The culture of self-employment is deeply ingrained in young people due to the lack of jobs and the desire to develop their own ideas
If the slogan in the 1970s was ‘do it yourself’, the latest economic crisis has made this slogan the punk philosophy of this new generation affected by unemployment. Entrepreneurship and self-employment have become a way of implementing their own ideas and joining the labour market. Four young people who decided to embark on the adventure of building a business tell us how they developed their idea until they were able to make it happen. These are examples of necessity and/or vocation that have resulted in the most entrepreneurial generation in history.
María Ribate – 31
Head of Marketing and Communication at Bibóo Ebikes
When María Ribate was a young girl, she wanted to become a journalist, actress, and many other things. However, she was sure that she wanted to study Business Administration and Management and work in business, according to this 31-year-old woman from Gernika who is working as the head of Marketing and Communication at Bibóo Ebikes, which manufactures and markets electric bicycles.
Until then, Ribate had been working for a company. “All my jobs were good, and I learned a lot”, she says. However, she “always” wanted to become an entrepreneur. “I had been thinking about opening my own business, and a number of issues arose that made it the right time”, she explains. At that time I was living in Barcelona after having spent some time in other places, but I decided to return to “embark on this adventure” together with the original team that started out in this company. “One of the partners has extensive experience in the bicycle industry, and we all love this business”. After travelling to Germany, to Eurobike, the leading fair in this sector in Europe, we were convinced and decided to establish Bibóo”, she recalls.
Bibóo Bike feels “supported” in this adventure and they are “very grateful” for the assistance from the Provincial Council of Bizkaia and the Bilbao Chamber of Commerce, and from related businesses, individuals, and the media. “Being chosen for the B-Venture meeting organised by El Correo put us on the map and established our brand, which led to the first synergies”, she explains.
However, Ribate warns that becoming an entrepreneur “is not a bed of roses and we have come up against obstacles along the way, and we still do”.
The first challenge is to find a way into such a new industry and market (electric bikes). Providing end customers with good products, building an on-line and off-line marketing strategy, and performing good commercial activities were some of their goals. And last but not least, finding the necessary funding. “All these obstacles can be overcome with hard work and enthusiasm”, she says.
Óscar Villanueva Cañizares – Age: 36
Co-founder of Arrecife Energy Systems
Óscar Villanueva cannot remember exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up, “probably a fireman or something connected with sports and nature”. However, as he grew up, he became interested in industrial engineering and business. Therefore, establishing his own business with other partners became the obvious path to take. As a result, Arrecife Energy Systems was established; a company dedicated to transforming the energy of waves into electricity.
Having worked in a large energy company served as a training period that enabled him to take on this project. “My co-founding partners and I had been thinking about several projects for years and we looked at them one-by-one until we found the one that could generate a long-term sustainable business. When we found it, we jumped right in”, he explains. His main motivation was “to be able to decide my future and that of my company, to be able to think and decide, not simply take orders. Intrinsic innovation and fast decisions are other aspects that make you want to become an entrepreneur”.
The business, he concedes, was the idea of José Javier Doria, one of the co-founders. “Iñigo Doria and I took up this great idea that has the potential to change the marine renewable energy industry and we made it into a business”, he added. Although the experience has been positive, he acknowledges that they had to deal with red tape, funding issues, and access to investment capital, but that they had the support of the Provincial Council of Bizkaia and the Basque Government. “The rest has been the result of the efforts of their team, the participation in start-ups, business incubators, and competitions, winning prizes in Spain, Europe, and the United States, where they like the project very much”, says Villanueva.
Zaloa Urrutikoetxea Portugal – 36
CEO at Taskia
This is the second time Zaloa Urrutikoetxea has started a business from scratch. When this telecom engineer was 27, she was working for a company in the Zamudio wind park, which asked her to travel to Argentina to manage and set up a subsidiary in Latin America. She travelled to Argentina, where she established lalcubo, a company that develops interactive experiences in the fields of education, culture, and marketing. “Argentina was a green market regarding the technology we used and, therefore, the impact we had with our projects was excellent, and we attracted some very important customers”, she stresses. However, becoming a mother increased her desire to “come home to my land and live in a village rather than in a big city like Buenos Aires; so, four years ago, I moved back with my husband and daughter to Basauri”, she says. Back in Bizkaia, “neither the competition nor the market was adequate to continue with lalcubo, so I found a job for about a year. However, once you have been an entrepreneur, it is very difficult to go back to work for another person”, she says. Therefore, almost two years ago, she decided to launch Taskia, a collaborative platform used to hire domestic services.
