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“We encourage Madrid to believe that it can be the international player it has never been”

Conversation with Carlos Morales, Director of Madrid Platform.  February 2021

Madrid Platform is a multisectoral event that will be held on May 10, 11 and 12. It will be a blended affair, with virtual meetings between companies and an in person program at the Palacio de Cibeles, headquarters of the Madrid City Council. Its raison d’être is to promote Madrid as a meeting point between European and Latin American companies. Carlos Morales, promoter and director, provides many details about this event in this interview with M.I.A. “We hope to generate 1,200 meetings. It would be a major success for the first edition and more so being in the middle of a pandemic”, he advances.

M.I.A.: What is Madrid Platform and how did the idea come about?

C.M.: Let’s start with the idea. Madrid Platform did not originate from an events company, but rather from MSH-Global, a group with twenty years of experience. It is a small company, which I founded, specialized in the internationalization of companies. Thanks to our experience and to our clients, we realized that in the last three or four years the arrival of investment in Madrid had increased significantly, for two very specific reasons.

The first: Miami. From the point of view of investment in America, Miami is a natural starting point. But Trump’s policy of going against multilateralism and his protectionist stance must have upset many potential investors. That is the conclusion reached by us and by a German group that made the same analysis. Between 2018 and 2019, between 2.5 and 4.0 billion euros worth of investment arrived in Madrid. The Salamanca neighborhood was practically acquired by different family offices from Venezuela, Mexico… That made us reflect. The second point was that, in 2019, we received information that Madrid surpassed Barcelona as a destination for meetings. Barcelona has a great image in Latin America, but it falls due to the internal problems of Catalonia

Ours is an analytical domain. In our field, companies often ask us: how do I take the leap? How do I get to this market? We use windows of opportunity. We recommend companies to analyze a market and see where there is a window. On a global level, in the relations between Europe and America, a window of opportunity was opened for Madrid. Naturally, capital began to arrive. The flow from Europe to America was already taking place, because the hub that Iberia has in Madrid is very powerful, with Terminal 4 at the Madrid-Barajas airport and IFEMA, the main operator in Spain in the congress and fair industry. The strange thing is that capital flowed from America to Europe. According to ICEX (the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade), Latin America already is the main source of investment flows in Spain. It is an interesting fact. What we did was go to the valid interlocutor and say: this is happening, and believe that it is the moment for Madrid to believe in its potential at being a global player, because it never has been. And I think we knocked on the right door at the City Hall.

M.I.A.: When did you knock on that door?

C.M.: In 2019. We went to the City Council’s General Directorate of Economy, we raised the subject and they told us: we like what we hear, why don’t you present us with a project? We hired people who are experts in organizing events. Those flows needed to be made more visible and that visibility had to come from an event conducive to the celebration of meetings. Madrid Platform was thus created: a business hub between Europe and America where Madrid is the focal point

M.I.A.: What will there be beyond this event?

C.M.: The event is pure and simple strategic consulting. Our aim is that companies come to generate an ecosystem. How can we boost this ecosystem? Through a technological platform in which we generate a database. When you go to the web and register, you jump directly to that platform, a kind of business Facebook. We handle everything that happens inside to prepare for the 2022 event. Our intention is for this ecosystem to regenerate itself annually. We will start with a small number of companies, but our vocation is long-term. We have been with MSH-Global for twenty years and we believe that we have another twenty to consolidate.

M.I.A.: How has the pandemic affected the organization?

C.M.: We planned the event for September 2020. It was designed for IFEMA and had a very business-like outlook. When the pandemic hit, we had to adapt. We postponed the event and took it to May 2021. We brought the team together to think and gave it a complete makeover.

We opted for the center of Madrid, the Palacio de Cibeles. We split our target into different groups and created products for small businesses. In the international arena, the small company moves in what is called a prescriptive movement: it goes where the large company contracts its services. It does not analyze where its products may be more interesting. We are looking for a more prospective environment and we created the Ágora and the Business Rounds, which in this first edition will be virtual. The two languages of the event are Spanish and English.

Then we have the product for medium and large companies. Keep in mind that the background is globalization, a very reviled but interesting concept. In this field we have created four areas that companies have welcomed with great interest: transition to a green economy, tech disruption, human rights and international business. They are all related to the United Nations sustainable development goals. This product is in person and will have, depending on the situation in May, between 30% and 50% capacity.

M.I.A.: Although the capacity is reduced, will attendees come from outside of Spain?

C.M.: Yes. Let me give you an example. At Ágora, this is our commitment: that a small company who wants to be a speaker for its business model can interact with twenty public companies who want to hear it to be its partner in a given country. There will be fifteen speakers and twenty listeners per speaker, that is, 300 companies. Of the first five registered, the first is a French company, the second Chilean, the third North American and the other two Spanish. Our message, that Madrid is a meeting place between Europe and America, that it makes sense for companies. We have not had to develop it that much: as soon as they have seen the web they have signed up.

The North American company signed up because one of our partners is the Iberia Group. On all long-haul flights, before the entertainment on board comes up, an advertisement for Madrid Platform appears. A Miami company hired the Ágora and we were quite surprised, but we are certain that it came from there.

M.I.A.: What business sectors do you intend to attract?

C.M.: When we designed the team, we hired a content expert: Bárbara Manrique, who has been on the Prisa Group’s committee for eleven years running big events in Latin America and Spain. The first thing was to determine the verticals of interest in the business world. That is why we went to ecological transition, technology, financial content and human rights. Of the SDGs, twelve are related to human rights. From there, there are sub themes: demographics, incidence of health or migration crises in the economy, etc.

