SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

WORKING IN SPAIN

Which startups succeed in Spain (and which ones fail)?

Foreigners thinking of setting up a startup in Spain should keep in mind that one in five new companies here doesn't last longer than 12 months. Here's what the data available says about the businesses that find success and those that don't.

spain success startups
When it comes to startups specifically, nine out ten startups don’t make it past the three-year mark in Spain. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images via AFP

There are various interpretations about the differences between a startup and a company but, broadly speaking, a startup is a company in its early stages that’s looking for an attractive and innovative business model, whereas a company already has a pre-existing business model and is focused on executing it successfully.

According to a study by the Spanish Tech Ecosystem, Spain has 10,500 startups and more than 300 scaleups, innovative and more established companies that are already growing.

The introduction of Spain’s new Startups Law in early 2023 promises to make the country far more attractive for foreign entrepreneurs, investors and digital nomads.

READ MORE: Spain’s new law for startups and digital nomads – 15 things you need to know

But the road to success isn’t just guaranteed by less bureaucracy, tax cuts and special visas.

Twenty-three percent of new companies set up in Spain don’t survive past a year, according to the country’s National Statistics Institute (INE). 

Of those that do make it past the first 12 months, 45 percent are not in business after five years. 

When it comes to startups specifically, nine out ten startups don’t make it past the three-year mark, according to the Map of Entrepreneurship drafted by Spain Startups, but they do grow at faster rates than SMEs. 

Although these figures may not seem very promising for anyone considering setting up shop in Spain, the Iberian nation isn’t last on the list when it comes to the longevity of startups in the EU.

Lithuania, Denmark, Latvia, Estonia, Malta and Portugal all have lower rates of success than Spain, according to Eurostat data. 

Spain also lost 311,000 SMEs in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, so authorities are now keen to breathe new life into all types of sectors with foreign talent drawn in by the new startups legislation. 

Spain is also the fifth country with the most so-called ‘unicorns’ companies with a market value above €1 billion.

READ ALSO: What do the experts think of Spain’ new startups law?

Which startups and companies find the most success in Spain?

Insurance companies, reinsurance groups and pension funds are those with the companies with the highest survival rate, as 82.6 percent are still operational in Spain five years after their creation, INE data reveals. 

They’re followed by new companies involved in the supply of electricity, gas and air conditioning (80 percent survival) and those in the tobacco industry (75 percent).

Companies that offer financial services, assistance in residential matters, legal and accounting companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers and those that deal with the extraction of metals and minerals also have a good life expectancy in Spain.

That’s not to say that if you have a business idea in a different sector or that your startup is completely innovative you should get discouraged. 

According to industry specialists Meetwork, among the 50 biggest growing startups in Spain in 2022 are a travel management company, a copyright protection business, a language app for kids, a digital platform for freight transport, a vegetable-based meat manufacturer and other businesses from a wide variety of sectors.

The same applies to most highly valued startups in recent years in Spain; many are companies focused on innovation or the improvement of pre-existing ideas.

Self-employment and entrepreneurship website autonomosyemprendedor.es reported that the ten Spanish startups which have found the most success in Spain and abroad are Brooklyn Fitboxing International (gyms), Freepik (image downloads), Bigbuy (dropshipping), El Tenedor (restaurant bookings), Heura Foods (vegan food), eDreams (flight and holiday bookings), Clicars (online vehicle sales), Mr. Wonderful (an ‘online store for happy products’), Cabify (e-hailing) and Glovo (food delivery). 

And it’s not as if a startup that’s set up in Spain should necessarily have to cater to a Spain-specific market – fintech, tourism, logistics, mobility, cybersecurity, education, foodtech, energy, cryptocurrencies, gaming, employment, retail or health are all sectors with signs of growth potential in Spain and around the world.

Which companies and startups find less success in Spain?

According to INE, among the companies that struggle to survive past the five-year mark in Spain are leather and shoe manufacturers (20 percent success rate), maritime industry businesses (29.8 percent success rate) clothing companies (33.2 percent) and entertainment and artistic businesses (33.7 percent). 

Civil engineering companies are the ones that struggle the most to make it past the first year (30.2 percent survival rate), followed by those involved in arts and entertainment.  

The life expectancy of new companies in Spain has worsened since the pandemic, according to the latest report by Spanish business database Iberinform, who wrote: “The critical moment for any business project usually occurs after the third year, since the initial injection of capital allows the vast majority to complete the first 24 months of life without problems.”

Interestingly, during the pandemic, the sectors which saw the biggest increase in earnings in Spain but also the most businesses closing down were hospitality and retail, which together with tourism are the pillars of Spain’s service-based economy.

Iberinform’s general director Ignacio Jiménez told El Mundo newspaper that “the incomplete and uneven recovery that we are going through, marked by new challenges such as price escalations and supply problems” directly affect business survival in Spain.

