Demium Managing Director, Bilbao

What’s a typical day in the Demium office for you?

I start by saying hi to everyone with a big smile and try to bring all the positive energy I can into the office. Then the action starts. I go from meeting to meeting, with the office incubation team and the entrepreneurs, and then I run out to meet potential investors. Sometimes I don’t even have time to open my emails, let alone take lunch – I eat with the entrepreneurs while talking about projects. It’s hectic, but I usually leave the office with a big smile too.

Tell us about your personal experience in the startup world…

Well, one of the successful ones is a startup in Dubai, which had founding members of four different nationalities. It’s called Duplays and is a platform that connects members with sports games and leagues in the Middle East. It can also manage sporting events for corporate teams. As for the not-so-successful… There are other projects that failed, like a solar engine project I worked on with an expert engineer. In the end it didn’t have the right market fit.

When you hear the word ‘entrepreneur’, what comes to mind?

For me it means risk, courage and resilience. The ability to leave your comfort zone, to work hard and dream big to make a change. It’s a way of life. Success is the result of all the hard work and effort, not the goal itself.

Describe the AllStartup Weekend in Bilbao…

Even though it’s a very frenetic weekend, it always turns out well. We start welcoming the candidates around 2pm on a Friday and work on choosing teams and creating ideas until 10pm. Saturday and Sunday are for training, mentoring and working on the project, ready for the pitch at 4pm on Sunday. I enjoy the energy, stress, surprise, enthusiasm, tiredness… It’s a rollercoaster.

What can you tell us about Bilbao’s startup ecosystem?

It’s tough, with many hardworking individuals. The Basque Country has a long tradition in creating companies that are internationally successful in the industrial fields. There was a digital boom over a decade ago, but the market burst and the investors’ confidence was destroyed. Since then, there have been a few exits, but the Government is helping to create an Entrepreneurship and Innovation Hub in Bilbao with international players, so investors are starting to show interest again.

When it comes to finding investors at seed stage, what’s the best way to go about it?

Be empathetic. Understand that the investors are risking their money, so they have to first believe in you, then the idea. That means: team, team, team! This is what they’re looking for. Ideas without execution are just ideas; it’s the people behind the ideas that make the difference.

Name three characteristics that are essential for any budding entrepreneur.

Trust, motivation and leading by example.

Of all the misconceptions that first-time entrepreneurs have about startup life, what is the most common?

They think that since they have a brilliant idea everyone is willing to pay for, they can work a bit and then boom, exit and go live in the Caribbean. Nope. Startup life is work, work and more hard work. There’s risk and a lot of trying to figure out what customers need. But once you’re in there’s no way back and it’s absolutely worth it.

How would you advise someone worried about the risks of starting their own business?

I’d show them that people like them have succeeded and ask them: “When you’re old and you’re looking back at your life, what would you regret the most? The fact that you left your comfort zone and risked it all to start your own company or the fact that you didn’t even try?”

Who is the entrepreneur you most admire?

My dad – he started many times and some didn’t go well, but some did. He sold one of his businesses when he was 50, met my mum three months later and become dad at 53. Since the age of 56 he has spent his life dedicated to the family, while also helping others start businesses or invest.