Class of 2012: Young Spaniards launch startups

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 10, 2013 at 8:31 am •  Published: March 10, 2013
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After 18 months of 70-hour work weeks, few weekends off and skimping on costs by walking or taking public transport to visit clients, the hard work has paid off: Factoria 5 has completed 65 projects and makes money — if not always a profit.

During down months, they take home almost nothing but have always managed to pay their monthly costs of about â,7/82,000 for rent and other office expenses, plus national health care and social security. Right now they're working on videos to showcase an office building in El Salvador, corporate headquarters in Puerto Rico, furniture in Madrid and advertising space for fragrances in Barcelona; about 90 percent of their work is for projects abroad.

The architects consider the result a victory given the terrible state of Spain's economy. But the success is bittersweet: They don't think they'll ever build the real buildings they dreamed about during their studies: Museums, apartment buildings, and a government offices like those that country built with no end in sight until the construction boom crashed in 2008.

Gonzalez del Castillo, who plans to seek architecture work abroad once he gets his degree, respects his friends' resolve: "Sometimes it seems that the hardest part ... is to go abroad, but maybe it is harder to stay here and try to face it, changing the way you work."

Across the country, other young entrepreneurs working on separate ventures are increasingly banding together in groups of 10 or so to jointly rent office space, splitting the bill and sometimes the cost of a secretary to serve all of their different businesses.

"Many of these people don't hold out much hope of getting a traditional job with a Spanish company for the next 15 years or so but they are creative, so they decide to create their own businesses," said Ricardo Ibarra Roca, the 28-year-old president of The Spanish Youth Council, which represents 76 Spanish associations representing young adults.

Far from Madrid's center, in an industrial park that's home to countless auto repair shops, more than two dozen mostly 20-something application developers, sales representatives, community managers and content editors work in an open loft office space for social travel startup Minube (Mycloud in Spanish), which provides travel experiences from users around the world in multiple languages on its Internet site and smartphone applications. The company had revenue of â,7/81 million last year, and is forecasting an increase of 40 percent this year.

"If we weren't in crisis, it's possible this company wouldn't exist," said founder Raul Jimenez, 35. "The great opportunity is innovation, and the crisis is helping because it pushes people out of their comfort zone."

Spanish companies that are successful traditionally move to better digs and prime locations when successful, but Jimenez decided to move just a few blocks within the industrial park when Minube's space got too small.

The company also breaks traditional business norms by having shifts that end at 5:30 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. instead of later or when the boss leaves the office, no two-hour Spanish lunches and no separate offices for higher-ups. The formal attire common in Spanish companies is unknown here. In a country where directors of company often closet themselves in expansive offices, the Minube interns sit next to Jimenez.

Minube's growth has coincided precisely with Spain's economic decline. It got its start with a â,7/8400,000 loan in 2007 before the crisis hit, but hasn't been able to obtain any credit for expansion since then, so all income has been plowed back into operations and the company ruthlessly keeps costs down. Surviving in an era of austerity is an accomplishment, Jimenez says, and he senses a mindset change among Spaniards toward work after years of bad economic times with no end in sight.

During Spain's boom times, Jimenez recalled, it wasn't uncommon or frowned upon in Spain for workers to quit jobs, and go on unemployment with monthly government payments until they were ready to take on another easy-to-find job. While that's also happened in other countries, Jimenez said the attitude change in Spain has been profound.

"Five years ago, people would go to the beach for six months and then find another job. Now everyone wants to work," he said. "When the comfort zone breaks apart, it changes people. I've never before seen the spirit of change that there is now. I have friends who are leaving big companies so they can experiment."

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Online:

Factoria 5: http://www.factoria5.com

Minube: http://www.minube.net

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Follow Alan Clendenning on Twitter at www.twitter.com/alanclendenning



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