Today, entrepreneurship has an almost direct relationship to the idea of the Internet. Although the Internet is one of the options most widely used by those who are trying to set up their own businesses, there is also a world beyond the Internet. We talked to three entrepreneurs who, although they do use technology and social networks to adapt to the 21st century, base their businesses on ideas that are quite different from the Internet.
“Consumers demand values from companies”
According to Deloitte’s report ‘The Rise of Social Enterprise’, 84% of millennials believe that companies should also be assessed on their social and environmental performance, not only on their financial merits. Much of this generation seeks to have a positive impact on society and that translates into the way they relate to brands, which, in their view, must maintain a balance between profit and the protection of the planet and the resolution of social problems.
An example of this is Auara, a company that was established in 2014 to develop projects that contribute to providing drinking water to the most disadvantaged people in the world through the sale of bottled water and ecological soft drinks. The idea arose after Antonio Espinosa and Pablo Urbano travelled to countries such as Cambodia, Peru and, especially, Ethiopia. “When Antonio came back from one of his trips to Ethiopia, he was deeply affected by the scarcity of drinking water there. Then, I also travelled there and through an NGO we learned a lot about how to deal with and manage this kind of problem and we obtained first-hand knowledge of what cooperation means”, explains Pablo Urbano, co-founder and CEO of Auara. In addition, Pablo had taken a course on how to establish a business. “I learned what a social enterprise is and what it means: they are companies that sell a product and offer a service but have a very clear social purpose that must be present in their articles of association and closely linked to the activities they perform on a daily basis”, says Pablo.
“Motivated by these two realities, we decided how we could enable these projects that focused on bringing clean water to those in need. We realised that these small projects could be funded on a continuous basis from Spain by offering a continuous source of funds to small local communities” through the sale of bottled water. “We dedicate 100% of the dividends generated by the sale of the products in Spain to social purposes”. A social and sustainable company because “the environmental value is very much part of its DNA, which is why we are committed to becoming the first company in Europe that has 100% recycled pet bottles”, they point out. “We are also trying to encourage responsible consumption. If there is a giant market for bottled water in single-use plastic bottles, let’s take advantage of it in a different way to change things from within, bringing social and environmental values to those products”.
What has been the most difficult part of this entrepreneurial project?
Daily work. It is a complicated and enormously powerful market with many competitors, some of which are very large. It’s not just about making a product, it’s also about selling it, distributing it, collecting it, invoicing it… and as this is such a large volume market… the day-to-day struggle is complicated. And it is also difficult for Auara’s discourse to reach the consumer because although almost everyone shares these values, it is difficult to be there at the precise moment of consumption.
Do you think it is necessary to encourage an entrepreneurial culture from a young age?
Of course, I do. It changed things for me. I studied engineering and in the early years I considered working in a super engineering company or a consulting firm, travelling the world, living abroad … and being familiar with a different way of working is important not only if you are going to become an entrepreneur later or not but because studying this type of options helps you realise that you have to follow a path and processes to establish a company. It is an experience that I recommend, although it’s not for everyone, because there are some ‘risks’. But I think it’s important because we should all be entrepreneurs in our lives and within companies, where we can try to encourage new ideas and ways of doing things that have a social and environmental impact because consumers are changing; we have a lot of information and we demand companies with values.
What have you learned from this experience?
A bit of everything. That it takes a lot of work, that things don’t happen by chance and that they are the result of an effort; and if you want something you have to fight for it. We have also learned how to manage clients, how to treat the people who work with you, empathise with those near you… And every day we learn from the projects we undertake and from the wonderful people in countries and isolated communities around the world who dedicate their lives to other people.