2019 April 8th
"The investment culture has improved; there is greater sensitivity, but there is still a long way to go," says Nagore Ardanza, manager of the Crecer+ platform which, since it was created in 2010, has evolved and adapted its network model to become an instrument that covers all the funding of the entrepreneurial environment.
In these nine years, entrepreneurship has become more professional and has also found its way into the universities, where there are now specific programmes leading to a younger profile of entrepreneurs. "The investor profile has not changed that much" says Nagore Ardanza, although she recognises that there is also greater professionalisation in this area. Thus, the manager of Crecer +, gives us more details about the changes that have occurred and are taking place in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
How has entrepreneurship changed since Crecer + was launched?
The type of projects may not have changed much, but it is in their professionalisation that an evolution has been more evident. Entrepreneurs know more about financing, about how to build financing rounds; they know more about the actors involved in the ecosystem; it is an environment that has matured during this time.
And from the point of view of investment, has there been an evolution?
Yes, more and more professional investor structures are being created. Public institutions are making a great effort to attract investment in entrepreneurship and in the professionalisation of entrepreneurs; on the other hand, the creation of professional investment funds has given rise to the professionalisation of investors. The fact that public institutions are attracting international accelerators also helps the ecosystem to become more professional. But there is a long way to go in terms of building a financial sector for start-up financing and attracting start-ups from other places to the Basque Country.
How do you experience this evolution in Crecer+?
The professionalisation of investment has made some of our investors opt for other forms of investment in entrepreneurship that is more suited to their needs; business angels have limited assets for this purpose, so they invest in one, two or three operations and remain in standby until they see what happens with their investments and this leads us to be constantly looking for new investors for the network. This situation has led to an evolution in Crecer + which, apart from being an investment network, has currently become an instrument that covers all the entrepreneurial funding environment.
An instrument that covers the funding environment, how is this achieved?
For four years now we have seen an increasing emergence of accelerators, other funds and new resources start-ups could turn to. In this regard, what we have done is to become a meeting point where to go so that start-up funding can be developed in the Crecer + environment. Therefore, we have formed alliances with this entire network and created a window of opportunity for entrepreneurial investment projects. Likewise, we have been generating awareness among people about the fact that entrepreneurship exists and that investing in it is a good thing to generate economic activity and territorial development.
What results have we obtained?
The truth is that the alliances we are forging are very positive and strategic. As a matter of fact, the last Crecer + forum was organised in collaboration with CEBEK for the third consecutive year. This is a space that is already being consolidated and where CEBEK actively participates in the search for new profiles that may have an investing spirit among its members. The next forum we will be holding in June or July will be done in collaboration with the Mondragón Corporation; this is a meeting we are holding again, which shows that there is some concern on the part of large corporations to be with start-ups and to know them.
The networks and the ecosystem are becoming more mature; Crecer + has also evolved, but what about entrepreneurial projects? Are there increasingly more entrepreneurial projects or is the amount similar to that ten years ago?
There are entrepreneurial projects; however, this is something that we have to continue to stimulate. Most of the entrepreneurs we have now in the network are people over 35 who already have developed a professional career; who end a phase in the company where they work and identify a problem in the market they are trying to solve. This entrepreneurial profile is important, but we must also encourage and foster young people to create multidisciplinary teams both between disciplines and universities themselves to develop entrepreneurial projects. Universities have already begun to encourage and promote this type of entrepreneurship, but we must continue to build and work on this culture of entrepreneurship.
What kind of initiatives are being promoted by the University?
The three universities in the Basque Country are developing entrepreneurial models and should continue to build and adapt these models to the needs of the ecosystem. In this way, the University of Deusto has a Vice-Rector for Entrepreneurship and an innovation and entrepreneurship unit with the MEDEA master’s in Entrepreneurship in Action; Mondragon Unibertsitatea has made a great effort with the degree in Leadership in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (Leinn). The University of the Basque Country (UPV/ EHU) has created a specific master's degree aimed at entrepreneurship. All these initiatives must continue to be developed since the ecosystem is not only entrepreneurial, but also companies increasingly demand entrepreneurial profiles in their organisations.
With regard to the entrepreneurial profile, what is the difference between an entrepreneur over 35 and a university entrepreneur?
A 35-year-old entrepreneur has experience in the market in which they normally operate. They are people who have a professional career, who have identified a problem in that field known to him and address that problem within that entrepreneurial project. For this profile, entrepreneurship is a professional opportunity and this generates more credibility in the investment. The counterpart can be in the linear thinking that can result from this type of project, which means that the scalability of the project is often reduced, since they respond to a specific problem identified in a specific company.
In contrast, in younger entrepreneurial projects, we find a more multidisciplinary team with more disruptive ideas. They may not be such technologically sophisticated developments, but they are more ground-breaking business models. However, when the project is generated in a young environment with young people aged 24-26 years, trust is usually lower, especially because there is a risk that these young people can go to a large company at any time unless they are completely committed to your initiative.
However, an entrepreneurial ecosystem must have both types of entrepreneurship, that is, young people who think out of box and have a lateral thinking attitude, and more mature people who focus on addressing the current problems facing the company.
We are saying that 35-year-old entrepreneurs generate more credibility for investors, when it comes to investing, what is investors’ behaviour?
The profile of business angel investors in the network is more conservative, but the more we professionalise it, the more aware they will be of the need to diversify their portfolio. In this context, the ideal thing is for them to invest in both types of entrepreneurship and have investment criteria in such a way that they can invest in approximately ten projects and plan these investments well.
Before we said that there are programmes aimed at young entrepreneurial people. Are there similar programmes focused on investment?
To invest you need a certain amount of assets and typically investors have a more mature profile and are or have been business managers or owners. There are no investor creation programmes, but there are increasingly more training opportunities in this field. Investor networks are very suitable spaces for those people who are starting out in this world. In Biscay, the Crowdfunding Bizkaia platform has been created, which can be a way for young people with more limited assets to start investing in entrepreneurial projects at very early stages and at relatively little cost. However, I do think that universities should think about creating not only spaces where to learn to undertake, but also to invest, and to begin to become aware that entrepreneurship and investment are often two sides of the same coin in many cases.
We are aware that the entrepreneurial ecosystem is growing and is bearing fruit, both from the point of view of entrepreneurs and that of investors and companies that may begin to be interested in seeing innovation from another standpoint, not from its internal R&D, but as part of open innovation policies; start-ups support companies in developing their ambidexterity by encouraging them to explore outside the core of their business.