Facing the unique challenges posed by the pandemic to young entrepreneurs in Spain

MSMEs in Spain heavily rely on ventum volante (street market selling), as well as the tourist industry, creating a very specific set of challenges for the young entrepreneurs of this country.

We interviewed Sara Simón Penas, Director of Youth Business Spain, to discuss the support they have been able to provide to marginalised communities in Spain via our COVID-19 Rapid Response and Recovery Programme supported by Google.org.

 What is Youth Business Spain (YBS), and what do you do?

We always say we are a network inside a network because we are an alliance of organisations committed to supporting self-employment. We are the only network of non-profit social organisations in Spain, promoting a community of knowledge, action, and good practices, to improve support services for young entrepreneurs in difficult situations. We also support other organisations in improving their services.

“Things have absolutely changed for entrepreneurs…. Their lives changed completely; they needed to digitalise their service or adapt it in other ways.”

How has COVID-19 in Spain been affecting entrepreneurs, and how has YBS adapted?  

We had a lockdown in March 2020 – people were at home, businesses were closed, and mobility was not a possibility between the different regions of Spain. It was like that for almost the whole year; we opened for a little bit during summer, but in September we closed again. Everyone is still working remotely, and most services are online. 

At the beginning, all businesses struggled, but especially entrepreneurs who had to sell on the street – ventum volante as we say here in Spain, the people who work in street markets. It was especially hard for them because they didn’t have a shop, and they couldn’t digitalise their service as easily.  

Things have absolutely changed for entrepreneurs. Before the pandemic, most people we were working with only had an idea for a business which they were interested in developing. However, after March 2020, most young people couldn’t afford or think about opening a new business. As a result, we focused our work on helping those people continue with their activities and stay the course. Their lives changed completely; they needed to digitalise their service or adapt it in other ways.

We had to adapt all our services; the services the YBS members were delivering were all in person before. We had advisor and  training meetings to help entrepreneurs develop their business plans, there were mentoring programmes… So, the first thing we did was adapt all these services to the new market and situation. And all this had to be done digitally! 

What are some of your most inspiring young entrepreneur stories from the pandemic and beyond?

We have plenty of inspiring stories, but the two that we could talk about here are our entrepreneurs Mame Ndack and Germania Bermúdez.  

Mame is a female entrepreneur from Senegal who runs a clothing store in Terrasa. The shop sells clothing, home décor, and accessories, but specialises in Bazin fabric; colourful unisex fabric which is widely used in Africa. She is a mother of 4 and opened the store in 2019 after the family business had run informally from home for two years. As a result, she has indicated that she always tries to balance her business and family life, as the two are so intricately linked in her case. She has also said that “For an entrepreneur, it is essential not to feel alone,” so she has benefitted most from the mentorship programme provided by Autoocupació. 

Germania is also a migrant female entrepreneur, but from Venezuela. She is the owner of “El Gibbor” bookstore, which sells stationary, gifts, and office items. She moved to Spain with her husband and two daughters, and acquired her business in 2019, in the municipality of El Tanque. However, five months later, the pandemic started. However, the organisation Afedes was able to provide her with a grant of €500 and a social microcredit worth €2,000. Germania has also undertaken personal skills and digitisation training with Afedes, and has been put in contact with a mentor to ensure her business can continue to thrive.   

“For an entrepreneur, it is essential not to feel alone.”  

— Mame Ndack, entrepreneur with Autoocupació
What activities has YBS been able to do as a result of YBI’s and Google.org’s support? 

I think the most important was the adoption of the SOS mentoring programme, adapting all the methodology of the Youth Business International programme to the needs of Spain. This allowed us to support entrepreneurs in this COVID situation through YBI’s mentoring system. I think this was the most important result of this collaboration with Google.org. 

We helped entrepreneurs to continue their activities or adapt, helping them make and implement a plan for the COVID and post-COVID situation, with an all-new strategy, digitalisation, and new services. 

The Google.org volunteers (Googlers) were also very important. They have supported us as an organisation, especially in the delivery of technical webinars, helping members of YBS use the Google services. We also delivered webinars with expert volunteers from Google for young entrepreneurs here in Spain directly which was very, very interesting and useful for both us and the entrepreneurs too. 

“Here in Spain, young people are still considered a minority group because of high youth unemployment, alongside women, migrants, and Romani people. These are the groups which YBS members are working with very actively.”

How do you reach marginalised young people in Spain, and what kind of entrepreneurship support are YBS offering to those groups?

As we are a network of organisations, entrepreneurs access YBS services through our members – that is how we reach marginalised people. Our members are very well positioned organisations in their territories – they have more than 20 years’ experience working with this collective and in self-employment, and have very good alliances with older public and private organisations and institutions.

Here in Spain, young people are still considered a minority group because of high youth unemployment, alongside women, migrants, and Romani people. These are the groups which YBS members are working with very actively. One member of YBS is Fundacion Secretariado Gitano (FSG), which is an organisation which works specifically with Romani people, and they are one of the groups that need the most support because of the exclusion they face.

For the Romani people, they mostly work in mercadillos venta ambulante; open space markets, where people sell clothes, bags, etc. FSG has a specific digitalisation programme for Romani people working in these markets. They also have general training programmes, and a programme to help with modernisation; their model of business has been to professionalise this kind of selling industry.

We also work with migrants. One of our members in Galicia has a specific programme mentoring migrants who have returned to Spain, in the sense that their grandparents were from Spain, or they have some relationship with a family in Spain. They are often from Venezuela, and our member has a specific programme for mentoring these kinds of migrants, supported by technical mentors.

I would also like to highlight another one of our female entrepreneurs; Marina Lamiche, owner of the ecological boutique ‘eRRe que eRRe’. The business sells bulk personal hygiene, cosmetic, and cleaning products, all encouraging consumers to minimise the amount of waste they create. Marina is a French migrant who opened her zero-waste boutique in the middle of the pandemic in 2020 after reflecting on the damage consumerism does, eventually coming to the minimalist movement as a catalyst for her business idea. She has also benefitted from YBS’s mentorship and hopes to resume hosting her own workshops on how to create sustainable cleaning products from simple components after the pandemic is over.

“We are starting to work with guidelines to help entrepreneurs to make their businesses greener and ensure their social impact… [as well as] creating a laboratory of entrepreneur tips for young people with this aspect of social and inclusivity.”

What do you think the future holds for small businesses in Spain, and what plans does YBS have to continue to tackle those issues in future?  

For us, it’s very important that other countries can visit Spain, because the restaurants and hotels are for tourists. Everyone will be watching for what happens in other countries; if they can come to Spain or not. People are also adapting their businesses with digitalisation and adapting their services in general.

We have three lines of new work this year. One is to study the profiles of our mentor entrepreneurs. We realised that there are many people currently working as advisors of young entrepreneurs who have no specific training or even soft skills themselves. So, we are doing a study of the profiles of people supporting young entrepreneurs all over Spain, what training they need, and which soft skills they need to develop to improve the support they provide.

The second line of work is in green and social entrepreneurs. We are starting to work with guidelines to help entrepreneurs to make their businesses greener and ensure their social impact. We want to help them include these aspects in their business from the beginning, including the concept of circular economy and how to make a suitable business plan. We’d also like to identify how much social impact their activity will have, and plan to line up a new service for this.

Our third line is starting to push the knowledge of YBS and creating a laboratory of entrepreneur tips for young people with this aspect of social and inclusivity. These are our lines of work for the future we will be focusing on.

To find out more about YBS’s work in Spain, please visit their website.

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