“To date, we have been using the capital the partners contributed. In 2018, we plan to apply for public aid and seek private funding”, she says, as Taskia is a high volume project. “Our business model is based on commissions for transactions undertaken and, therefore, we need thousands of transactions a month to become profitable. It is a business that will take 3 or 4 years to become profitable and we shall need some investment until then”, she explains.
Iñaki Pertusa – 34
Although he had always considered working in the field of medicine, his studies eventually led him towards the field of engineering. “In the end, I specialised in business management; therefore, there is a world of difference from what I had wanted to become to what I eventually became”, stresses Iñaki Pertusa, partner of DeciData S.L., a consultancy firm that helps its customers transform into data-based businesses through applying Big Data and Advanced Analytics to their decision making processes.
In this case, he had been working in the strategic consultancy field for eight years. “It was a positive experience, as it allowed me to develop a work methodology, to become target oriented, and to embrace teamwork; skills that I have been able to apply in my current company. In addition, working on different projects, in very diverse companies, at different levels of responsibility has provided me with an excellent understanding of how organisations work”, he comments.
Like all decisions in life, a number of circumstances and factors randomly came together that led to him becoming an entrepreneur, he explains. “Firstly, a few months before making the decision, I had finished an ENBA at the IESE, one of the best business schools in the world. During the course, we discussed and analysed very interesting projects, which makes you think about what you are actually doing and what you would like to be doing. Secondly, I was in a position in my company in which it would have been very difficult to advance any further and take on more responsibility. And thirdly, one of my current partners, Pedro Ruiz Aldasoro, had luckily just finished another business project and he contacted me to discuss an idea that eventually became DeciData. He had the vision to see the changes in the decision-making processes of businesses”, he remembers.
The key to the success of DeciData is its team. “Without the selfless work of all our people, we would not be here today struggling to become a leading company in Advanced Analytics. Furthermore, thanks to the support and trust of our customers, the funding of the company is 100% in the hands of our partners, and this allows us to manage our growth in an organic manner”, says Pertusa.
What is your take on business incubators, accelerators, and municipal centres for promoting employment? Have you used any of them?
-María Ribate: I think anything that promotes and supports employment, entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship is very interesting. New companies add to the business fabric and that is always good for the growth of the economy and development of the region.
-Óscar Villanueva: I think it’s a great initiative to encourage innovative projects that would otherwise not have the sufficient solidness to attract “venture capital” or “business angels”, that do not have customers and that, therefore, are not interesting for “corporate” investment, therefore creating a vicious cycle. Without these initiatives, it would be impossible to start projects like ours that require a lot of hardware and, therefore, a large initial investment.
-Zaloa Urrutikoetxea: When you have a partner with experience in business and in the Internet, such as Hispavista, you do not need the services of an incubator or accelerator. However, when I came back from Argentina, I went to a Behargintza, but the advice was mainly directed at street level commerce and helping people with the red tape required to obtain a subsidy from the Provincial Council. Therefore, a high-volume digital business, which would not be profitable after the second year, didn’t fit in there.
-Iñaki Pertusa: Yes, before we established the business we had the support of the Beaz (Provincial Council) and of the Basque Government. In addition, we won two business competitions organised by the public administrations, and Bind 4.0 is the programme that helped us most, from a training point of view, with top-level advisers and mentors, and providing access to contracts with large industrial companies in the Basque Country. However, the public administrations still have a lot to do regarding the flexibility and effectiveness of their aid programmes for entrepreneurs. We often came across red tape when we wanted to apply for aid that ended up causing untold problems regarding the time required and bureaucratic issues they were supposed to solve. The public administrations should overcome their image as entities that approve (and control) the aid, and rather become partners with which we can develop a business project. Depending on the company and team, sometimes the aid required would be money and other times it could be something else. Now, the public administrations do not have this flexibility, making them less effective.
Do you think there is an entrepreneurial culture in the Basque Country?
