Yesterday was the International Women's Day, and what a better way to celebrate it than blogging about women?
At Startup Grind Barcelona we have hosted female speakers in the past, such as when we did our summer edition with Karen Prats (PopPlaces), or our worldwide #40forward event with Anna Closas (The Social Coin) last May. This year we've already scheduled Helena Torras (Abiquo, Pao Capital) for May and we recently hosted Ana Maiques (Starlab, Neuroelectrics) in February. Hopefully we will have at least another woman as a guest speaker before the end of the year.
All of these women are wonderful people and kickbutt entrepreneurs, but Ana is a favorite one. She was our speaker for February and she gelled with our values flawlessly, and proved she's one of the leading female entrepreneurs in Europe.
A little background first
Ana studied economics and used to work in Belgium, enjoying the good life: a good job, a high salary, living in a castle, eating lobster, until the day all hell broke loose. She and her partner lost it all overnight, and had to take a decision: they acquired the company, with all its debt - amounting to over 200k euro - and decided to start from scratch. And thus, Starlab was born.
That was the year 2000. Fifteen years later she's leading Neuroelectrics, a Starlab spinoff that sells over €1.5M worth of two gadgets used for brain-to-brain communication, and has got offices both in Barcelona and in Boston. And she told us how she did it all with no secrets.
Ana is a firm believer of the power of execution over vision and passion. "Ideas are worth nothing, and we're all passionate about our personal projects. Everyone can copy your idea, but they will not be able to copy your execution." The combination of VEP (Vision, Execution & Passion) is the key to success," according to Ana, and it's probably what has led Starlab and Neuroelectrics this far. She went on to add "execution is the most important among the three, because execution is the ability to implement your idea in the most brilliant way."
Both of the partners decided from the very start that they wanted to make a profitable business out of science and research. Turns out, Ana's significant other and co-founder is a physicist and brings the vision, while Ana - who studied Economics - is leading the business part: the execution.
Getting to know your market
In terms of hitting the right key when launching products, Ana suggests you should test your ideas fast, and fail even faster. "Get your poo-totype out as soon as you can. Then work on it and get feedback to improve it or else to work on a whole different product." We had never heard of the poo-totype (cacatipo, in Spanish) portmanteau, but Ana has been disrupting the market for over 15 years, can't she disrupt language as well?
When asked whether she's a first mover, or prefers to have some other company to open up the market and then jump in, she stated firmly that "it's not about being the first or the second, it's about doing it right." Actually, Starlab were pioneers in many fields in the year 2000 that are now trending: space science, brain science and big data. The fact that they were the first ones to venture into these fields allowed them to test dozens of ideas before finding the right products and the ideal model, but it's not always this easy.
In fact, regulations are sometimes country-specific. For instance, European regulations for health gadgets are much more permissive that in the U.S. In order to use Neuroelectrics' products for medical research in the States, companies are facing very strict regulations that don't allow them to sell their products for medical reasons. Ana alerted all entrepreneurs in the room wanting to relocate their business to another country to check the local regulations first. Underestimating the costs of moving or the current legislations, potentially blocking your sales processes, can kill one's business.
Sales. Sales. Sales
We've seen this in numerous occasions with our former speakers, but Ana was crystal clear about it: companies need sales, not marketing nor smokescreens. She borrowed a - brilliant - quote to add "A company with no sales is like riding a static bicycle: it takes you nowhere, yet you end up really tired." She even went further on to comment that startups should prove they have got customers before venturing into looking for investors.
Another important lesson about sales is that the CEO him/herself should do most of it. Ana explained that there's no better person than yourself to sell your brand. She actually spends almost 80% of the time going to events, conferences, and targeted meetings to expand their brand.
Investment for R+D
"Sometimes I wonder whether Spain is a country for writers, not for scientists," added Ana when asked whether it was complicated to raise capital in Spain. She was of the opinion that Spain has got a lot of money to invest, but it is not investing it wisely. Like our previous attendees, she agreed that there was not enough support for researchers and innovators.
Actually, Ana had to endure several difficulties throughout the years: two global crisis', their former employer filing for bankruptcy and having to go uphill constantly by leading a research-based company in Spain. Whatever the future has for them, we can only hope it's good. They've won a tedious battle so far, "but it's taken 15 years to be this successful. We shouldn't forget the amount of patience required to survive this far."
"In the Spanish universities, creating companies is strongly discouraged. If you're doing it for the money, then you're evil," she concluded when asked about her relationship with universities, their main customer besides hospitals.
However, clients are not there from the first day. Ana advised new startups in the research field to look for European grants & projects, which is a good source of funding in the early days.
Women in tech
Following one of the hot topics nowadays in Barcelona, Ana commented on the gender gap in roles of responsibility. "Women need to be engaged with technology, science and coding at earlier age in school. That'll gradually bring more prepared women in the market," according to Ana.
In spite of that, it's not always that easy: Ana has got four children, and she admits she does not always have time for everything: "as an entrepreneur, and even more so as a woman and mother, there are certain things left unattended." One must know his/her limitations and not try to reach everywhere to avoid potential burnout.
Last, but not least, she acknowledged that bringing successful entrepreneurs closer to people might spark inspiration - as she put it "success breeds success. I want people to think: 'if she could do it, then I can do it as well.'"