Monday, June 4, 2012

Searching for a Spanish Silicon Valley

There was an article in Expansion today about efforts to create incubators for startups in Spain. There was a bit of handwringing about why there aren’t more high tech startups in Spain. If I had to come up with reasons, imagine (for the sake of the Spanish who only seem to understand excellence in football) that you wanted to make a football team that would be as good as Barca, but lived in a country that had no tradition of football.

1) Identifying and nurturing talent early. In the Spanish educational system, you can’t specialize in technology (unless you consider building a chair out of wood technology) until you reach university. Imagine that people only started playing football in university. In addition, you lose out on the filtering that happens throughout childhood, where kid who do well are constantly promoted and placed with peers of similar talent.

2) Specialized high-school education for the super motivated. It is clear to people in Spain that a regular school day is incompatible if you want to practice football for hours a day. In a similar way, having education that is customized to the needs of kids studying in high tech.

3) Money. Madrid decides they want a world class team to beat Barca, so they blow a couple hundred million on the best players they can find. Unnamed Spanish technology company wants a world class director of development, whom they are willing to pay up to 100,000 euros a year. Good luck with that.

Other reasons:

4) Consequences of failure. Not having an effective bankruptcy regime in Spain means that a mistake in a startup could put you on the hook to have your paychecks garnished for the rest of your life. In Spain, there is a presumption of fraud when you declare bankruptcy, and you actually have to prove that you are no longer a danger to society before you can incorporate again.

5) Specialized universities. Every autonomous community in Spain wants to be #1 in every field. This means that you have 17 badly funded effort in each area, instead of just dividing things up and having each university be excellent in a few areas.


Lee said...

Years ago I had a young student in an Advanced English class who was on her way to the US to do a Master's in Education for the gifted (she herself had finished University at 20 and probably would have finished even younger if she hadn't been actively discouraged to do so.)She often mentioned that people, including her own teachers, were scornful of her own aspirations; as if being smart were some kind of class betrayal. I have friends who consider themselves staunch lefties and defenders of public education but who end up pulling their kids out of public school because the kids are insanely bored, and getting them put in a higher grade is impossible, so private school ends up being the only option. How can you develop talent with a prevailing attitude like that?

Anonymous said...

continuing the football/soccer analogy, is like asking Messi to play at half speed all the time...

Lee said...

I'm from NYC, and was educated in private Catholic schools (blame my mom*)However, even thoughh NY has a bad rep throughout the US for its schools and it's true in a lot of cases, there exists a great variety of schools for the gifted; Stuyvesant (like the Boston Latin School), High School of the Performing Arts (remember "Fame"?)Aviation High School (just check this out, it's amazing, schools for kids who want to work in fashion (which is an enormous industry in NYC), human services, finance. These are HIGH SCHOOLS. Not University programs. But it wouldn't happen here (and I think in other parts of Europe ) because allowing people to explore their best abilities is...classist? Really, I don't think even K. Marx would agree with that. My dear old dad (born Catholic and forced to attend mass because of my mum)always said that Catholic countries love to kill ambition. After 22 years teaching here, I have to say I think he was right.

santcugat said...

Yeah, it's pretty amazing how much there is in the US. How about this highschool in Brooklyn that has its own trading floor? They focus on finance, entrepreneurship and account.