Editor’s note: My trip to Murcia was paid for by INFO Murcia, but the opinions in this article are my own.
In late February a group of Finnish entrepreneurs gathered from their flights to the Alicate airport in south-eastern Spain. Once we were all accounted for, our van left the Alicante Airport bus depot and a blast of sunlight hit us from the side. All the Finns had a verbal and physical reaction to our first direct sunlight in months.
Our bus was traveling 45 minutes north to Murcia. Despite it being the 6th largest city in Spain with a population a little less than the size of Helsinki’s, a before the trip I couldn’t put it on a map. Despite its lack immediate name recognition, at the end of the trip, myself and the Finnish entrepreneurs and was sincerely convinced they’ve got the right climate and attitude for tech startups to set up the Spanish arm of their company.
The reasons to have some sort of Spanish presence are straightforward. We talk a lot about Nordic startups being “international from day one”, but for many, this just means starting out in their home country, taking their first steps abroad in the UK, and then hitting the U.S. market. Its a easy method, but it sure isn’t “global”.
Targeting the Spanish speaking market does require you to localize your service, but it seems to be a small cost compared to the market size. Spain has a home market of 47 million, and meanwhile there are 407 million Spanish speakers in the world who are rapidly going online and looking for new tools and services. With so many startups being hesitant about expanding into different language markets, it makes sense to try to fish from the pond where there’s less boats.
Spain is especially interesting for mobile startups. According to a October 2012 COMScore report, Spain has the highest smartphone penetration rate in the EU5 countries at 63.2%, followed closely by the UK with 62.3% and France at 51,4%. Spain showed the strongest growth at 14.8% compared to the year before.
The Murcian Candidate
The employment situation is rough in Spain. Youth unemployment is as high as 55%, with 26% of the population without work. But it’s also an opportunity for foreign startups to hire hungry technical talent.
We heard real numbers that a small ICT company in Murcia had an experienced Java and HTML5 developer employed for €1,700 monthly, with a yearly total cost to the company at €28,000. The company also had programmers hired for around €1,200 monthly, or €15,000 yearly to the company. I don’t know if that’s cheap or if the Nordic countries are expensive, but the answer is likely both.
Murcia is home to Spain’s technical talent. The University of Murcia and the Polytechnic University of Cartagena are just nearby, and are spitting out degrees in computer science and programming. The larger technical companies we spoke with told us this is the reason why they’re set up in Murcia, and not in Madrid or Barcelona. With access to a high number of English speaking programmers looking for jobs, you’ve got cost-effective options.
“If you compare to prices in Finland you can get two people here – two and a half or three people. And the economic situation is great, with the unemployment there are many people seeking for a job and are hungry for a job. There are potentially so many people that want to work with you that you can really pick out the best ones,” says Tommi Harju, CEO of Norrest Co, a Finnish consulting company that helps Finnish companies expand to Spain who was on the trip.
The Murcian government sees all this technical talent coming out of the region, and has decided that they need to boost it through infrastructure investments. We saw two co-working spaces and business parks built in the past few years, and to put it plainly they are cool buildings to work in – and they’re looking for international startups to fill them with.
There we toured CEEIM, a brand new “Startup Reference Center” in Murcia. There we met some cool entrepreneurs in a professional, yet “startup” vibe. Nordic startups should be at home there due to the strong presence of Scandinavian furniture and clean lines.
And in Murica’s new Scientific Park, they had plenty of space available for company offices or co-working in nicely designed new facilities overlooking the Murcian skyline. The above picture could be your meeting room. One of the features available there is a datacenter, which is interesting for startups that need some hardware to plug into, instead of the standard offerings from AWS.
The Sun Also Rises
In my opinion the weather is one of the strongest reasons to set up an office in Murcia. The “fun fact” cited by all the Finns on the trip at least once was the news that since the start of December until February 19th, the sun has shone through the clouds in Helsinki for a mere 50 hours. The cloudiest winter in 25 years. Meanwhile Murcia had 159 sunlight hours in December alone, and boasts 300 sunny days a year. We just had snow two days ago in Helsinki, meanwhile it’s 26 degrees in Murcia.
The quality of life in Murcia is damn good, and the local seafood and year-round fresh vegetables are reason enough to move down there. If you’re doing a lot of business in the States, someone made the remark that if you work in the Spanish way of take a long afternoon lunch and work through the evening, it’s easy to connect to people on the West cost, or in the greater Spanish speaking markets.
Murcia is somewhat out of the way, and you could say that Barcelona and Madrid is where the majority of business happens. Madrid is a 3.5 hour car ride, but there are direct flights within Spain and to the Nordic capitals from Alicante, a tourist hotspot. Murcia has just had their airport rebuilt, and is likely to start serving flights in a year.
What it all comes down to is that the Murican government is hungry for new companies and investment, and is very welcoming in getting rid of bureaucracy and “first step” problems so you can be up and running in no time. They offer a list of services they call Plug and Play Murcia.
Setting up a Spanish branch is basically a quick trip to the folks at INFO, the Murcian business development office. There you sit down for a little bit and they help out with the paperwork. There’s no running around from government office to office, or having to guess what Spanish forms say. After a quick trip and €200 in registration fees, INFO will knock out a Spanish company in 48 hours.
Once you got that set up, recruitment is another free service INFO will do for international companies. They say they’re flexible with what ever you need – from a wide range of candidates to a shortlist of the best candidates for your position. Free quality candidates is always good, and it saves you time and energy compared to finding the right job boards or your own recruiter.
Knowing where to physically put your office is another step you might have to figure out in a new town, so INFO is also happy to give free help site location. They know the business centers you would fit best into, or also can recommend where to put your own office.
On top of that, INFO will look out for you when it comes to financial advice to the public resources available to you. And they’re connected people that are genuinely interested in making sure that your business has access to the right players in your industry – so if you need introductions anywhere they can likely help you out. And for more information on the investment side of things, Invest In Murcia provides the right contacts.
I’m not sure what our Finnish delegation expected when we first touched down on Spanish tarmac. If anything, I think the mood was, “we’ll see what they have to say, and at the very least it will be warm and sunny.”
But the truth comes out when we were alone only to ourselves and high number of beers and tapas, the Finns were genuinely impressed with the new realized opportunities in the Spanish markets and the support offered by the Murcian government. And we weren’t just there to see a few buildings, meetings with the heads of football clubs and service providers came out of nowhere, and business was done.
Matti Lamminsalo from Yössä nightlife event app is looking at expanding into the Spanish markets, also says that the boost you get from INFO and the local government is a major benefit. He’s looking into moving some development into Spain, so for him, the idea that they can arrange job interviews saves him a lot of effort.
So if you’re looking for inexpensive dev talent, the Spanish speaking market, or better weather in the winter, get in touch with the folks at INFO Murcia. Compared to being on your own in Barcelona or Madrid, it’s a great deal, and they’re open, warm, and professional people that want the best for your company, and therefore Murcia.