María Saiz is directing the first Master’s Degree in Entrepreneurship at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU). However, she has widespread experience in this field as she teaches subjects and courses on enterprise creation in five postgraduate courses. A genuine enthusiast that wants to introduce self-employment to the classrooms of secondary schools because she believes that students should know that many professions “necessarily require an entrepreneurial element”. However, she acknowledges that not all people have the necessary skills to embark on an adventure with an uncertain future.

– What led you to launch this master’s degree?
This master’s degree is completely new. It arose from years of experience in the business creation programme at the UPV/EHU and the implementation of three university start-up incubators on campus. Actually, the master’s degree was designed to support the UPV/EHU’s business creation programme, which mainly focusses on university spinoffs, i.e. companies with a high technological element, in which the promoters are mainly of a scientific and technological nature and have no knowledge of the market or of preparing business plans. Therefore, we are trying to train partners and collaborators for those technical experts, people capable of making the most of the results of scientific research to establish companies that will generate employment and wealth in the province.

– How many students are taking the course?
There are 20 and we have all bit of everything. As it is based in the Economic and Business Science School, there are more students from business and economy studies, but there are also people dedicated to music, audio-visual communication experts, engineers, philologists, sociologists…

– What skills do they acquire?
More or less half of the course is dedicated to providing training in management and business guidance to teach people how to manage any type of organisation. Therefore, the skills acquired focus on managerial skills, marketing and finance and there is also a small part dedicated to human resources. The other 50% focusses on business models. This is where they have to create new initiatives, even within large companies; they must be able to contribute ideas, shape them, define various business models, defend them and bring them to the market. In addition, the master’s degree has been granted some specific Erasmus+ places for students who want to go to a business incubator at a European university. The goal is that they can take an idea and try it in another country. Sometimes, European incubators may be looking for someone, like one of our students, to be the link that will distribute their product in our country. These grants combine business and trading goals.

– I suppose internationalisation is also part of the course.
Internationalisation is a core subject. We understand that any initiative that will arise will be of a technological nature and these all have an internationalisation component whether you like it or not. In fact, what I have seen at the UPV incubators – incidentally the UPV is the second university in the country to create spinoffs in the last three years – is that they design something that is extremely innovative and they then experience the commercial frustration of finding that their first customer is in Japan because our domestic industry does not need such state-of-the-art technology yet.

– What characteristics must an entrepreneur have?
I don’t believe much in individual skills, rather in group skills. Among individual skills, you need a person who is brave, creative, an optimist, resistant to frustration, well-organised and who is capable of thinking big; who is not afraid to grow to develop the region and create employment. The latter characteristic distinguishes entrepreneurs from the self-employed; I make that distinction.

– Clearly, not everyone has what it takes…
That’s true. This is a tragedy of the secondary school university guidance service because if a student is very good at technical drawing and art and he or she is told that they could study to become an architect, their counsellor fails to tell them that that choice of profession will clearly require them to become self-employed because if not, they will not be able to sign-off projects. If you want to study law, they don’t tell you that you will have to become an entrepreneur; the same if you become a dentist and now the same for journalism… There are lots of professions that require you to become an entrepreneur and they are not told about that; it is as if it were simply part of life. It should be more widely present at secondary schools and universities. Furthermore, I think it is necessary to combine both worlds in the educational scope. I still fail to understand why university teachers don’t talk to secondary school teachers and vice-versa. There are two worlds that need to be connected and entrepreneurship is the perfect excuse.

– What are the main concerns an entrepreneur has to face?
The same as any person who wants to open a company would have; everyone needs to have a good idea, know how to find the necessary subsidies, assistance for the business plan… On the other hand, there is very little legal training on what opening a business entails; nobody knows that establishing a joint ownership implies present and future liabilities on your property and that of your family. Lawyers are not extensively trained on this and there is a great lack of knowledge. The institutions are not doing things correctly either. There is no sense in so much red tape when it comes to opening a business. On the legal side, there is a void. It cannot be that our politicians are directing people to become self-employed but fail to inform them that if they are self-employed and they are married under a joint property arrangement, if they are unlucky and the business fails they will be leaving debts to their spouse and children and people do not know this until they go through such a situation. It is unworthy to push people to take that path. When it is so easy to create a limited company… I believe that disinformation is so widespread that even the person disseminating it is not aware of the drama it can lead to.

– Are they sufficiently supported by the public administrations?
The Basque Country is the region where more and better support is provided; and when I say “more” I do not mean money but the quality of the civil servants that provide guidance when opening companies. There are excellent experts supporting projects in the provincial councils of Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa and some of the city councils (Getxolan, Bilbao Ekintza, Inguralde…) have long track records. Beaz Bizkaia is the best of the best; I don’t think there is a better public agency in the country in this field.

– You also direct the Summer School for teachers dedicated to motivating this entrepreneurial spirit.
Yes, the idea is to motivate teachers so that the value of entrepreneurship is a core element within their subjects. This is a method I learned about quite a few years ago at the University of Valencia; we brought it to Bilbao and, in fact, during the second year, we implemented it in cooperation with them. At the beginning of March, those of us who have a bit of experience in this field met in Valencia, at the MOTIVEM forum, to speak to teachers from other regions. We want to weave a network of teachers in favour of entrepreneurship and bring it into the classrooms. The idea is to provide teachers with creative techniques that will enable them to teach their subjects and also get students interested in this option.