Guest post: The mindset of Tetuan Valley

This is a guest post by Alex Barrera. Alex is Partner and Associate Director at Okuri Ventures, CEO and co-founder at Tetuan Valley, founder at and mentor in several accelerator programs including Tetuan Valley, StartupBootCamp and Springboard.

The newest edition of the Spain-based Tetuan Valley startup school kicked off in Madrid and Barcelona a few weeks ago. But, what’s Tetuan Valley and what’s the Startup School? Tetuan Valley is a mindset we want to bring to Europe, especially to countries where entrepreneurship isn’t always inherent in our DNA. This is the case for countries like Spain or Poland.

There are several problems in Europe when it comes to startups. One of the most prominent issues is a lack of a socio-economic environment in most European countries that inhibits the breeding and nurturing of startups. Teenagers almost never get exposed to entrepreneurship, even at universities it’s rare for students to get a wisp of what a startup is. Contrasted with entrepreneurial trends elsewhere, in Europe few students try to start their own business while still in University. When it becomes launch time, these students find themselves less prepared than their American counterparts to participate in startup accelerator programs like Startupbootcamp Europe, Springboard or HackFwd.

From within Tetuan Valley we’ve been working hard to bridge that gap through our Startup School. Startup School trains students (and other interested entrepreneurs) to get them to the point where they can successfully take their projects to an accelerator program or directly incorporate their company.

It is a bi-annual, 6 week program completely geared towards first time entrepreneurs. We like to define it as a pre-acceleration program because normal accelerator metrics do not apply. The goal is to foster a healthy entrepreneur community that allows early detection of talent and startup deal flow for accelerators. We intentionally don’t put pressure on the teams to incorporate or get funding because our goal is for them to learn about entrepreneurship, themselves, and their ideas. While some do take it to the next level, Startup School creates entrepreneurs, not investment vehicles.

The evolution of those goals has led to an alumni community who is teaming up for new projects. These are the initiatives we are interested in for accelerator programs because they have a much higher quality and potential for investment. Suddenly, we’ve become the first company that controls both stages of the deal flow pipe (pre-acceleration and acceleration with Startupbootcamp Europe). As such, we have a huge strategic advantage, we can pipe our startups through both programs and help them at any point, giving them two programs that have a coherence and that are managed by the same crew. We also can identify good investments, both in people and products much earlier than our competition.

Spain was a classic case of a country that lacked an initial seed ecosystem. Thanks to the Startup School we’re now the second Startupbootcamp affiliate in Europe with a fully blown accelerator program. We’ve seen similar needs in many European countries, which shows us that there’s a big demand for programs like Tetuan Valley, especially for VCs and Angel groups interested in investing in their local talent pool. This year we have some amazing teams in both cities. The quality of the projects is growing exponentially with each edition and it’s becoming extremely hard to choose among them.

So to those that say that Europe hasn’t got potential, I can assure them that in Europe we have startups that can compete against those in the US. It’s not talent we’re lacking, but a cohesive market. In our industry there are some inherent problems preventing competitive growth. Talent is scattered; in order to combat this we need to build strong brands to attract and train the talent pool. We also need major exposure for our local startups.

That means, more pan-European events, and bigger PR efforts by all the startups. We need to reach as many people as we can, eliminating geographic, cultural, and language barriers. After three years fighting for a healthy startup ecosystem, I can say that things ARE changing. People that previously would have never thought about doing a startup are finally approaching us. Developers that would have gone to work for big companies are instead teaming up with Startup School teams because they’re part of Tetuan Valley.

It is very true that talent attracts talent, and that’s what we are trying to build. We need more programs like this, like TechHub, more evangelists like Mike Butcher (Techcrunch EU), like Jon Bradford (Springboard) or like Alex Farcet (Startup Bootcamp).

We can do it! It takes time, but it’s worth it. Keep pushing!