During my recent trip to Spain, I fell in love with the people, culture, music, food and sites. The experience was amazing! I loved that in each town we had Spaniards and locals to meet and hang out with. The locals were excited to share their culture and show me how they actually lived, ate, drank, communicated, conducted business. While in Spain, I traveled with Luis, a climbing buddy I had climbed with in Los Angeles for a few years. He’s moved back to Madrid and is a physics teacher in the school system facing wage cuts so he was very enlightening to chat politics with. They are facing a 25% unemployment rate nationally and the younger generation, the graduates are at 50% unemployment. The highest in the European Union.
I also met for tapas and cervezas with Alex Mason, a budding Canadian entrepreneur I met in San Francisco but moved to Madrid to pursue a business venture including joining a tech incubator. Miguel Galera, CEO of Grupo IntegralCom and Director of the local chapter for Founder Institute, treated us to a wonderful local lunch of Spanish style. They all acknowledged even though they are in a crisis, there are still some cultural challenges they need to overcome to truly grow the tech community . One thing they both mentioned is the slower pace Spaniards adopt new technology. They have hope they can overcome that and be part of the growing tech community there,thus creating jobs and boosting the economy.
In Barcelona, I met with Laia Roisch, a psychologist and female entrepreneur who was going to speak at Women2.0. She was accompanied by several female friends also in the tech community as a positive sign that women are gathering taking part of this industry. They shared with me how Barcelona and Spain has changed since the crisis. It’s one thing to see it on the news but another thing to hear it from the people who live it.
Oriol & Urs, the directors of the new Barcelona chapter about to open for Founder Institute, shared with me the challenges they have experienced especially in the tech startup community during the crisis. The funding has dried up when optimism dissipated and the risk was too high for most foreign investors to gamble on. They shared what they see as the difference between commerce in Barcelona versus Madrid, especially how the people and their attitude change the atmosphere of doing business.
I have gathered from speaking with everyone and from my time in Spain, Barcelonian and Cataloynians are more entrepreneurial and adopt technology more readily. Barcelona is more modern and so are the attitudes of the people who live there. Madrid is the capital so more businesses are headquartered there. The technology education is better in the schools and universities in Madrid thus creating a better talent pool. Both cities are tourist hot spots which attracts international talent, especially from neighboring countries who are also in financial crisis.
My personal feeling is immigration during these tough times forces people to really challenge themselves to think of a better way of doing things. To reassess, to innovate. This is seen by a rash of new neighborhood bars and restaurants opening open catered to locals serving fusion cuisines at affordable prices. Evening when during a crisis the Spanish know how to enjoy themselves, go out with friends to bars and tapa hopping has not slowed down. Spain has shown me that the people there are resilient and will withstand yet another financial crisis. The hope, the talent and the people are gathering, their people will prevail.