-M. R.: There is an entrepreneurial culture, but there is also a distaste for risk. We are still far behind other countries. There is still that fear of failure that is linked to the fact that if the project is unsuccessful, we see it as a failure instead of seeing the experience obtained and accumulated, or valuing a person’s initiative. This is gradually changing and there is an increasing number of people deciding to launch their projects, and new initiatives are also attracting more support from the public and private sectors.
-O. V.: Absolutely. I am sure that we were able to launch the business because we are in the Basque Country. It would probably have been more complicated in other parts of Spain or Europe.
-Z. U.: I don´t think so. I like going to entrepreneurial and start-up events and after three or four events you know everyone because the same people always go. I think that many people became entrepreneurs out of need rather than through any entrepreneurial spirit.
-I. P.: Traditionally, there has always been a great entrepreneurial drive in the Basque Country. There is still a dynamic spirit when it comes to opening businesses and break-offs that originate in other companies with more mature projects. However, once again, this profile is far from the entrepreneurial image of success we have now and fits more with a negative idea of people in business that has arisen in recent years. Regarding projects that start from scratch, the failure rate is very high by definition. You need a very active ecosystem and a critical mass for them to become successful. The Basque Country is a market of two million people and, therefore, you need to have a global vocation.
Is being young a handicap or an advantage when deciding to become an entrepreneur?
-M. R.: There are pros and cons. On the one hand, when you are young you are more daring perhaps because you have fewer responsibilities or you are more irresponsible. On the other hand, this lack of control may turn against you and, you have less accumulated experience, which is a very important value. In any case, there is no ideal age to become an entrepreneur. It’s more about the will and the project.
-O. V.: It depends on where you are trying to launch your start-up. From a cultural point of view, young people trying to become entrepreneurs does not go down well, they don’t have the credibility, and if they fail, rather than seeing it as a positive experience, they focus on the negative aspects. This does not happen in the USA, for example, where entrepreneurs are highly respected.
-Z. U.: I think age is not as relevant as attitude. I like the formula the speaker Victor Küppers uses when he says what you need is (k-s)*a. Where k is knowledge, s are skills, and a is attitude. In other words, knowledge and skills add up, but attitude multiplies. Over the years you acquire greater knowledge and more skills, but you also find it harder to adapt to changes and, when you are an entrepreneur, you have to learn to change direction quickly when things no longer work.
-I. P.: Being young allows you to dedicate more energy and enthusiasm to a project. Starting a business is difficult and involves a lot of suffering and hours of work. Therefore I think it helps to be young. However, I believe you need to have some experience in the business and the market you want to access because, if you don’t, you are going to make a lot of mistakes. The image going around of a young person just out of university who starts a business and becomes rich in a few years is a lie.
What is more difficult, opening or maintaining a business?
-M. R.: Clearly, keeping it going.
-O. V.: No question about it. You can launch one in a week for a few euros.
-Z. U.: Keeping a business afloat inevitably implies adapting to the environment and diversifying. This type of business model requires volume and, therefore, it is difficult to attract new users all the time.
-I. P.: Creating a company is easy. All you need is a bit of capital to set it up and go to a public notary. The difficult part is creating a sustainable project with a recurring turnover that allows you to develop. If you manage not to die in the attempt to set up a business, the next step is to manage growth (sales, personnel, etc.). That’s where it starts to get difficult.
Having embarked on the adventure of becoming entrepreneurs, would you recommend it? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this experience?
-M. R.: If it is what you really want to do, I would recommend it. You always see the romantic and beautiful side of launching projects you really believe in, but it also requires a lot of sacrifice, and there is anxiety, fear, etc. You have to be prepared to fight for something in which you believe. Everything you learn along the way will be worth it.
-O. V.: Of course. It’s a tough experience but it is also gratifying and it allows you to develop as a person and acquire some knowledge that you would not acquire otherwise. I would recommend it 100%.
-Z. U.: The advantages or disadvantages are similar to those that you could have in a job in which you have to achieve certain targets, which are sometimes difficult and sometimes not so difficult.
-I. P.: No. I don’t think you should encourage anyone to become an entrepreneur just as you shouldn’t encourage anyone to do something they don’t want to do. Being an entrepreneur involves the constant need to manage uncertainty, which is very complicated at a professional and personal level. Entrepreneurship is a crucial area for society, but it must be an initiative that you really believe in and not something based on a fad or on the existence of some support from the public administrations.