“Companies, especially SMEs, which have less capacity to transfer these cost increases to prices are suffering a reduction in margins and loss of profitability,” Spain’s confederation of SMEs reported. 

READ ALSO: What will Spain’s income requirement for the new digital nomad visa be?

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

WORKING IN SPAIN

‘Spain must invest in Spaniards rather than turning to migrants’: EU work chief

The European Commission’s head for jobs and social rights has said Spain “must first find a solution for young people, women and the elderly” with regard to its labour market and “see later if they need immigrants”.

'Spain must invest in Spaniards rather than turning to migrants': EU work chief

The European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit recently took part in a summit on job security in Bilbao, where he spoke with Spain’s Labour Minister and Second Deputy Prime Ministers Yolanda Díaz about the state of affairs for workers in the country. 

When discussing potential solutions to Spain’s high unemployment rate, Schmit explained “I would not exclude immigration, but when I analyse the data, I see youth unemployment of 30 percent, more than double the European average”.  

“The priority for Spain must be to invest in its people,” Schmit continued.

“They must first look at their labour market and find a solution for young people, women and the elderly. They will see later if they need immigrants”.

Despite high unemployment levels which currently amount to three million people, Spain has worker shortages in a wide variety of sectors. 

READ ALSO: The ‘Big Quit’ hits Spain despite high unemployment and huge job vacancies

The Spanish government recently changed its immigration laws to make it easier for employers to hire non-EU citizens for sectors with shortages, from waiters to plumbers, whereas previously recruiters were required to prove that they couldn’t find an EU candidate for the job and the skills shortage list was limited and outdated. 

READ MORE: How spain is making it easier for foreigners to work in Spain

In 2023, Spain’s Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration wants to hire 62,000 third-country workers to cover an array of construction and trades jobs, something the country’s Labour Ministry has not agreed to yet. 

READ ALSO – EXPLAINED: Spain’s plans to recruit thousands of foreigners for construction and trade jobs

The government also recently passed its new startups law to attract foreign investors, digital nomads and talent to the country.

Could Spaniards not be trained to do these jobs as Schmit alludes to? Currently, low wages and unstable working conditions are dissuading many locally trained professionals from staying.

This includes almost 20,000 doctors who have moved abroad in recent years as salaries in other European countries are significantly higher than in Spain, with a newly qualified doctor’s salary only around €1,600 gross per month.

Staff shortages in the health sector are not helped by the fact that foreigners with non-EU qualifications wait for several years for their qualifications to be recognised in Spain through an unnecessarily laborious administrative process known as homologación. This applies to a number of regulated fields, from engineering to dentistry, all of which face shortages. 

READ MORE: How Spain is ruining the careers of thousands of qualified foreigners

Spain’s Socialist-led government has partly addressed some of its labour market issues by reducing the rate of temporary contracts and increasing the minimum wage (SMI), but voices within the opposition have accused Sánchez’s administration of “dressing up” the dire reality.

When asked about the rise in minimum wage, Schmit said that he believes “it will not mean significant changes for Spain, which already has a tradition of updating the minimum wage on a regular basis… but the government must take into account factors such as the cost of living and the economic context”.

“Spain must question whether the SMI allows for a decent life or creates poor workers. Its economy cannot be supported by low wages and low productivity,” he continued.  

When asked if salaries and inflation have to go hand in hand, Schmit argued “wages must be set by collective bargaining. We are experiencing very high inflation because of the explosion in energy and food prices. If there is a large lag between wages and inflation, there will be an impact on demand and the risk of recession will increase”.

With regards to pensions, Schmit explained: “I don’t think that pensions are very high in Spain and if you leave a gap between the rise in benefits and inflation, you can create a situation of poverty among the elderly. Spain has a disadvantage in that it has one of the fastest-ageing societies… The solution is to modernise the economy to make it more productive and attract more people to the job market”.  

Despite these issues, the commissioner acknowledged that the Spanish labour market has surprised many with its resistance this year. “Employment will remain strong if there is no deep recession,” he said.  

“The national plan for access to European funds has a good combination of measures to invest in green energy, digitisation, education and public employment services… Spain experienced its economic miracle due to the real estate boom, which exploded, and now it has to transform to go in the right direction”.

According to a report carried out by human resources company Hays on work trends in Spain in 2022, 77 percent of Spaniards surveyed said they would change jobs if they could. Furthermore, 68 percent of them confessed that they are actively looking for another job and the main reason they argue is to get a better salary. 

According to Eurostat data from January 2021, 37 percent of Spain’s workforce is overqualified, 17 percent higher than the EU average.

READ ALSO: Why more people than ever in Spain are overqualified for their jobs

SHOW COMMENTS