reform and higher inventory choices. Moving the needle on all that’s the Spanish authorities’s self-appointed mission for the foreseeable future.

TechCrunch spoke to Francisco Polo, Spain’s excessive commissioner overseeing supply of the entrepreneurial technique, to get the inside observe on the plan to develop the startup ecosystem and discover out which bits entrepreneurs are doubtless to see in motion first.

“The high commissioner for Spain entrepreneurial nation is a new body that’s within the presidency. So for the first time we have an institution that, from the presidency, is able to help coordinate the different ministries on one single thing: Creating the first national mission. In this case this nation mission has the goal to turn Spain into the entrepreneurial nation with the greatest social impact in history,” says Polo.

“What we do is that work of coordination with all the ministries. Basically we have now a set of inside goals. First is what we name impacts — completely different units of measures that’s contained in the Spain entrepreneurial nation technique. We additionally work making an attempt to get everybody collectively on this nationwide mission so we work on completely different alliances.

“Finally, we are also very focused on helping let the people know that Spain has made a decision to become — by 2030 — this entrepreneurial nation that is going to leave no one behind. So that’s our job.”

Scaling up on the shoulders of giants

The southern European nation doesn’t appeal to the identical stage of startup funding as a few of its close to neighbors, together with the UK, France and Germany. But in some methods Spain punches above its regional weight — with main cities like Barcelona and Madrid routinely ranked as extremely engaging places for founders, owing to comparatively low prices and the pull of a Mediterranean life-style.

Spanish cities’ city density, excessive ranges of youth unemployment and a sociable tradition that’s eagerly embraced digital chatter makes a gorgeous test-bed for consumer-facing app-based companies — one which’s demonstrated disruptive potential over the previous decade+, in the wake of the 2008 monetary disaster which hit the nation onerous.

Local startups which have gained international consideration over this era — for velocity of development and stage of ambition, at the least — embody the likes of Badi, Cabify, Glovo, Jobandtalent, Red Points,, TravelPerk, Typeform and Wallapop, to identify a couple of.

Spain’s left-leaning coalition authorities is now trying to decide up the startup baton in earnest, to drive a broader pro-digital shift in the financial system and manufacturing base — however in a approach that’s socially inclusive. The shift might be based mostly on “an ironclad principle that we leave no one behind”, mentioned Sanchez in December.

For this cause the slate of coverage measures Sanchez’s authorities has distilled as vital to help and develop the ecosystem — following an extended interval of session with personal and public stakeholders — pays shut consideration to social affect. Hence the parallel objective of tackling a wide range of gaps (territorial, gender, socio-economic, generational and so forth) that may in any other case be exacerbated by a extra single-minded rush to speed up the dimension of the digital sector.

“We are a new generation of young people in government. I think in our generation we don’t understand creating a new innovation system or a new industrial-economic system if we are not also talking about its social impact,” says Polo. “That’s why at the basis of the model we have also designed inclusion policies. So all this strategy is aimed at closing the gender gap, the territorial gap, the socio-economic gap and the generational gap. So at the end of the day, by 2030, we have created the entrepreneurial nation with the highest social impact in history.”

There’s cash on the desk too: Spain might be routing a portion of the ‘Next Generation EU‘ coronavirus recovery funding it receives from the pan-EU pot into this ‘entrepreneurial’ push.

“Specifically, for 2021, the budget assigned to the different goals of the strategy — we have more than €1.5BN for the main measures that we want to start setting up. And for the period 2023 it’s over €4.5BN dedicated to the rest of the measures. So basically between 2021 and 2023 we will be setting the basis/foundations of the Spain entrepreneurial nation,” says Polo.

Execution of the technique might be down to the related ministries of presidency — who might be enacting initiatives and passing laws, as wanted — however Polo’s division is there to “guide and accompany” the varied arms and branches of presidency on that journey; aka “to help make things happen” with a startup hat on.

The nationwide technique envisages entrepreneurship/startup innovation as the driving pressure at the prime of a pyramid that sits atop present sectors of the Spanish financial system — “spearheading the innovative system that we want to generate”, as Polo places it. “We are not only focusing on innovative entrepreneurship. We are also trying to create virtuous cycles between this ecosystem and the actual driving sectors of the Spanish economy — that’s why we listed a set of ten driving sectors that represent above 60% of the GDP. And this is of utmost importance.”

The listed sectors the place the authorities desires to focus and foster help — so those self same sectors can leverage features by nearer working with digital innovation are: Industry; Tourism and tradition; Mobility; Health; Construction and supplies; Energy and ecological transition; Banking and finance; Digitalization and telecommunications; Agri-food; and Biotechnology.

