A growing number of expat entrepreneurs are making the most of new Spanish laws designed to breathe life into small businesses and promote foreign investment. Here, Andrea Maltman speaks to Spain’s new crop of expat self-starters.
Spain hasn’t always been famous for its entrepreneurial spirit.
In the 30-plus years since the country took brave strides from dictatorship to democracy, work was often viewed as something to be done, not enjoyed, and a common ambition was a secure, stable public sector post.
But the country’s 25.98 per cent unemployment rate – equating to roughly six million people – is forcing changes to that mentality, with Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party government recently introducing the flagship Entrepreneurship and Internationalization law.
Tax breaks, access to unemployment benefits, limited liability and a flat, €50 ($67) a month Social Security contribution for new self-employed workers (autónomos) under 30 means the legislation fiscally nurtures Spanish ambition rather than castigating it.
And its additional remit to cut red tape and open a country that is famously bureaucratic to foreign investors and entrepreneurs is also good news for expats.
“The new Entrepreneurship law really is a watershed moment in terms of government support offered to start-ups,” says Iñaki Ortega, Director of Madrid Emprende. “The bill has opened up Spain’s migration policy and made it easier for foreigners who want to settle here and start their own business.”
In theory, the law means European expats are in a better position to emulate the ease of entrepreneurship seen in countries such as Germany or the UK, while those from outside the EU can benefit from one-year residency visas which allow entrepreneurial activity – and are processed and distributed with ease and speed.
Ambitious foreigners are also being encouraged to think big, to think outside the box which has been founded on the two pillars of Spanish expat life: English teaching and hospitality.
Texan native Audrey Mark, 37, founded online supermarket aggregator Soysuper with the help of Area 31, an organization that nurtures graduates of leading Spanish business school IE.
For Audrey, the glass is definitely half full — and filling. “New opportunities always arise during periods of growth and economic crises,” she says.
“We saw a real need to improve the online grocery shopping experience, born from personal frustrations as veteran users ourselves.”
Meanwhile, British entrepreneurs David Genis, 42, and his Irish business partner Paul Reidy, 46, started elbalonazo.net – an online shop selling football-inspired men’s fashion — as a compromise to the push of economic crisis and the pull of family life in Madrid.
After 16 months of toil, Paul is more sober in his assessment of Spain’s economic reinvention.
“This are changing, but slowly,” he says. “The challenge from the outset when establishing your company is always the main cash outlay.
“When I started, a minimum deposit of €3,000 was required to establish the S.L (Sociedad Limitada / Limited Company).”
Although the new entrepreneur law facilitates the risk of starting a business, challenges like securing initial funding and finance remain problematic. Iñaki Ortega warns that however much policy changes, expats will always have to “take risks and make sacrifices.”
“This option isn’t for everyone,” he says before adding that those willing to go it alone should “study a market niche, be patient and, above all, take advantage of the resources that are now available to entrepreneurs”.