Entrepreneur Journeys

People around table

The CoSIE project is investigating different ways in which public services across Europe can be co-created. In Spain, Valencia Activa and UPV, launched the Co-Crea-Te co-working space in January, 2019. Co-Crea-Te offers working space and professional mentoring services to people that are looking to become self-employed. This feature article looks at some of these entrepreneurs' experiences as part of the project. 

“The way to become legal, was to present an entrepreneurial project”
Motivations for becoming an entrepreneur 

Within the stories, the entrepreneurs reflect upon the reasons behind them beginning their journey of setting up their own business. For some, the reason behind this was the basic need of survival. As a Uruguayan entrepreneur explains:

My entrepreneurship began 18 years ago when I arrived from Uruguay, with my husband and 3-yr old daughter. We were illegal. The way to become legal was to present an entrepreneurial project, to present what we could do and which wasn’t being done in Spain. It was a 4-year odyssey trying to show we were valid, that what we did was novel.

Essentially, setting-up an entrepreneurial project was this families route to making their new life in Spain more stable and viable. Similarly, other members of the Co-Crea-Te project, found that changing life circumstances led them to turn to entrepreneurship. Reflecting back on her path, one person recalls how having come back from maternity leave to a leadership within another company, she found it a battle to “re-convince” people she was still a leader. After two years of this situation, she was eventually made redundant – a decision she was quite happy with, emotional and economically. This led her to work freelance and set-up her own enterprise. Echoing the difficulties that parents – particularly women – face in the labour market, another individual details how she couldn’t reconcile family life and working as an employed person. For her, being her own boss was a way of providing the flexibility she needed to be both a parent and worker within her family.  

“Here in Valencia you have to be different… there is an incredible amount of competition”
Challenges on the road

When reflecting on the challenges they have encountered on their entrepreneurial journeys, the Co-Crea-Te members identified a number of personal difficulties and some wider societal ones that acted as barriers to them achieving their ambitions. Talking about the Spanish context for entrepreneurs and sole traders, one person discusses the security fee they need to pay. 

The support I can see that is needed is economic support in terms of the self-employed fee. We should pay in consonance with what we earn and not pay a set fee each month.

As this person outlines, they feel that the social security fee should be dependent on income as it can be a big barrier to people undertaking legal entrepreneurial work. They feel that this will mean that this will encourage more people to undertake entrepreneurial activity and the benefit for the State, would be that more of this work would be declared to them and that would lead to an increase in revenue for them. 

Related to this one woman outlines that the biggest difference between working for another company and setting-up your own is the uncertainty of your payment. As an entrepreneur, she explains that you don’t know what your monthly earnings will be, only your expenses or outgoings are fixed. With the fluidity of earnings, we can see how the fixed social security payment can be problematic for entrepreneurs who do not have regular earnings. Given that the Valencian business market is seen as being saturated – with one entrepreneur talking about how in the city you have to be “different” and of a “higher quality” because of the amount of competition – other national factors such as the social security payment, can seem like big barriers to starting up your own business.            

“We have achieved things that without being here would have been impossible” 
Supporting entrepreneurs

When discussing the support that they have received as part of the Co-Crea-Te pilot, the entrepreneurs spoke positively about their experiences. A fundamental part of this, is that they were not alone in making the first step of their journey. As one person says, it is not the same to start alone as to have some support.

For me it’s been of great support. I have no family who are entrepreneurs so to have those mentors has been of enormous help in how to continue and progress.

A large part of the support provide by the pilot revolves around the mentoring of the participants. As one person explains, this creates an enabling environment which makes it possible for their business ideas and themselves as individuals to flourish:

We felt tremendous support from the mentors and so we have achieved things that without being here would have been impossible. The atmosphere here is very healthy, very calm and colleagues are always willing to help.

The mentoring is achieved both formally by the appointed business mentors, but also informally by the peer network that the co-working space has created. Both of these approaches contribute to the supportive environment that this person is referring too and both have been instrumental in enabling people to development both personally, and professionally, as part of the pilot. Emphasising this need for both encouragement and advice further, one person explains that they do not come from a family with business expertise. Therefore, they have found the formal mentoring has helped them understand the basics of running a business. As they explain:

You need in the beginning someone that tells you that you cannot maybe do everything now, but you can start with this step, then the next one, etc. The way of working that I have learnt can be implemented in the future.

What this demonstrates is both the impact at an individual level that the pilot has had, but also that it has achieved one of its aims – to enable entrepreneurism in people without existing business skills and expertise. A key part of this, as one person acknowledges, is the “real, practical support” that the mentoring provides. It has given her a “grounding” and made the idea of running her own business “real” and “doable”. In essence, the pilot is successfully reaching out to people who would not usually engage with start-up project and support, and offering them opportunities for economic and personal development that they would not have otherwise had access to.  

“Co-creation is fundamental”
Supporting innovation

For many involved in this pilot, it is this approach, this way of working that is the major innovation that has been achieved. Fostering connections and mutual support, rather than rivalry has opened up entrepreneurism to a more diverse set of people that other similar, local projects do. The benefit of this is, is not just the ‘feel good factor’ but actually that it creates a more effective way of doing, creating and maintaining business. As one entrepreneur states, “co-creation is fundamental because without a creative environment it is impossible for things to grow and develop”. This sentiment is echoed by other entrepreneurs, who value the input and support that the Co-Crea-Te community has had on their business. The activities run at the space – including the pitching sessions – are done in a way that creates opportunities for people to help one another and provide mutually beneficial support. Such activities allow for ideas to grow and involve, and for the entrepreneurs to bounce-off one another and to innovate. As another member describes, co-creation emerges also between the entrepreneurs and this is valuable as new joint projects and ventures have begun because of this, “communication is the basis of everything. If there is co-creation between different agents, that is the pump for an entrepreneurial spirit and it can be applied to any sector.” 

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