“We decided we needed to make the cut at some point and we decided that putting together 60% of the GDP in Spain was a clear direction of the sectors that we could be using in order to accelerate the change that we want to see,” says Polo. “Basically what we wish to shift with this mannequin is that the modern entrepreneurship that has been fairly enclosed in the previous begins working with the completely different driving sectors that we have now in the nation as a result of they might help one another remedy their completely different points.

“So first, for instance, for funding — what if huge corporations begin investing increasingly more than they’re really doing? We speed up additionally that path — into modern entrepreneurship system. That goes to assist shut that hole… What if startups and scale ups in Spain work along with our worldwide corporations in order to appeal to and retain that expertise? That goes to put us as a rustic in a greater place.

“To me the best example is about scaling up: Because what is better than scaling up on the shoulders of giants? We have already a big number of international of world class companies that are in different markets so what is better than being able to scale up with a company that is already there, that has the knowledge and that can help you mature as a scale up in a shorter period of time. So there are a lot of virtuous cycles that we can generate and that’s why we wanted to make also a broad appeal to the different driving sectors. Because we want to let the country know that everyone is called to make this a reality.”

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Lime scooters outdoors El Retiro Park in Madrid (Image credit: Natasha Lomas/TechCrunch)

Digital divides

Digital can itself divide, in fact, as has been writ massive throughout a worldwide pandemic in which the growth of kids excluded from attending faculty in particular person can hinge on whether or not or not they’ve Internet entry and pc literacy.

So the precept of entrepreneurial development being predicated upon social inclusion seems like an vital one — even when pulling off main industrial transformations which is able to necessitate a level of retraining and upskilling in order to convey employees of all ages alongside the identical path is clearly not going to be simple.

But the ten-year timeframe for ‘Spain Entrepreneurial Nation’ seems like a recognition that inclusion requires time.

The long run plan can be meant to deal with a standard criticism of Spain’s politics being too short-termist, per Polo. “In Spain particularly it’s been a regular criticism that politics always look in the small term so this is proof that this government is also addressing the short term issues but also is preparing Spain for the future,” he says, including: “We really believe that [presenting a long term vision is] a good thing and it’s an answer to that social demand.”

The nation has additionally — over the final decade or so — gained a little bit of a repute for efficiently difficult digital developments over particular societal impacts in Europe’s courts. Such as, in 2010, when a Spanish citizen challenged Google’s refusal to delist outdated information about him from its index — which led, in 2014, to Europe’s prime court docket backing what’s colloquially referred to as the ‘right to be forgotten’.

Uber’s regulation-dodging was additionally efficiently challenged by Spanish taxi associations — main to a 2017 ruling at the highest stage in Europe that Uber is a transport service (and subsequently topic to native city transport guidelines; not only a know-how platform as the ride-hailing big had sought to declare).

Anti-Uber (and anti-Cabify) strikes have, in the meantime, been a quasi-regular (and typically violent) function of Spain’s streets — as the taxi business has protested at a perceived lack of enforcement of the regulation towards app-based rivals who should not competing pretty, because it sees it.

And whereas gig platforms (even homegrown European ones) have a tendency to attempt to shrug off such protests as protectionist (and/or ‘anti-innovation’), they’ve oftentimes discovered themselves dropping challenges to the legality of their fashions — together with most just lately in the UK Supreme Court (which simply slapped down Uber’s classification of drivers/riders as self employed — that means it’s chargeable for a slew of prices for related advantages).

All of which is to say that the muscular sense of injustice that segments of Spanish society have willingly — and even viscerally — demonstrated once they really feel unfair impacts flowing from shiny new tech instruments shouldn’t be dismissed; relatively it seems like folks right here have their finger on the pulse of what’s actually vital to them.

That may clarify why the authorities is so eager to guarantee nobody in Spain feels left behind because it unboxes a significant packet of startup-friendly insurance policies.

Among a package deal of some 50 help measures, the entrepreneurial technique makes a reference to “smart regulation” and floats the concept of sandboxing for testing merchandise publicly (i.e. with no need to fear about regulatory compliance first).

The concept of opening up sandboxing is widespread with native gig platform Glovo. “I really believe this is key; allowing innovation to test products/services without having to go through regulatory nightmares to test. This would really drive innovation,” co-founder Sacha Michaud tells us. “This is working well in financial services but could be applied across a wide range of tech areas.”

Attracting extra funding to Spain and bettering inventory choices in order that native corporations can higher compete to appeal to expertise are different key priorities for him.

