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July 6, 2018

Obama, Startup President

Laura González-Estéfani

Barack Obama took off his jacket. The world’s most powerful man was wearing a plain shirt. He spoke at Stanford’s auditorium, a place where tech dreams are forged: “Hola, mucho gusto,” he said in Spanish, speaking to a group of eleven Cuban entrepreneurs. They were the creators of KeHayPaHoy, a sort of Eventbrite with things to do in La Habana, and creators of A La Mesa, a startup similar to El Tenedor. Airbnb’s first hosts were also there, upgrading their houses as they could, according to my friends who saw it from the front row. I had the pleasure of meeting both startups in their own environment a little bit before as part of one of my last missions at Facebook, but that was not the only one where Obama had a direct impact.

That was the opening of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, a meeting with the most relevant social entrepreneurs. A similar encounter is now celebrated in Madrid — and it has brought Obama himself to tell us the reality of how Silicon Valley was built in order to better understand what parts of the model worked out and grew, and which parts are still considered a world reference 40 years later.

We do not want a Silicon Valley in Spain because it wouldn’t work. Let’s be realistic. It’s not about importing it as-is. We have our own personality and soul, so we can learn what works and make it a reality in our own ways. The main ingredient, talent, we have enough — and the illusion and desire to do so are going to drive us crazy!

I lived (and still live) in the United States during Obama’s presidency. Even though things are unfortunately not the same in our current days, his revolution towards entrepreneurship in his country, as well as in an international level, lives on. In fact, it’s unstoppable. It inspired us; we needed the most powerful man in the world to support us, to get us excited and to make the way easier.

I’m 41 years old, a mother of three wonderful children, Hispanic, immigrant in the United States, and in tech. I mean, I have all the attributes to be out of opportunities… but I’m unstoppable!

Just to give you an example: IN3 (Incube) is an event launched three years ago in Spain by Former Ambassador James Costos. The international impact that the event has had for the Spanish community of entrepreneurs is indescribable — really indescribable. When did an ambassador do something of such magnitude for local entrepreneurs? When did an ambassador facilitate a connection between Silicon Valley and Spain with such fondness? The stars lined up and the trinomial Costos, Miguel Arias (former Carto, now at Telefonica) and Adrián García (Endeavor) took what they knew was working, the local personality and soul, the community outreach, and they revolutionized the ecosystem from Spain to the world. Yes, from Spain to the world, because our entrepreneurs are capable of it, the same way big businessmen were capable of in their days.

Yes, you can!

When I went to Palo Alto for the first time in 2009, Facebook was an itinerant office, from coffee to coffee, on University Avenue, then on California Avenue, until we moved to Menlo Park, to Sun Microsystem’s campus.

Never did a startup had a similar growth in user acquisition without borders like Facebook. The world was closer, more united. The global community was a reality. Obama’s mission to make small people get into business, to drive immigrants with talent to his country, collides with today’s politics, but it does not prevent its development.

Without his startup visa, a special permit to create small-team businesses with large ambitions, the ecosystem that we currently belong to would have never flourished. Obama’s work went way beyond nice words and legal permits, it arrived as a seed capital fund with $2.5 billion to invest.

The small ask to be on the front of a corporate world, which is more interested every day in learning the techniques and methods of the rampant startup phenomenon.

At TheVentureCity, my dream, we became infected with this state of mind. We are optimistic and think that yes, we can. Our vision goes beyond physical borders that divide countries. We want to bring the method that has resulted in so much prosperity, which was created in the coast of the Pacific, in that California with a Latin taste that looks endlessly for its gold nugget, to emergent hubs with great potential. Where others see problems, we find challenges and opportunities. Where many see lack of resources, we see businesses. We accepted the mission of boosting emergent ecosystems, with campuses in Miami and Madrid, and representation in San Francisco and Sydney, with our eyes on Latinamerica, Europe, Asia and Africa — and anywhere else where there is a dreamer willing to make his or her dreams come true.

Spain starts to consider the serious idea of being a startup nation, with Israel as inspiration and great challenges in terms of legal framework, flexibility, educational support, momentum… Obama’s visit cannot arrive in a better time. Let’s think differently, let’s change, let’s bring the best out of ourselves, so we can change the productive tissue of this country.

I, personally, have a lot to prove. I have not been half as successful as most entrepreneurs we help or that we invest in, but I’m hopeful, the unlimited energy, and the ability to make tech companies grow and to internationalize them so we can make Spain and its entrepreneurs a world reference, but please, help us get rid of absurd obstacles that we find locally and that put us on a clear disadvantage against other international hubs.

Spain has talent to spare. We just need, as Steve Jobs used to say, to connect the dots.

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