What happened when we proposed it to companies? I’ll give you an example. We signed an agreement with ANESE, the national association of energy service companies, which is looking at the possibility of making presentations between them. While we were talking about that, a company told us that the issue of mobility is very important. Ferrovial saw it and proposed a side event. It will be the first International Forum on Urban Mobility and will be included in Madrid Platform. In the field of technology, we are also creating a great forum for digitization because companies like Barrabés, Fundatec, etc have requested it. They are collaborating to put together a program of more than seventy hours of forums, seminars, workshops and pro-business sessions oriented to countries, in which each country presents its opportunities through its chamber of commerce.

M.I.A.: What will Madrid Platform contribute to an SME? And to a large company?

C.M.: The platform itself will generate long-term synergies. It has a powerful matching format. What we are looking for is the constant encounter at the international level. When a small business moves, it is very likely that it will fail. There are thousands of details that can be solved by talking to a peer, with a company of the same size that is already in that environment. That is what we want with the Business Rounds: for a company to meet its peers and learn from international businesses, new reference points and interlocutors in other countries.

At the Ágora we aid the development of local businesses that already work well but who are not present in the international arena. There is, for example, a consolidated French engineering firm without international development. And a wonderful company from Tomelloso which can create, in 48 hours, a parking lot with a recyclable product. These companies can go unnoticed, but in the Ágora they have their space.

M.I.A.: With which institutions do you collaborate at the national level? Do you collaborate with multilateral entities?

C.M.: Without the support of the City Council, Madrid Platform would not make any sense. The Community of Madrid is also there and they bring institutions such as the Chamber of Commerce and its one-stop shop. We ask the institutions not only to support us with a pat on the back, but to bring content. Regarding the City Council, it is interesting that all political groups supported the grant.

At the institutional level, we have the Ministry of Industry and, therefore, ICEX and ENISA. At the business organization level, we have the CEOE, 22 Latin American business confederations, the International Federation of Young Entrepreneurs, the Ibero-American General Secretariat and the Organization of Ibero-American States. The Euroamérica Foundation will provide us with European parliamentarians to discuss some issues, such as free trade agreements and their impact on international trade. There is also Fundatec. Now we are starting with the technology centers. And the clusters that we have in Madrid have already joined. Regarding economic promotion organizations, the vast majority are present: Chile, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, as are all the European chambers of commerce except Germany.

M.I.A.: What will the event bring to Madrid as a city?

C.M.: The point is that, in some way, we have to encourage Madrid to believe that it can be the international player it has never been. Madrid is not an international player: London, Paris, Frankfurt, Milan, New York, Medellín as the technological capital of Latin America, etc., are. Each city looks for its specialty and, in Spain, Madrid is not a player. What surname do we give Madrid? Because Milan is design; Paris, historical heritage and luxury. London is the City; Frankfurt, finance and European money. But Madrid? It seems that it is difficult to come up with something. Real Madrid is well known, but that brings money to the club, not to the city. Our proposal is that a window of opportunity opens on a global level. If we are able to connect the actors who should be linked to the event, no one can take that space away from you. You just have to generate the space year after year and have the institutions continue to believe in the project. The City Council has taken the idea on board.

The Ibero-American General Secretariat is based in Madrid. The Organization of Ibero-American States also, despite the fact that Spain is a very small funder. The Ibero-American Business Council is based in Madrid. Nobody had brought them together and Madrid Platform is going to do just that. Why? Because it is exactly what we were looking for: the pulling capacity of Madrid and the platform that companies get on to develop this proposal. What do we give Madrid? A last name. A character. A space in the international arena, what is to be the operator between Europe and America?

M.I.A.: If you had to give Madrid a “surname”, what would it be? What values does Madrid embody right now and which ones should it enhance?

C.M.: Madrid is like a shy youngster: it has enormous potential, but it does not develop it. I’m not saying that Madrid’s “surname” is going to be Platform, but I reckon that the Platform is going to give Madrid a reputation, as the gateway to Europe or America. We have done webinars with European chambers of commerce and we have asked entrepreneurs: would you go to do business in Nicaragua? Most say no. And would you come to Madrid to do business with a Nicaraguan company? Most say yes. That is the idea behind Madrid Platform.

In my opinion, Madrid has many things going for it. From the company’s point of view, it has Spanish, the language that naturally links us to all of Latin America. That cannot be matched by any capital in Europe. Paris cannot have a Paris Platform with Latin America because it would be very complex. Madrid also radiates strength because large Spanish companies usually have their headquarters here. It is the twelfth safest city in the world, something that may seem like a joke to us but that for Mexico City, Bogotá or Buenos Aires it is of great value. And from the logistical point of view it has it all: IFEMA, the airport, Metro, Renfe, high speed trains. In Madrid all these attributes converge, but Madrid doesn’t sell itself well enough.

M.I.A.: With which cities does it compete?

C.M.: When it comes to meetings, with Barcelona. Miami has the limitation of English: despite the fact that there are many Spanish speakers, the procedures and red tape will have to be dealt with in English. Barcelona’s handicap is that it’s no longer perceived as a safe city.

M.I.A.: How do you plan to develop the event in the coming years?  Will it depend on the support of the City Council?

C.M.: If the City Council didn’t support it, if the city didn’t believe in its own development as an international player, it wouldn’t make much sense. When Madrid Platform reaches its fifth or sixth edition and attracts between a thousand and five thousand companies, I would love for us to speak again. The brand is here to stay.