40 years accompanying young people to enhance their growth and employability

We spoke with Verónica Rodríguez, project manager in the Entrepreneurship Area.

When and how did the entrepreneur advisory service within the Foundation arise?

At the beginning of the creation of the Foundation there were no entrepreneurship services, but they arose from the need to offer people another alternative for social and labor insertion through self-employment.

How has the program evolved over time to the present day?

The situation of the country has a direct influence on the circumstances of the people and therefore of the labor activity. Throughout these years, the profile of entrepreneurs has been changing, and therefore the Entrepreneurship Program has been adapting to these changes by adapting the support tools in order to enhance the impact on the people who need it most. In these years, we have worked for equal opportunities and now we have parity between men and women entrepreneurs. We have adapted technology in the internal management of the service and incorporated it as a fundamental tool in the business models. Gamification and leraning by doing as key learning elements. Financial aid has also been adapted, and at the moment we have personal emergency aid for participants, aid for micro-enterprises, for the consolidation of businesses and social micro-credits. Since COVID-19, the volunteer mentors have played a fundamental role in supporting the business conversion process, enhancing the Program’s services and integrating assistance. The year 2020 has also forced us to develop the semi-face-to-face service, adapting training and personalized attention.

What specific support services and activities are offered to entrepreneurs?

The services offered by the program, which are completely free of charge, are: training in entrepreneurship (-how to make your business plan and the development of personal skills for entrepreneurship-), individualized counseling (-starting up your business idea and its consolidation-), support in the development of the economic and financial plan, support in accessing financing, support in the consolidation of companies through specialized training (legal, digital marketing, etc.) and mentoring service through volunteer experts, possibility of participation in entrepreneurship networks, among others.

How do entrepreneurs get to know Tomillo and how do they get in touch with the program?

Through Tomillo’s website they can access a form where they can fill in their data, this allows us to contact them to establish an initial diagnostic interview and if they meet the priority requirements to access the service. In addition to the Foundation’s website, we receive them through personal contacts and referrals from entities that do not work in self-employment and are aware of our good work in entrepreneurship.

Does the program count with the collaboration of other entities or companies?

The program relies on both public and private entities for its financing, which allows us the possibility of offering the services to those who require them, free of charge. In addition, we have volunteers from different entities and business areas that provide added value and complement the actions of the program, such as mentoring established businesses.

The program works in a network with friendly entities for those very specific issues that we are unable to address, such as specialized training in gender equality. We belong to the Incorpora de La Caixa network of social entities and are founding members of the Youth Business Spain (YBS) network.

We promote entrepreneurship in the classroom, participating in the training of young people, not only within the organization, but also in local high schools.

What is the profile of the people who come to seek advice?

The profile of the people attending the program has been changing over the years, although men were the majority of entrepreneurs, this trend is becoming more even after the increasingly strong incursion of women in entrepreneurship.

In 2020, almost 6 out of 10 people who attended the program were Spanish and the rest were of foreign origin (not counting those from the European Union). In addition, half of the people who have requested services have been women, a number that is reduced when we talk about continuity in the itinerary where 4 out of 10 people are women. It is worth noting the increase in the percentage of people with university qualifications who attend the program, since they are young people who have finished their studies but are in a vulnerable situation due to the lack of job opportunities.

Are there any requirements to participate in the program?

Our priority profiles are young people under 30 years of age, long-term unemployed people, non-naturalized migrants from third countries and people with businesses that need support as a result of COVID19.

Do you carry out any project selection process to choose them?

Once we receive the service request form, we analyze the profiles and give preference to the aforementioned priority groups.

When they ask for advice, at what stage of the start-up process do they usually find themselves?

Each person comes to us at different points in the process, but most of them come to us with a business idea and without any previous study or knowledge of how to carry it out.

What are the procedures or activities of the process that are most in demand?

Commerce and hospitality are usually the activities that are most in demand, but little by little the services of professionals are having more room: nutritional counseling, beauty, event organizer … without forgetting the growing request of many entrepreneurs for the implementation of apps.

When setting up your business, what are the main difficulties or problems encountered by entrepreneurs?

The bureaucratic procedures are tedious and in many cases complicated to understand for potential entrepreneurs, both for the start-up of the business, as well as for the administrative procedures of documentation to register as self-employed. In addition to this, although more and more businesses are starting up without external financing, there are many people who find it difficult to access financing through banks due to the restrictions they currently apply or due to personal circumstances of the entrepreneurs in the case of acquired debts that prevent external financing. The digital divide is another relevant factor in view of the difficulties encountered.

What percentage of entrepreneurs who finally materialize the business apply for a microcredit, financing… through the program?

