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‘This is a great time for entrepreneurs in Spain’

He has been involved in 25 web start-ups in Spain and recently set up Bewa7er, an innovative stock market for cash-starved non-listed companies. Meet Madrid-based Belgian entrepreneur extraordinaire François Derbaix.

'This is a great time for entrepreneurs in Spain'
François Derbaix says Spain has plenty of advantages for entrepreneurs but the State needs to simplify the operating environment.

François Derbaix is no stranger to taking risks. In 2000, he took a leap of faith by moving to Spain with his Spanish partner. Once here, they launched their first web business, the rural holiday house portal toprural.com.  

"We had no experience in Spain, in travel, or in rural tourism — or even in the internet, but we managed to attract several seasoned experts to our team. Toprural grew quite fast, mostly thanks to the website's usability and traveller reviews," Derbaix tells The Local.

"After two years of bootstrapping the company, with a lot of work and very little financing, the company grew to be a very profitable business which we sold in 2012."

Since then, Derbaix, who completed Belgium's 'Management Engineer' degree, has been involved in other successful web businesses including the rental site rentalia.com, now part of the accommodation giant idealista.com. 

Some 25 other businesses have now been added to Derbaix's résumé, including Soysuper, a supermarket aggregator he launched this year.     

In June, the Belgian also launched Bewa7er, which he describes as a "lightweight stock market for not-listed companies" designed to "offer transparency and liquidity to investors in those non-listed companies".

"We manage to bring this to the small and medium-sized enterprises by selling 'economic rights' in place of shares (because shares in Spanish limited companies are not freely transferable because the current shareholders have a pre-emptive right of acquisition)," Derbaix explains.

Those investment opportunities are also only open to professional investors because the regulatory burden to offer to non-professional investors would be too high.

"A potential seller comes to Bewa7er and offers us the chance to sell his shares," says Derbaix outlining the system.

"Bewa7er then offers the economic rights to potential investors and if there is demand Bewa7er buys the shares, keeps the political rights of the shares and syndicates itself with the lead investor in the company, selling the economic rights to the interested investors," he says.

"Those investors will then be able to freely trade economic rights on the platform."

Bewa7er makes money by charging three percent commission to the seller on all transactions, and a 0.6 percent yearly maintenance fee to investors.  

The exchange's first deal is about to be closed with 12 percent of  Zacatrus, an online board game store in Spain, successfully listed on Bewa7er. More deals are in the pipeline. 

Rules for listing on the exchange are strict and designed to make sure only serious businesses are included.

"Our selection criteria specify that the business must have enough financing at least for the next 12 months, be fast growing, have a lead investor and a shareholder agreement protecting the minority investor, and sales worth at least ten percent of total valuation over the previous four quarters," says Derbaix.

The entrepreneur says the idea came about because "the current barriers to information and transmission of shares in SMEs are so large that there is actually almost no secondary market in those companies".

"In many start-ups we have seen shareholders wanting to sell, while others want to buy, but the administrative burden involved in carrying out transactions simply kills them off," says Derbaix.

Asked about potential risks, the Belgian argues that Bewa7er is actually safer than many other platforms.

"Investing is a risky business, but the risk is lower in Bewa7er. A case like Gowex — a Spanish tech company which failed dramatically recently — would definitely not have happened in Bewa7er, because one of our admission criteria is that the start-up has a professional lead investor among its shareholders."

These professional investors are more prepared than normal individuals to value the risks of their investments and to have proper diversification of their investments, Derbaix explains.

"That was not the case in Gowex, where there was no professional investor in the board and almost no control of the entrepreneur and his friends."

In terms of the perceived lack of entrepreneurial spirit in Spain, Derbaix says the problem is not that "there are too few entrepreneurs, but that there is too much State".
 
"For decades it has been much more attractive to have a career in the public sector than to launch a company: wages in the public sector in Spain were higher, and there were no risks of losing one's job," he says.
 
"But this situation has changed. Now more people are considering launching their own company and creating their own jobs. I really think of Spain as quite an entrepreneurial country."
 
At the same time, the Belgian believes the system can definitely be improved.
 
"A lot should be done by the State to remove barriers to entrepreneurship. There needs to be a reduction is social security costs, for example, and more flexibility in the labour market.
 
"The State also needs to reduce the legal complexity. But unfortunately I think the government is going in exactly the opposite direction: adding more and more rules, more prohibitions and more complexity."
 