Michaud says he’s totally supportive of the authorities’s entrepreneurial technique and the Startup Act, whereas not anticipating quick outcomes on account of what he expects might be an extended legislative course of.

He’s much less comfortable about the authorities’s in-train plan to regulate gig platforms, although — arguing that last-mile supply is being unfairly singled on the market. This reform, which is being labored on by the Ministry of Labor, has been pushed by a variety of authorized challenges to platforms’ employment classifications of gig employees in latest years — together with a loss last year for Glovo in Spain’s Supreme Court.

“In Glovo’s case [the government] are specifically looking at regulating only riders, last-mile delivery platforms — yet still allowing over an estimated 500,000 autonomous workers in logistics, services and installations to continue,” says Michaud, dubbing this “very discriminatory; affecting literally a handful of tech companies and ‘protecting’ the status quo of the traditional IBEX35 Spanish companies”.

Asked about progress on the reform of the labor regulation Polo says solely that work is constant. “I don’t have more transparency on the work they are doing. I have probably the same information that you have and the conversations that we have with the different companies, also the gig companies that we keep an open dialogue with,” he says.

But when pressed on whether or not reforming rules to take account of tech-driven modifications to how folks work is a crucial element of the wider entrepreneurial technique he additionally emphasizes that the “ultimate goal” of the nationwide transformation plan is “to generate more and better jobs”.

“We are always inclined to try to foster the companies that generate these better and increasing new jobs,” says Polo. “And I’m sure that the different gig companies that we have in Spain — I know that they understand this ultimate goal. They understand the benefits for the company and for the country of following this path and that they are willing to transform and evolve as the country is also evolving.”

At the time of writing Barcelona can be being rocked by road protests over the jailing of rapper, Pablo Hasél, over certain social media postings — together with tweets criticising police brutality — judged, by Spanish courts, to have violated its felony code round glorifying terrorism.

Spain’s legal guidelines in this space have lengthy been denounced as draconian and disproportionate. Including by Amnesty International — which referred to as Hasél’s imprisonment “an excessive and disproportionate restriction on his freedom of expression”. But Polo dismisses the concept that there’s any contradiction in Spain searching for to rebrand itself as a modernizing, pro-entrepreneur nation at the identical time as Spain’s courts are placing folks in jail over the contents of their tweets. (Hasél is just not the solely artist or citizen to fall foul of this regulation — which has additionally been infamously triggered by social media jokes).

“There’s no opposition of concepts at all,” Polo argues. “Spain is one of the most robust democracies in the world and that is something that is not us who are saying it — it’s the international rankings. And we have a rule of law. And in this case it’s a very clear case of someone who went across the limits that are established in legislation because the freedom of speech has limits of the rights of other people so it’s something that has nothing to do unfortunately with freedom of speech… The reason why Pablo Hasél is in jail is because he promoted terrorism.”

Pressed additional on how ‘jail time for tweets’ would possibly look to a global viewers, he reiterates a latest authorities assertion that they do intend to reform the penal code. “There are very specific things that, yes, we want to reform. Because times have advanced,” he says, including: “We are a more mature country than the one we were in the 1980s. And there are specific things that we want to change in the penal code — but they have nothing to do with the recent events.”

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Graffiti in a Barcelona road protesting towards the imprisonment of rapper, Pablo Hasél, for crimes involving freedom of speech (Image credit score: Natasha Lomas/TechCrunch)

Measures to change mindsets

On the broader difficulty of cultural problem — aka: how to change a nationwide mindset to be extra entrepreneurial — Polo expresses confidence in his mission. He says it’s about ensuring folks see the huge image and their place in the imaginative and prescient of the future you’re presenting to them; in order that they see you’re actively working to convey them alongside for the trip.

“This is one of the things that I feel confident about. Particularly based on my background prior to being in politics. That is helping change mindsets,” he tells TechCrunch. “In the previous I used to be in a position to assist tonnes of individuals understand that they had been able to doing issues that they thought they had been by no means able to doing. My understanding is that in order to generate these cultural modifications you want to do one factor first: That is producing a imaginative and prescient for the future.

“That’s why we insist a lot that by 2030 Spain goes to grow to be an entrepreneurial nation with the best social affect in historical past and that we have now a plan for that… Where we take the entrepreneurship and we assist them spearhead this new innovation mannequin. We leverage all the driving sectors of the financial system so we are literally constructing on success; on the precise success of Spain as a global financial system. And that there’s one thing for you in that plan. That’s why we’re together with in the technique at the foundation of the technique the inclusion insurance policies in order to shut the gender hole, the territorial hole, the socio-economic hole, the generational hole.

