Conversation with Laura González-Estefani, Founder and CEO of TheVentureCity. July 2020
TheVentureCity is a global accelerator, which understands that talent can be found worldwide but that startups born outside of Silicon Valley need an additional push. To date, it has invested 30 million euros – 60% in series A and the rest in series B funding or higher – in twenty different companies, both Spanish, Latin American and US. TheVentureCity has an international team with members of fifteen different nationalities and two locations, one in Miami and the other in Madrid. We spoke with Laura González-Estefani, its founder and CEO, about the potential of Madrid and the role of the administration in creating tech hubs.
M.I.A.: TheVentureCity is an accelerator with a global focus and an international team, but its headquarters are in Miami and Madrid. Was it clear to you that a venue was going to be in Spain and you decided between several cities, or from the beginning did you go for Madrid? if so, why?
L.G.: Madrid has always been key in TheVentureCity as a headquarters in Europe for various reasons. First of all, because it has above average talent. Geographical location is key when you have companies who want to access Africa and Latin America. In this sense, Madrid is also unbeatable. And, in a more personal note, I am from Madrid and nothing makes me more proud than being able to demonstrate to the world that the city where I was born is going to be one of the most important tech hubs in the world.
M.I.A: How many people work at the Madrid headquarters and how many at the Miami headquarters? What activities are carried out in each one and how do they complement each other?
L.G.: In Madrid there are fourteen people in our team and eight ‘startups’ in our portfolio, which in turn employ more than sixty people in total. In Miami it is the same. Miami is the equivalent of Madrid for America. It is the city that best connects the continent from North to South and from coast to coast, and also with Europe. It is a city in full growth and full of diversity. It is full of entrepreneurs and cultures from all over the world. In addition, it is a landing point for European companies in the United States. Internationalization is one of the key aspects of TheVentureCity, both from Europe to the United States and from the United States to Europe or Latin America. That triangle is dominated by Miami and Madrid.
M.I.A.: You have been with the program for three years. What do you think about the progress made by Madrid’s startup ecosystem? What would it take to get off the ground and catch up with London or Berlin?
L.G.: The first thing that comes to mind instinctively is more support… but let me to qualify that. There is a lot of money dedicated to supporting the business fabric, but it is not well structured for startups. The immediacy, the understanding of the opportunity in the risk and the agile interconnection between the members of the ecosystem is paramount. The best initiatives are private, none are public, and that is precisely what is needed now.
Madrid can be on par with Berlin or London. We have plenty of potential, we have the knowhow, maybe we just need to finetune a few things.
M.I.A.: The Madrid City Council has promoted five clusters, of which three are eminently technological: cybersecurity, ‘fintech’ and ‘insurtech’, ‘big data’ and artificial intelligence. The idea is to bring together large companies, universities, SMEs and startups to take advantage of network synergies. The construction, engineering and infrastructure and circular economy sectors also play a part. Do you think that the chosen sectors are right or are you missing any?
L.G.: Bravo! They are perfect! How can we help you? Spain is very good at cybersecurity, finance and, without a doubt, infrastructure. If we structure the support for these clusters well, the sky’s the limit!
M.I.A: How do an accelerator and a cluster relate? What can they contribute to each other?
L.G.: I think the editor is not going to let us have the space needed to describe how to set up the attack plan. But the most important thing is to design incentives properly, to incentivize private companies to work with tech startups and to encourage officials to work with startups. Protecting intellectual property, setting up one and only one ‘tech hub’ for companies in the center of Madrid, like Station F in France is also very important. Station F is a joint project between the French government, the city of Paris, Facebook and an association of local entrepreneurs and investors. They have converted an old train station into a workspace, with collective areas and private offices. They offer grants and programs. In this way, both startups in the earliest stages of development and some scale ups and corporate startups who want to keep up to date with the latest developments can work together. They have training programs, talks, benefits to use services… It is a base to build together and generate employment.
Ideally it should be set up with the advice of successful entrepreneurs that are already present in Madrid. Communities are created by interacting with other communities.
M.I.A.: What support has TheVentureCity received from Madrid’s public administrations? Is there anything you would like to highlight or think needs improving?
L.G.: Unfortunately, we have not received any support so far. Although we have tried.
M.I.A.: How could the Madrid administration help TheVentureCity?
L.G.: More meeting spaces, better programs for tech entrepreneurs, promoting public-private investment.
M.I.A.: How would you compare the ecosystems of Madrid and Miami, the support of both administrations and, finally, their plans in the medium and long term?
L.G.: They are not comparable, unfortunately. The Miami administration does not help tech entrepreneurs in any way, it is not on their agenda. There is no infrastructure, no financial aid, and no agility. It is all private action and foundations. Both ecosystems are at the same level of immaturity and, consequently, of opportunity. I think the desire to help is there, and so is the capital, but things are not working. I feel the responsibility to highlight Madrid globally, not only at the European level, where I am a member of the European Innovation Council.