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Interview with Sara Mateo

Which resources are available for start-ups to progress and grow?


Start-ups and newly established small companies are the backbone of the European economy. They represent 99% of all companies in the EU. However, the number of unicorns, private companies valued at more than a billion dollars, in Europe is still far behind the US and China. Our colleague, Sara Mateo, leader of the “entrepreneurship area” at ZABALA Innovation, explains the keys to success for smaller businesses.

– What are the difficulties faced by start-ups on their journey to success?

Firstly, we should talk about the need for funding. Funding is difficult to obtain in the early stages of development for a product that is not yet mature, due to the uncertainty that this entails for private investors. Therefore, public financing instruments play a key role here.

Secondly, and no less important, is the entrepreneurial team and its training. In many cases, start-ups are born under the leadership of a group of highly qualified scientific or technological experts, sometimes as the result of a university R&D project. These experts do not always have thorough knowledge of issues related to business development or commercial activities, which are a prerequisite for successfully bringing a solution to the market and scaling up. Therefore, to grow, start-ups require teams of professionals with complementary profiles, knowledgeable in both technical and business issues, and where the founders are highly involved in the initial idea.

– What is ZABALA’s role in helping small companies?

Through our Cascade Funding programmes, we provide grant support, acting as intermediaries with funds from the European Commission. We also offer training programmes in business aspects that are highly valued by start-ups. They acquire knowledge and resources to turn their weaknesses into strengths.

– What tools are available to identify these start-up support programmes?

Not all the opportunities are available in a single place, so at ZABALA, we have simplified the search by creating a “one-stop shop” on our website. In our new Cascade Financing section, you can find all the programmes we manage, those with imminent closure dates, as well as a complete calendar of opportunities to download on our platform, Kaila.

– In addition to participating in Cascade Funding programmes, what other resources exist to enable start-ups to progress and grow?

Participating in events is also very important for start-ups. At ZABALA, we had the opportunity to participate in the last edition of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) and accompany 8 start-ups that we support through our Cascade Funding programmes. More specifically, we participated in 4YFN, an event aimed at start-ups within the MWC.

These kinds of activities provide start-ups with greater visibility within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, helps them get in touch with investors, accelerators and larger technology companies that might be interested in acquiring their technology or collaborating on new projects together. Therefore, our conclusion is that participating in events is often of great value for start-ups; and now, with the return to physical formats, as opposed to virtual, companies can benefit even more from quality networking.

– What are the next major events dedicated to start-ups?

Following the last edition of 4YFN within the MWC, held in June in Barcelona, the upcoming months are full of events worth noting in your agenda.

At the end of the summer, Startup Olé will take place in Salamanca from 6 to 10 September. A month later, from 5 to 7 October, the South Summit will be held in Madrid in a hybrid format. Then in February, returning to its usual date, a new edition of 4YFN will be launched in Barcelona, as part of the Mobile World Congress.

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