Spain win Euro2012

I’m tired of hearing people say that you can’t build a world-class start up from Spain. You can’t open a paper nowadays without more news about how Spain is collapsing; this is creating a wrong perception of the country.

It is the Real estate and banking sectors that are completely screwed up in Spain. That and like most other European countries living above one’s means for decades.

But amid the 25% unemployment and banks with 19 Billion € holes, something is happening and its not in football.

One of the best companies in the world is Spanish: Zara, its publicity shy founder: Armancio Ortega is now the wealthiest man in Europe.

Yes world-class companies can be created in Spain and attract world-class teams.

Since I have moved to Spain (my wife is Spanish), I’ve heard every single cliché you can imagine about why it’s the wrong place to be based. From the eco-system is not developed enough to it’s too sunny so people don’t work that hard (although there may be a point there if you look at what economies are doing best in Europe right now, there seems to be nothing South of Denmark other than Germany!)

But seriously, the Spanish are notorious for being the people in Europe that sleep the least and that is not just because they know how to Party.

I’m used to having to fight clichés, I had to do the same for Romania (our main games studio is in Romania, we are developing the one in Spain), one of the countries with the best dev talent in the world.

Ok, there are downsides to being in Spain, yes the start up eco-system is less developed than in London or (over-hyped?) Berlin and, it is divided between Madrid and Barcelona.

But it is better than most would think. Entrepreneurs meet regularly in initiatives such as Chamberi Valley, acquisitions are being made locally (Telefonica buying Tuenti,) and funding is available for early stage (Wayra, Cabiedes and Partners) or even later stage (Nauta Capital or Bonzai). Plus you have real local success stories such as eDreams, Idealista, Privalia, Social Point or Fon. They may not be world-class companies yet, but some do have a shot at achieving that.

Another key thing is talent, if you believe that the future of consumer tech is in great design rather than simply the best technology. Then designers & artists who are almost impossible to find in other European countries are actually quite easy to find in Spain. Also, great weather, good food plus falling cost of living do have the extra benefit of making it easier to attract foreign talent and to retain it.

Most importantly, Spain and the young Spaniards have no choice. With 50% youth unemployment, you are not going to beat the crisis if the society doesn’t become entrepreneurial and embraces start-ups.  The first signs of this are starting to emerge with the multiplication of events and conferences as well as growing government interest and the first (albeit slow) application of entrepreneur friendly laws such as a more flexible labor market. But the Spanish government could yet surprise us, this is after all a country that did a law (now cancelled) designed to attract the best football talent to the Spanish League and clubs: the Beckam law that halved income taxes to 24% for 6 years for international football players. Imagine if they placed the same energy and imagination in getting the best international entrepreneurial talent!

Spain did hit a brick wall but fortunately, entrepreneurs know that every brick wall has a brick door.

Yes Spain is one of the places where in football and in business if you can dream it, you can do it.