This week, entrepreneurs and investors from across Spain and Latin America will descend on Madrid’s Las Ventas bullring for 'The South Summit', one of the biggest startup networking events in Europe.
The South Summit aims to unite southern Europe’s top innovators with investors and customers during the three day event, which features some huge names from the international tech world, including Steve Wozniak, who launched Apple in the 1970s with Steve Jobs.
Liz Fleming. Photo: southsummit.co
And there is no better place to host the event than Spain where the startup scene is “thriving”, explains Liz Fleming, VP International at Spain Startup, which organizes the event.
You only have to look at The South Summit to see how the startup sector is reaching new heights in Spain; its first event drew 1,500 attendees and this year, its fourth, organizers are expecting close to 10,000.
“There has been an explosion of technology and digital entrepreneurship,” Fleming told The Local. “Venture capital investment in Spain has doubled over the past two years from €200million to €400million.”
And, says Fleming, Spain has all the ingredients to foster the next big thing when it comes to startups; the next Google or Facebook could well come from Spain.
“Spain is really hot right now,” she said, “there are lots of interesting investments and Barcelona or Madrid could be the next Berlin when it comes to startups.”
Spain is an exciting place to found startups, says Fleming, because of its huge talent pool. “There is a lot of available talent in Spain, very highly skilled workers.”
A knock-on effect of the economic crisis is that Spain is teeming with highly skilled, well-educated young people who have been unable to find jobs. Many are drawn to startups as a way to utilize their skills while starting their own business.
The country also provides incredible access to markets. “If you are a bilingual Spanish/English company, the world is your oyster,” says Fleming. “You have access to European markets, as well as Latin America.”
Finally the standard of living in Spain is a huge draw to many young companies. “Spain really undersells itself, it is a really welcoming society with great food, great weather and it is much cheaper than, for example, London,” says Fleming.
“Some really exciting worldwide companies come from Spain,” she added, citing telecommunications companies Telefonica and Jazztel, as well as Amadeus, a travel industry tech success.
This summer saw the opening of Google Campus Madrid, a further indicator of Spain's growing startup sector. “We build community hubs, called Campuses, where entrepreneurs come to learn, share ideas and launch great startups” says the website.
The power of networking
It is the key to the success of many fledgling startups. “Networking is fundamental, up until now many entrepreneurs have been quite isolated,” says Fleming. “It is just a great way to find customers, partners and businesses to partner with.”
The key audience South Summit is hoping to attract is young entrepreneurs, “be that small businesses, students making their first mobile app, or businesses or 20-30 people.”
“Half of the audience are entrepreneurs while the rest are investors, around 70 international funds will be attending.
“It´s a great opportunity to connect large companies with small innovators,” says Fleming.
World class speakers
Steve Wozniak. Photo: Nichollas Harrison/Wikimedia
South Summit is welcoming some big name speakers to the event, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX, the American aerospace manufacturer.
While the gender balance in startups is still very much weighed towards men – only around 18 percent of Spanish startup founders are women – South Summit has tried to get as many women speakers as possible: “it´s all about role models,” says Fleming.
“We are delighted to have Gwynne Shotwell, the president of a space company, an aerospace engineer in an industry dominated by men,” Fleming says.
“This year we’ve paid special attention to the programme and we’ve got more female presence than ever.”
South Summit will welcome more than 250 speakers during the three-day event, as well as 100 startups and 70 international funds.
South Summit takes place at Madrid's Las Ventas bullring from October 7th – 9th.