Former lawyer Lourdes Ferrer already had two startups under her belt when she struck gold with Percentil, an e-store selling “like new” second-hand children’s clothes that went on to snag millions of euros in funding. It was also named “best innovative idea” at the RTVE Emprende Awards in 2015.
Ferrer is regarded as a role model by many female entrepreneurs in Spain, both aspiring and actual. And she remains hungry for more: Percentil, she has said, would not be her “last adventure” as an entrepreneur.
Spain ranks among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest proportion of women-owned businesses, at 29.4%. In Europe, it is second, only after Poland (30.3%). In reality, the numbers are even higher, as many Spanish women run their own “unofficial” enterprises, which they juggle with their full-time roles in the workplace and at home.
Research by Spain Startup 2017 reported an increase in women-led startups, with success rates of 70%, including ventures by serial entrepreneurs who were able to secure more funding because of their track records.
CompassList profiles here some of those female serial entrepreneurs who have shaped and powered Spain’s startup scene, alongside their male counterparts.
María Benjumea Cabeza de Vaca (b. 1954) is a founding member of the International Women’s Forum (IWF) in Spain. She also founded Spain Startup in 2012, at the height of the Spanish economic crisis, to capture and promote the emerging but rapidly growing tech entrepreneurship in the country. Today, Spain Startup is best known for its South Summit conference, a showcase of outstanding startups from southern Europe and Latin America for outside investors.
Benjumea is also the vice-chair of Spanish Seniors for Technical Cooperation (SECOT) and independent director at public-listed payment services company Prosegur Cash SA. Named “Businesswoman of the Year” (ASEME) in 2007, the Clara Campoamor 2009 award winner believes that more can be done to empower women to reach top positions in companies.
The Andalusian aristocrat is the youngest of 10 children of the Conde (Earl) de Guadalhorce. She was preparing for the public service entrance examination when she decided to join friends to set up an antique store-cum-art gallery. In 1981, Benjumea founded Círculo de Progreso that specialized in employment and professional development services. Its Infoempleo portal was acquired by Vocento in 2006.
The mother of two is married to a native of Ávila, Diego del Alcázar y Silvela. He is the 10th Marqués de la Romana, as well as the co-founder and president of IE Business School and the president of the publicly listed Vocento media group.
Elena Gómez del Pozuelo (b. 1963) was the chair of the Spanish Association for Digital Economy (Adigital). She is currently the head of Spain’s first social network for professional women Womenalia and the Directivos Plus business media portal.
In 1990, she started working as a manager at the Spanish Association of Mail Order company just when the Internet was becoming popular as a place for new shopping channels. Seeing a connection between print mail order catalogs and online product listings, Gómez quickly co-founded the Spanish Electronic Commerce Association in 1998.
After giving birth to her second child in 1994, Gómez launched “La cigüeña del bebé,” a physical store that was pivoted into an e-commerce startup. She changed the name to BebéDeParis.com because the Spanish “ñ” letter did not exist on the net.
But when she discovered that her main users were working as secretaries, she registered the internet domain as “secretariaplus.com” to redirect traffic to “bebedeparis.com”. Eventually however, “secretariaplus.com” evolved into “Profesionalia.” Both online businesses were sold to USG People for €6 million in 2000. The deal spurred her on to co-found other startups including Womenalia.
Born in Madrid, the lawyer-turned-entrepreneur is a co-founder and board member of the Institute of Digital Innovation (Inesdi) and digital consultancies Incipy and Increnta. She is also an investor and board member of several startups including hotel reservations platform HallSt.
The mother of three was later joined by her two younger sisters who have also caught the virus of entrepreneurship. Together they run 13 businesses with total revenues exceeding €13 million.
Elena Betés Novoa (b. 1970) was the founder and CEO of Preminen, an insurance price-comparison joint venture between Admiral and Mapfre. She also became a manager of the European Price Comparison division of UK’s Admiral group that was listed in 2004.
Betés was also a board director of Compare.com and the head of the comparison site Lelynx.fr. In 2016, she became the chairwoman of Duobi.cn, a price-comparison joint venture by Preminen with insurance companies in China. She was named as one of Spain’s leading businesswomen in 2013 and 2014. She also received the Female Entrepreneur Award in 2015 from Fedepe, a federation of female business leaders.
Born in Canada, Betés has a business degree from Madrid’s CUNEF university and started her professional career at Arthur Andersen. After completing an MBA at IESE Business School, she decided to become an entrepreneur. Her first attempt to build a price-comparison website in 2004 ended up with her selling out to her partners. She then moved to Berlin with her family and started a new project with Firsteuropa that fell through when the parent company went bankrupt.
However, her fortunes changed when she met the CEO of the British Admiral insurance group. Henry Engelhardt agreed to invest in a price-comparison venture in Spain. It was a hard decision for Betés to leave her family in Germany and set up Rastreator in Spain in 2009. Rastreator recorded 50% of Spain’s insurance comparison transactions and achieved 10% of sales conversions in 2015. The busy working mum also makes time for her family, her horse and her dog – Rastreator is well known for its cute basset hound mascot and logo.
Yaiza Canosa Ferrío (b. 1993) was already part of a team since she was born in O Birloque, A Coruña. The youngest of six children had to take on a part-time job while earning her business degree and later MBA.
At age 18, she left home and moved to Barcelona to work at an audiovisual and technology company. Eighteen months later, she moved to Madrid and started Glue Concept that was rebranded as “glueworkmadrid.com”, a business consultancy portal and hub for entrepreneurs. Like others before her, the young Canosa was bitten by the “bug of entrepreneurship” – once bitten, there was no stopping.
Today, she is a founder of three startups and a partner in five companies, including GOI Travel that revolutionized the courier business by helping people to earn money while traveling. The on-demand courier travelers are even able to carry bulky items, such as furniture, refrigerators and pets. GOI operates in Madrid and Barcelona, with plans to expand throughout Spain, Europe and LatAm.
Named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list, Canosa often says that she never had a clear profession in mind when she was a child. She just likes to organize things and provide solutions – she is also often mistaken as “someone’s secretary” when she goes into meetings.
Endnote: The professionalization of women in Spanish business
Canosa’s anecdote of being mistaken as “someone’s secretary” is an ongoing issue faced by many women in a male-dominated corporate world. In 2015, women held only 17.9% of the board seats in Fortune 1000 companies. Gender pay gaps and the lack of high-profile female role models are common issues being addressed by government and business leaders.
Perhaps, more headline-grabbing deals made by female role models could help to promote the image of women as serious contenders in the swashbuckling world of business. Banking heiress and Santander Bank Chairwoman Ana Botín created a stir amongst finance veterans when she masterminded the “best deal in Santander’s history” with the acquisition of bankrupt rival Banco Popular for a nominal €1 in 2017.
At the other end of the spectrum is self-taught businesswoman Pilar Andrade Sanchez who started insurance agency Andrade & Iranzo SL that has client portfolios exceeding €2.5 million. The prolific entrepreneur is currently involved in over 500 businesses, including e-commerce for gardening products Hobbyclick and market research platform Clickerland.