At the same time, Derbaix says these hurdles are "no excuse when it comes to not succeeding with a business".
 
"Spain has a lots of advantages: it’s a relatively large market of over 40 million people, and an attractive country to live in (and draw foreign talent to). It also has a good climate: it is part of a huge Spanish-speaking worldwide community, and has very talented people in search of employment.

"I think this is a great time for entrepreneurs in Spain: there are a lot of little productive sectors to break into and very well skilled people available to build great teams. I think that there are plenty of opportunities, across many sectors," Derbaix argues.

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Do I have to take most of my annual leave in August in Spain?

Many Spanish companies still expect their workers to take their holidays at specific times of the year, primarily in August, right in the height of summer when many hotels are fully booked. So what are your rights, are you obliged to take your vacation in one particular month?

Do I have to take most of my annual leave in August in Spain?

While it’s your right as an employee to be able to take holiday days, do you have to take them when your company wants you to take them, or are you able to choose and have more flexibility?

Despite August being one of the hottest months in Spain and the one month of the year when many official companies and offices shut up shop, not everyone necessarily wants to take their break at the same time as everyone else.

Taking your holidays in August means less availability in hotels, overcrowding and more expensive transport and accommodation. If you don’t have children who are off from school during the summer months, then you may wish to take your vacation days at another time of the year, when it’s less busy and cheaper.

To answer the question it’s important to know the details about what the law says about how paid time off is taken, requested, imposed, or granted.

What laws or regulations dictate the rules about paid holiday time?

There are three different sets of rules and regulations, which are responsible for regulating the laws on vacation time in Spain. 

Firstly, you need to look at the Spanish Workers’ Statute, which includes rights, duties and obligations applicable to all salaried workers in Spain.

Secondly, you need to be aware of the collective sector and/or company agreements, which may dictate the rules for a particular industry for example.

Thirdly, you need to look at the contract, which you signed with your employer when you started working for them. This sets out your individual circumstances and the rules you must abide by.   

Workers Statute

As a general rule, all employees are subject to the Workers’ Statute. Holidays are part of this and are the subject of article 38. These conditions can never be contradicted by individual companies and are set as a guaranteed minimum. 

The minimum number of holidays in Spain is 30 calendar days per year. This equals two and a half days per month worked, in the case of temporary contracts. The statute states that vacations must be taken between January 1st and December 31st in separate periods, but one of them must be for at least two weeks. They are always paid and cannot be exchanged for financial compensation.

The period when you can take them is set by a common agreement between the employer and the worker, in accordance with what is established in the collective agreements on annual vacation planning. If there is disagreement, the social jurisdiction is resorted to.

At a minimum, the company must offer vacation days at least two months before the beginning of the holiday period, so that the employee has time to organise and book.   

When the planned time to take vacations coincides with a temporary disability, pregnancy, or childbirth, you have the right to enjoy the vacations at another time, even after the calendar year is over.

Collective agreements on vacations  

Your sector’s collective agreements may also help to answer this question. These aim to improve upon the basic and general rights that are included in the Workers’ Statute. They seek to adapt the rules to each type of industry or company. They could, for example, set out extra vacation days, which are greater than the standard 30 calendar days. 

You will need to find out what your specific sector or company’s collective agreement is. There is a possibility that your sector or company has mandatory summer vacations for the month of August and in that case, you can choose vacation dates, but only within this month.

Your work contract 

Lastly, you will need to consult your individual contract which you signed with the company when you were hired.  As well as the minimum conditions set out in the Workers’ Statute, your contract sets out your particular agreement with your employer in terms of holiday duration, the work calendar and other details.

Therefore, you should state in your contract whether you have to take your holidays during August, or if you’re free to take them at other times of the year.

If after consulting these three sets of regulations and there are still in doubt or in disagreement with your company about vacations, such as having to take them during the month of August, you should consult a lawyer specialising in labor law. They should be able to give you an answer specific to your situation.  

Can I appeal or disagree and what are the consequences? 

To appeal or express disagreement with what is proposed by the company, there is a period of 20 business days from when the vacation schedule is sent out, after which time you don’t have the right to show that you disagree.  

Companies can proceed to disciplinary dismissals due to abandonment of the job if you decide to take vacations that have not been granted or agreed upon with your employer. To avoid this type of problem, always make sure you have a record in writing of your request for vacation time and subsequent approval by the company.

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