spanish initiatives

Why are there not more Spanish startups? OkuriSpaces aim to change that

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[Spain] You don’t often hear start-ups bursting forth from Spain and flourishing abroad.  Nowhere near compared to what you see appearing from other European countries such as Germany, UK and France, among others. Why not? Others have noticed this dearth of activity, and there are increasing numbers of initiatives geared specifically toward driving the Spanish start-up scene.

After a lot of planning, Okuri Ventures along with Alex Barrera, have created Okuri Spaces, a collaborative (and affordable) space for startups and Tetuan Valley. Last week they launched their first major initiative, local Startup School for young entrepreneurs, based in Madrid.

They plan on helping cultivate young programmers into entrepreneurs, injecting them with the knowledge they need to create international, worthwhile ventures.  But I’ll let them tell you about it in their own words. This interview may well spark a new debate about startups in Spain:

1. Explain the relationship between Okuri Ventures, Okuri Spaces, Tetuan Valley and Alex Barrera. Who are the founding members of Okuri Ventures?

Okuri Ventures links investors and entrepreneurs through different activities including advisory and support services like angel investments and a co-working space (Okuri Spaces). Okuri Ventures was founded in Autumn of 2008 and we are currently working on raising a micro fund for early stage seed investments.

The Partners, Luis Rivera (@luisriverag), Bernardo de Tomas (@btkutz) and Jose Orgaz (@joseorgaz) have been working together since 1999.

The Tetuan Valley project was started with Alex Barrera (@abarrera), founder of Inkzee who got the ball rolling with his jokes about Tetuan Valley. Tetuan Valley is an non-profit organization aiming to congregate technological initiatives in Tetuan, a central district of Madrid. We are seeking the incorporation into the organization of representatives from the different startups based “in the Valley” and Academic and Governmental supporters over the next months.

2. Why Startup school? Why Okuri Spaces? What do you personally feel is missing in Spain? What will you bring? And why do you expect to change things and be different?

Startup school is the first initiative of the Tetuan Valley project.

The Startup School is the tool we are using to change the way people perceive startups in Spain. Even though Spain is a country with a good deal of companies, most of them are that, companies, more precisely, brick and mortar companies. There is close to no knowledge as to how a startup works, thinks or operates, what are the propositions behind a startup, what’s the working cycle of a startup, etc.  So, in spite of all adversities, we thought it would be beneficial to bring “the way of the startup” (Silicon Valley, US entrepreneurial mentality) to Spain, to young entrepreneurs with plenty of ideas, knowledge and drive but lack of understanding on how and why to do it.

Spain is missing a state of mind.  Society in Spain is extremely conservative and very risk averse.  So, to succeed in Spain as an entrepreneur is extremely difficult, not only for the lack of understanding in technology, but for the social pressure exerted by all the pieces that need to be in place for a successful venture (resources, knowledge, academia, angels, VCs, etc.).

Most initiatives in Spain only focus on the business academics or the money raising stage, we focus on the actual startup mentality behind success. The money raising is up to the teams, even though we aid them in the process, but we try to get them to the point in which they can compete with international startups and not only that, but beat them at their own game, let it be raising money or grabbing new clients/users.

3. Who is Startup school geared at?

Computer Science and Telecommunication Engineers currently finishing their studies that are hacking a prototype that could become a startup. 50 year old hackers also qualify.

4. What does Startup school consist of?

It is a bit like a parachuting baptize mixed with the Navy Seals boot camp. Entrepreneur-candidates are expected to work and suffer like they would if they launched for real by forcing them through an accelerated training program on “the way of the startup” and the development of their application during six weeks. Most activities will be covered through Twitter (@tetuanvalley) and the blog ( so you can follow us almost in real time

5. What does Okuri Ventures do, other than the Startup School? Does Okuri Ventures also have an investment fund they are using or will use to invest in initiatives other than those born out of the Startup school? How will Okuri Ventures and Alex Barrera get involved in the startups that MAY take birth during startup school?

Okuri Ventures is always looking for high potential investments and may offer investment backup or sweat equity collaborations to any participating startups. We have obviously considered applying the YCombinator model to startup school, but believe this first edition should have higher degrees of freedom both for us and the participants.

Okuri Ventures also offers Okuri Spaces as a co-working space that supports entrepreneurs by providing them with the basic infrastructure and a dynamic community to help them launch their startup.

Alex Barrera is the current Resident Hacker at Okuri Ventures. He gives strategic tech advice to startups within Tetuan Valley and the Okuri portfolio companies.

6. How will you measure success?

With metrics ;) We believe we have been successful just by providing the right ecosystem for talented engineers to work on their projects. Obviously we hope some initiatives will become successful startups thanks to the support of our collaborators but the Startup School can add value in a number of ways that should be measured:

* % of candidate-entrepreneurs that convert their technical idea into a business prototype that can be demoed to potential clients and investors
* % of candidate-entrepreneurs that turn down an employment offer from Google or McKinsey
* % of initiatives launched that cover their fundraising objectives and survive the first year
* % of initiatives that bootstrap or ration resources from investors to reach profitability
* Number of candidate entrepreneurs that learn through first hand experience they are not ready and seek out other experience without “going all in”

On a more qualitative note, collaborators will see their efforts rewarded through

* Screening and due diligence of high potential ventures
* Feedback to improve the process and criteria Okuri Ventures uses to filter investment pre-early stage opportunities
* Recruitment of talented supporters that want to join startups from the Okuri Tribe
* Recognition of their contribution to the entrepreneurial community in Spain

Photo credit: Paulo Brandão

  • LondonVC

    Barcelona-based Linqia is a Spanish startup to watch

  • Ramón Suárez

    You have a great opportunity to see Spanish webtrepreneurs at EBE09, the second largest participative web event in Europe. It will take place in Seville (Spain), from the 13 to the 15 of November.