“In order to change cultures you need align people into working together towards building something that is greater than themselves and I think that with the Spain entrepreneurial nation strategy we made that first step. And this is why — and this is a parenthesis — that’s why we say the [startup] law is as important as having this strategy.”

That startup regulation — due to be introduced shortly in draft (aka as an anteproyecto de ley) for approval by the Council of Ministers, earlier than going to parliament for a wider debate course of (and potential amendments) — is the first piece of laws aligned with the wider technique. It additionally seems set to be one in all its first deliverables.

Although it’s not clear how lengthy it is going to be earlier than Spain will get its shiny new startup regulation. (The nation’s politics has lacked consensus for years; Sanchez’s ‘progressive coalition’ was solely put collectively after he tried and failed to get a full majority for his Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) twice in a row.)

“That’s something that is difficult to say because there are laws that have a shorter and others that have a longer period of approval,” says Polo, on the timeframe for passing the laws. “For us the important issue here is that the startup law has a full process — so it has a full agreement on every side of the hill so it becomes robust and stable legislation for the years to come.”

This “long awaited” regulation which the ecosystem has been calling for for “years”, per Polo, will deal with a variety of completely different points — from the first authorized “definition” of startup (to replicate differentiation vs different kinds of corporations); to measures to assist startups retain and appeal to expertise.

“We need to reform stock options so that they become a tool in order to compete internationally for talent,” he says, noting that the concept is to allow Spain to compete with regimes already provided by international locations elsewhere in Europe, reminiscent of the UK, France and Germany.

“Also we need to reform VISAs in order to again retain and attract that talent,” he continues. “The president also talked about incentivizing investment and having a certain degree of tax breaks — and we understand that business angels need more incentives. So we have a more ordain and logical system of investment at the pre-seed and seed stage. And many other actions — it’s the Ministry of Economy that will end up with the final text that will be passed in the Council of Ministers in the coming weeks.”

Polo cautions that the regulation received’t immediately repair each gripe of founders and buyers in Spain. Clearly it’s going to be a marathon, not a dash.

“That’s why we have a strategy,” he emphasizes. “I perceive the curiosity in the startup regulation however I at all times say that as vital as the startup regulation is the Spain entrepreneurial nation technique. Because it’s in there the place we deal with the huge issues that we have now as a rustic when it comes to the ecosystem. And in there we have now identified 4 huge challenges that we have now.

“First is funding. We want to speed up the velocity of maturity of the funding in Spain… The numbers have been rising, yr after yr, they usually look actually good. So what we wish to do is to assist speed up these numbers so we’re in a position to run sooner and shut the hole that we have now between us and our neighbours: Basically Germany and France. That they’ve 4x or 5x the variety of funding that we have now in Spain. We actually need to be in ten years in a spot the place Spain may very well be main the funding in modern entrepreneurship in mainland Europe.

“Second problem: Talent. We know that in order to construct the entrepreneurial nation we want all the expertise that we have now. So we want to develop the inside expertise however we additionally want to appeal to worldwide expertise and we want to retain that expertise. So that’s why we had been speaking about the completely different instruments that is perhaps included in the startup regulation.

“The third problem is scaling up. We in Spain have plenty of corporations that assimilate success to promoting. And that’s nice — it’s completely reputable. But what we want as a rustic is to have an growing share of corporations in the future that don’t take into consideration promoting as a synonym of success; however they give thought to shopping for different startups round the world. Of rising. Of scaling up. So they began constructing at the moment the huge corporations that in the future by 2030 they are going to generate 1000’s of excellent high quality jobs in Spain which is the final objective and the backside line of the technique.

“And the fourth goal: Turn the political administration into an entrepreneurial administration. Meaning that the political administration, it’s more agile. That we generate a positive benchmark. And that sometimes the public sector makes the investment that not even the riskier of venture capital funds can do. Because that’s the role of the public sector; to generate this kind of visions and to put the means in in order to achieve those. So among all the challenges that we have in the ecosystem it’s something we have put together in the strategy — that is going to addressed not only with one law but with 50 different measures that we included in the Spain entrepreneurial nation strategy.”

The wider entrepreneur technique talks about 9 precedence actions to be developed in the subsequent two years by way of sure initiatives — which Polo envisages being accelerated in the close to time period with the assist of EU coronavirus restoration funds.

He highlights a few precedence initiatives: One to create a community to hyperlink entrepreneurs and policymakers with the wider ecosystem, and one other to join incubators and accelerators to construct out a nationwide help community for founders — each of which have been impressed by approaches taken in different European international locations.