Of the people who come to the services and follow an entrepreneurship itinerary, 14% accessed some type of financing in 2020. More than €16,000 in non-repayable consolidation grants, thanks to CVC Capital Partners and support in applying for more than €80,000 in microcredits from MicroBank La Caixa.

What are the sectors in which you are currently advising the most? What major changes have occurred in the last 10 years?

Although the main focus is on hospitality and commerce, which are the most demanded, the professional services sector and the creation of apps are increasingly in demand. An important aspect to highlight is that in 2020 almost 18% of the projects were social entrepreneurship projects, a differential factor that the program encourages and that is increasingly growing.

What difficulties have entrepreneurs encountered during the healthcare crisis? Have they influenced the abandonment of processes already started?

The healthcare situation has inevitably influenced both businesses that were in the process of starting up and those that were already active. After the assimilation of the situation, many entrepreneurs did not understand the measures imposed by the Government or what steps they could take from that moment on, so we had to pay attention to help entrepreneurs by giving several talks where we explained the measures both precovid and postcovid. Some non-core businesses or those that were on the verge of creation had to close or even failed to open, but on the other hand, there were entrepreneurs who reinvented themselves, turned their business around and looked for the opportunity and left the difficulty behind, which is why the number of businesses created last year was lower, but not by much compared to previous years.

Since the healthcare crisis, have you noticed changes in the profile of entrepreneurs, the type of business, the incorporation of technology…?

The healthcare crisis has led to the emergence of digital differences according to the population’s group and education. Due to the need to make a change of course and offer blended services during this situation we are living, we have detected the difficulty of many people to use new information technologies as a tool, so that in this case in the training courses carried out the profile of participation were people with a basic level of computer skills, an aspect that can be supplied in another way.

What is the volume of entrepreneurs served per year? Of all the entrepreneurs served, how many actually start up a company and what percentage of companies end up with no activity?

Throughout the year, an average of 600 people have requested information, and nearly 400 people have accessed entrepreneurship services. Of these, 71% went through a personalized care itinerary process in 2020 and of these, 13% succeeded in launching their business project. Not all entrepreneurs create their business at the moment they start, either because they start at the end of the year, or because they combine it while they work, or because of financial issues, etc. That is why many of the business projects that begin to be studied in one year are consolidated in the following years or successive years in some cases. In addition, as a result of the COVID-19 situation, services have focused on supporting existing companies, serving more than 130 start-ups.

Once the business is up and running, what are usually the main difficulties encountered? Does the program follow up afterwards?

Our advice is before, during and after, so once the business is set up we continue to assist them in those difficulties that are planned. This is what we call assisted management, which is done in several ways: on-site visit to the business, by e-mail or by telephone. In this sense, in recent years, with the help of volunteers, we have carried out a telephone follow-up of the incorporated companies to see how the business is doing and to detect any needs that may exist. The main difficulties encountered in the first year of life are usually for the consolidation of the business, one of the most important of which is how to develop a marketing plan that works and that attracts customers and builds customer loyalty.

Do you consider that you are an important support in the face of entrepreneurs’ insecurities? Does the program offer them management resources or emotional support?

It is important to support them in this process, since entrepreneurship involves risk, but this can be minimized by previously studying the business idea and analyzing all technical, economic and financial issues. This process can be very difficult if they do it on their own, although it is not impossible if they have the tools to do it, although they usually do not.

In addition to this we teach entrepreneurial skills such as the search for opportunities, persistence, leadership … it is essential that an entrepreneur has them or learns them because it will help not only to run the business well but will be supports for improvement for their employability in any field of work.

What advice would you give to those who are thinking about entrepreneurship or have a business idea?

It is essential to study the business idea beforehand, to know if it is technically and economically viable, since it is important to undertake but minimizing risks. Be excited about your business idea but do not idealize it, it is necessary to previously make a market test of the product or service to see if there is a market niche, an essential condition for the start-up. And finally, if they are going to undertake something they like, they are passionate about, in what they have or have not experience, in what they have always wanted to do, that is their life project, since the dedication will be full, at least at the beginning, and that leads to a series of sacrifices that will be reflected in the personal part.

Does Tomillo offer any type of differential service that positions it with respect to other entities that also offer advice to entrepreneurs?

Our advice is personalized, we adapt ourselves to the person, which for us is fundamental, it is the center of our attention. That is why we always take into account not only professional issues but also personal ones, because many people start with complicated situations that need to be supported in order to solve them. In addition, our services cover the entire process before, during and after, so we can help you wherever you are. Thanks to our networks of partners and funders, as well as the more than 100 expert volunteers who support us, we are able to adapt quickly to the needs of our participants and to scale up assistance.