    Robin Wauters (TC) will address the audience on Saturday.

    Plus, you will have a chance to see a group of Belgian webtrepreneurs presenting their companies also.

  • Alex Barrera

    @LondonVC we do know Linqia and they’re a startup to watch indeed.

    I personally adore their CEO María Sipka :)

    • Conor Neill

      I am also a keen member of the Linqia CEO Maria’s fanclub ;-)

  • Enrique

    Do not miss (, one of the hottest startups from Barcelona.

  • Monica Perez

    Good initiative Alex! What Spain needs to recover from this crisis is more entrepreneurs and less Plan E!

    Congratulations to you and Okuri Ventures!

    • Alex Barrera

      Hey Monica, thanks a lot! Yeah deserve something better than Plan E, maybe a Plan Entrepreneur!

      Thanks again! :)

  • juan


    we could discuss if the plan E is useful or not, but it is not a problem for entrepreneuring.

    The real problem for entrepreneuring is the state spending in R+D in big companies and universities, basically for nothing but unfair competetition.

    A lot of people prefers to remain in the university with a bad income but nothing to do, but with nice space, sport courts very close, becoming useful slaves of teachers, preparing their papers and the bureaucracy to steal more and more funds for nothing.

    • portuguese in spain

      “…A lot of people prefers to remain in the university with a bad income but nothing to do, but with nice space, sport courts very close, becoming useful slaves of teachers, preparing their papers and the bureaucracy to steal more and more funds for nothing.”

      They are not “potential entrepeneurs”, as you (heartfealtly) say, they have a passive actitude and would not make it as entrepeneurs…

      You can read the essays of Paul Graham about startups and entrepeneurs, and after some hours you will see what I’m saying – you cannot convert entrepeneurs into uni-“slaves”, nor the reverse

  • juan


    A plan for entreprenuring could be keep the NEOTEC soft loans for entrepreneurs and eliminiting at all the funds wasted in R+D in universities and big companies subsidiaries to “look alike” they invest in R+D.

    It is clear that Spain is not US, there people leave PhD or teaching positions to take the risk of entrepreneuring, in Spain, no university professor leave, they only want to participate as advisor, etc, taking stake for nothing and trying to sign agreements to get the money for them.

    I have a very bad experience with URJC, the word in spanish for them is “sanguijuela”.

    • Alex Barrera

      Very true Juan. I would even argue that even NEOTEC and all the other copycats should go away. We could talk for a long time about gov. funded initiatives, and personally I’m not against them. Problem from my point of view is that although they have the money, they have no view/knowledge/know how whatsoever to decide where those funds are better invested. Until we can fix that, there is no use in funding things with gov. money because it will always end up with the “usual suspects” ;)

      Nevertheless, we, at Tetuan Valley try to fix that “risk-taking” component that you talk about. Or at least we try, I guess time will say :)

    • Jose

      I agree with Juan, I am sure that most f the investment accounted as R+D is invested in university… but seems that this is to build bigger and bigger campus and buildings, but the real “talent” inside stays the same over the years… or decreases, because the number of students attending to the university is not growing last years (mainly due to birthrate)… and considering how is the technology in Spain, who is going to leave a secure position with a good salary on the public sector to take the risk of entrepreneuring?. Is much better to advice to the others from a safe position, but if you fail, this is not going to punish you…

  • Enrique

    I agree with you all. Nevertheless I think in Spain there’s money looking for investment opportunities, but we need a good regulation – e.g. clear and good fiscal exemptions to B. Angels – to boost the entrepreneuship. We deserve a Plan E(ntrepreneur), a really good one.

  • juan

    A really good Plan E for Entrpreneurs should ban to have public workers in universities (teachers, researchers, etc) as investors, if not they will try to get the money for the university and their careers weakening the real start-up.

  • Juanma

    In this case I would say as Marc Vidal said at

    “El PlanE tenía que haber dado 100.000 euros a 80.000 emprendedores”

    We are still thinking in “bricked” economy :(

    • Spelling Games

      A lot of people prefers to remain in the university with a bad income but nothing to do, but with nice space, sport courts very close, becoming useful slaves of teachers, preparing their papers and the bureaucracy to steal more and more funds for nothing.

      • portuguese in spain

        “…A lot of people prefers to remain in the university with a bad income ”

        Well, the ones that get to work in the university are lucky for having the oportunity to aim for a future.
        You almost make it look like it’s people fault that they don’t find a job because of comodity… your comment is arrogant to insult people without knowing the existing reality…

        Please, shut up and leave people try to solve their own problems

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  • Juan Carlos

    What Spain needs is to forget about all this stupid nonsense and get all those kids working as waiters so they can buy houses with 40 year mortgages.

    Once the cement and bricks are back spain will be back to normal.

    • Portuguese in spain

      I’m not spanish and I feel I must stand up to defend spain from such a narrow critic.

      Everyday I see many people live the situation Spain is passing, and unfortunately the young generations are living a crude reality: university, unemployment, living with parents, unemployment, no family plans, unemployment, no social security contribution (meaning no social security retirement), … and time continues to pass without big hopes…

      Juan, now is not the best time to critic the spanish young generations – they have done nothing and are paying a bill for other’s mistakes…

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