“Among these projects we have one — Oficina Nacional de Emprendimiento — which is deeply inspired by La French Tech in France. So we want to generate a one-stop-shop for entrepreneurs, investors and the rest of the ecosystem to access all of opportunities of collaboration between the central government, regions and CP councils in order to improve entrepreneurship in their respective areas,” says Polo.

“We produce other initiatives like Renace — which is an acronym for Red Nacional de Centros de Emprendimiento — and in there we’ve additionally been impressed by the community that Portugal has which might be doing such thrilling issues. So what we wish to do is assist join the completely different incubators and accelerators and enterprise builders that we have now in Spain. So they’re at first linked and we add extra worth — however with one explicit focus: The completely different gaps.

“With Renace in particular we want to help close the territorial gap. Because it’s going to be very interesting to be able to work with engineers in Cáceres for a company that is based in Barcelona. Or to work with a team of designers from the Basque country for a company that is setting up in Malaga. With Renace we can help integrate the country and really talk about an entrepreneurial nation and not just cities. So Spain has the potential to build that. And there are many others issues.”

France alone spends billions yearly each on R&D and on direct support for the digital sector. And even with EU funding Spain can’t hope to match the stage of ‘ecosystem’ spend of richer, northern European international locations. But Polo says the plan is to make the most of what it has with the assets it may marshal — therefore, with the Renace challenge, it’s about linking up present incubators/accelerators (and including “a new layer of value” reminiscent of by way of public-private partnerships).

“When you end up reading the Spain entrepreneurial strategy you realize it’s not a billionaire plan of money that you put on the table in order to start building this Spain entrepreneurial nation,” he says. “It’s instead it’s a very robust plan in order to create that vision and putting together the different pieces that we already have — the different assets that we have as a country to start working together intelligently so we can make the best of everything that we can.”

Polo additionally argues that Spain is already doing properly on the startup cluster entrance — saying it stands alone with Germany in having multiple metropolis ranked amongst the prime ten ‘most entrepreneurial’ in Europe, per such listings. More just lately, he says, Spain has risen additional up these listicles — as extra of its cities have popped up in the “global competition for innovative entrepreneurship”.

“Meaning that in different places of Spain there are many cities and regions that have the hunger to become a place that is helping entrepreneurs to create this kind of economy. And we can get many more,” he suggests, pointing to Renace‘s hoped for worth from a social inclusion angle.

“With Renace what we want to do is generate this network and add more value — provide services, get into public-private partnership in order to add the value of the different places that we have in the country. So let’s say that a company in Barcelona can find tonnes of engineers in a city like Cáceres. The company in Barcelona becomes more competitive because the salaries in Cáceres — if you pay them the best salary in Cáceres they could be two-thirds of the salary in Barcelona. So the company in Barcelona becomes more competitive. But also the engineers in the city of Cáceres who want to stay in the region, who want to stay with their family or to have a life-project in Cáceres they can stay. So this is an example of how we can close the territorial gap and also become really integrated startup nation in the full term of nation.”

“The ultimate goal of the Spain entrepreneurial nation strategy is turning Spain into a country that is able to avoid the effects of different crises. And particularly the effects of that we saw in 2008 when the most vulnerable jobs were destroyed overnight — and they were counted by tens of thousands. That particularly struck the young people with unemployment rates that were above 55%. The immigrants and the people over 50. We don’t want that to happen again. So there’s been a very profound reflection on what needed to happen in Spain for that to change. And the conclusion was that we needed to change the productive basis of the country,” he continues.

“That’s why we are putting together a strategy that is going to help the innovative entrepreneurship sector spearhead these new models, this new economic model for Spain. That is going to be leveraging the different driving sectors of the economy — those ten sectors that we state in the strategy — and that as it could not be differently in a 21st century strategy, and particularly a strategy designed by a new generation of politicians and trying to respond to the ambitions of the new generations that is a strategy that is not including the social impact of this phenomenon. So that’s why we are also focused on putting together inclusion policies.”

Polo received’t be drawn into naming any particularly promising startups he’s encountered on his travels round Spain — referring as a substitute to the “tonnes of super innovative companies” he says he’s positive will quickly be disrupting enterprise as regular in Spain and (the authorities hopes) internationally — from battery charging corporations to retail disruptors engaged on new methods to make garments. (“Different kinds of innovations that people can’t imagine,” is his pithy shorthand.)

“What we are trying to do every time we have an opportunity is to also promote the knowledge of these companies — and also help Spanish people and also people abroad — to know that we have everything that we need in order to succeed as a nation and become that entrepreneurial nation with the greatest social impact in history,” he provides, acknowledging {that a} huge a part of his mission is “to tell the rest of the world that we are here”.


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