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María Benjumea: “The big companies are no longer killing off startups”

02/08/2016 10:43
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She talks about the startup world with passion . Her enthusiasm is catching. María Benjumea defines herself as a "startupper" and a “61-year-old entrepreneur”, and is already immersed in the preparation of the new edition of South Summit


What are the professional profiles most in demand by startups?

They need everything. We're talking about everything from small companies to others whose turnover is in the millions of euros. A great many companies are being created today. When we talk about a startup we're talking about a company that's set up with an ambition and with an important project for scalability. It doesn't need to be a digital company, it can be born out of any industry. Naturally in any company technology is transversal in this day and age, but it's the business model itself that gives it its particular set of characteristics. Disruption doesn't only have to do with technology, it comes from the business model.

Are there too many startups?

This world is like life itself –we all start out and some get to the top and others don't.  The same thing happens with startups: there are some which from their very creation and configuration are organized so that the business develops smoothly, whereas others achieve success thanks to a series of factors, while others take more time to get going, and many set out in search of adventure without the slightest idea. Nothing is easy, and everything takes hard work.

Do many fail?

I don’t think so. And I can give you a very personal example: this year we asked ourselves what had happened to the 180 finalists in previous editions of South Summit (from 2012, 2013 and 2014), and whether they'd survived or not. The survival rate is 90%. Very few have dropped out. And they've raised 300 million euros. 

What does a startup have to have to achieve success?

People. They're unquestionably the key factor for success, they're crucial. When investors are looking for a project, the thing they look most closely at is the team behind it.

What's your opinion of crowdfunfing?

I think everything that offers different ways of raising funds is fantastic. The more different ways they provide for obtaining funding, the better it is for everyone. The concept of funding is changing radically.

What did you learn during your time at Infoempleo?

Lots of things. The first one I already mentioned is that the key to any successful project is people. Another lesson I learned the hard way is that if you sell 51% of the company –as I did– it's the same as selling the company at half price, a really outstanding lesson. Another lesson I learned and which I think is essential is that entrepreneurs are moved by passion, and it's very important to have people who'll tell you that you sometimes need to set that passion aside when you're studying projects.

Aren't you worried about a new bubble?

There's no way back. We need there to be no way back. The world has changed drastically. The bubble was a bubble when companies were being sold at a loss of hundreds and hundreds of millions. That bubble wasn't the end of the Internet –all that new economy from that time is now what supports it today. Although people did some crazy things, just as they might do right now.

What's the right course to take?

Innovation is the key to everything. Everything's going so fast that even the big companies are aware that they can't generate that innovation within their own structures. They find it in entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurial ecosystem was conceived as the startup and the investor. Now there's a world of opportunities to prove that the world of entrepreneurship is neither a fashion or a bubble. Entrepreneurship is the result of the innovation needs of the big corporations.

Have the big companies changed their mindset with regard to startups?

Yes. Big corporations have realized that it's impossible for them to be able to generate that information within their own structures. They may have the most talented people, but everything's going so fast that something that interests them could come up at any time. You can only find that speed in startups . Corporations have to realize they can work with startups without having to integrate them in their own structure, in order not to kill them. They have to work with the talent. If they buy them they kill them. They have to work with them.

Is this happening?

Yes, they've seen that they can't kill them. What interests them about startups is their rate of growth. And if they make them part of the company that disappears. Many have realized that if they absorb the part that interests them, the business –and they don't even have a share in the company's capital– they can get hold of the product they're interested in. In turn, big corporations offer scalability thanks to their customer portfolio. Big companies today are working with startups to the mutual benefit of both without touching the share capital. These are extraordinary agreements that don't kill the startups. The startup offers innovation value and the corporation provides the technology, strategy, customer portfolio or a pilot program… These are agreements that are going to become very widespread, and which shouldn't sideline investors either. An vast world of opportunities is opening up which is vital for the development of today's society. 

By BBVA Innovation Center.