Fri, Feb 07, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Spain’s jobless women starting own businesses

The number of women establishing their own companies in the past five years has doubled to 40 percent of new firms amid the unemployment crisis

By Ashifa Kassam  /  The Guardian, MADRID

When it comes to finding a job in Europe, not all citizens are born equal. If you are Spanish, you have a one in four chance of being unemployed, rising to one in two if you are young. If you are a young woman in Spain? The odds of finding yourself among the ranks of the unemployed are even higher, at 54.7 percent.

However, young Spanish women are finding their own solutions to the crisis, discovering an entrepreneurial streak that has resulted in a record 800,000 businesses being set up by women in the past five years.

Take Almudena Velasco. She lost her job on a Monday. Despite her 16 years in advertising, the economic crisis meant her chances of finding another job in the industry were slim. So on that Wednesday, Velasco, 41, ploughed her life savings into starting her own ad agency.

Or Izanami Martinez. After she came up with the idea for NonaBox, a monthly box of goodies tailored to pregnant women and new mums, Martinez, 29, found investors, quit her job and launched her business all in one week. What started as a venture in her living room has grown into a 22-person company that spans five countries.

“In a startup if you have a good idea you can see it happen in two or three days,” Martinez said. “In a big company, you have to go to a committee and then another meeting, it takes a very long time. It’s kind of frustrating.”

Twenty years ago Martinez watched her mother go from bank to bank, looking for a loan to finance her dream of building a private school. Now it is much easier for entrepreneurs, she said.

“Even since we started three years ago, I see so many changes. There are a lot more startups, more venture capitalists every month and there’s a system that’s really starting to work,” she said. “It’s not like Berlin, of course, but there’s starting to be some events.”

“The crisis allowed women to seriously consider becoming entrepreneurs, something many had never thought of before,” Open University of Catalonia’s business school head Joan Torrent Sellens said.

In the past decades, Spanish women have made headway in government and the public sector, but lag behind in entrepreneurship, creating less than 20 percent of businesses. When analyzing the same figures during the crisis, Torrent Sellens stumbled across a surprising result: The number of businesses created by women had nearly doubled during the crisis, to just under 40 percent.

The statistic, Torrent Sellens said, is a silver lining to Spain’s years of economic turmoil.

As the crisis hit the country’s business community, destroying millions of jobs and reversing years of economic growth, it forced a rethink of priorities. Social media networking, product innovation and marketing became key values — all strengths that many Spanish women had developed on the margins as they sought to move forward in the hierarchical, male-dominated world of Spanish business.

At the same time, he said, technological advances put multinational corporations on the same footing as small, socially networked businesses.

“The crisis allowed women to ask: ‘Why do I have to be a director at a multinational, earning a third of what my male counterparts are earning when I can create my own business and lead my own project?’ The crisis gave them an alternative, their own way of breaking through the glass ceiling,” Torrent Sellens said.

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