Doing business surrounded by water

The climate, the safety, the connections, holding on to talent are some of the advantages and difficulties of launching a startup on an island

Menorca is a paradise, also for beginning a startup | Pixbay Menorca is a paradise, also for beginning a startup | Pixbay

Starting a business on an island or setting up a startup in the Balearic Islands may seem ideal in combining climate and tranquility with work. Yet, diving into entrepreneurial waters is hard enough, and if we add the obstacle of being cut off on an island, doubts over the adventure begin to mount. However, the entrepreneurs who are these days in Calvià taking part in the Smart Island World Congress (SIWC) would not change their location for anything in the world. The climate, good connections, safety, closeness to the authorities and the international environment provide a competitive advantage that can compensate for the difficulties in finding and holding on to talent.

From Mallorca to the world

The Mallorcan telecommunications company Wireless DNA (WDNA) is taking part in the SIWC. This firm, which in 2017 won the Cepyme national prize for technological innovation, began as a startup in 2014. Its CEO and cofounder, the telecommunications engineer José Mañas, says that WDNA is devoted to "providing telecommunications services to large mobile phone operating companies, essentially." They offer consulting and auditing to "bring order to the chaos of telephone mobile networks to optimise, provide the best services and reduce costs." From Mallorca they provide their services internationally, to Israel, Latin America and Mexico, and among their clients is AT&T, the largest operator in the world.

The three founders, who are childhood friends, worked at Siemens and Nokia, after years of travelling the world -Portugal, Philippines, China, USA- when they decided to go back to sa roqueta "to start a new innovative business project and have a long-term life plan."

They began with only four employees but today employ more than 50 people and have a turnover of around three million euros. Moreover, the company is now getting involved in the smart cities sector with advanced meteorology and IoT.

Mañas points out the advantages of doing business in Mallorca: "Good weather, quality of life, good connections, tranquility, safety, an idyllic environment and an open and international society, with lots of good health"

And the advantages and drawbacks of doing business on an island? "If you have a niche business, in principal you won’t have much competition," but in the case of the business WDNA works in, "the competition continues to be global, regulations, asymmetries, etc." And obviously, one of the biggest problems is finding qualified staff and holding on to talent. But also one of the advantages of doing business in a paradise surrounded by water is that it can also attract staff: "Good weather, quality of life, good connections, tranquility, safety, an idyllic environment, an open and international society and a lot of good health," says the entrepreneur.

Imserso technology bears the Mallorcan seal

Vicenç Caimari is the spokesman for Brújula Technologies. This company is no longer a startup. It was once some 18 years ago, but now it is a company with a turnover of 10 million euros providing services from Palma to Italy, Spain, Colombia, Mexico and Portugal. With a staff of 160 people, Brújula provides technological services to large companies in the Balearic tourist sector: it has developed, for example, the Imserso reserve system of the Mundosenior company and manages the website content of Melià and Barceló.

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"Doing business on an island has different barriers to any other place, beginning with geographical mobility and the limitation that it means for the job market," says Caimari. That is why the company manager stresses internal training as a way of overcoming this problem. Another aspect is access to finance: "Attracting private capital, investors or business angels to the island is difficult, because the entrepreneurial ecosystem is very small." On the other hand, the closeness to the public authorities -the Balearic government and the Island Councils- which foster entrepreneurial activity, is easier.

Caimari: "Palma airport, which is the third largest in Spain in terms of passenger numbers, has certain connections with Europe that are better than in Barcelona or Madrid"

The good climate, safety and the transport connections provide added value: "Palma airport, which is the third largest in Spain in terms of passenger numbers, has certain connections with Europe that are better than from Barcelona or Madrid."

Menorca’s photographic pills

In 2013, three Menorcans founded Photopills, a startup born with the aim of "helping photographers to snap legendary photos," points out Rafael Pons, one of the founders. This app lets the user find and plan out the best moments to take a "spectacular" photo, such as for example, knowing the time when the sun is in the best position to get a picture of a sunset over the sea.

The idea for Photopills emerged when Germán Marquès, another of the founders, bought himself a camera. Marquès noticed that it was very hard to take good photos and he had lots of unanswered questions. That is why the app is called Photopills, "photographic medicine allowing you to cure all the problems photographers come across when taking their ideal photos," says Pons.

Pons: "For a 100% technological company, the main drawback about doing business on an island is finding talent"

For the entrepreneur, ideas can be developed anywhere; what is difficult is finding the idea and then the team to carry it out. "Today, for a 100% technological company, the main drawback about doing business on an island is finding talent." Pons points out that, in his case, it is hard to find IT specialists on Menorca, even though with it being a digital company the staff can work from anywhere. And the advantage of doing business on an island? "If you like the sea and a quiet life, it is the ideal place," says the founder of the startup that was chosen to take part in the first edition of the entrepreneurial programme, Menorca Millennials.

Tweeting Big Data

Santi Camps is an entrepreneur from Menorca and founder of the Mabrian Technologies company, which is also taking part in the SIWC. The startup applies  Big Data to learn about the behaviour of tourists. Set up five years ago, they analyse tourist dynamics to learn what type of products visitors consume, what destinations they prefer or what they spend their money on when they are on holiday. Mabrian gets the data from information taken from social media, such as Twitter or Instagram, or from comments left about hotels, as well as from statistics about air traffic or figures on how much each visitor spends.

The company has clients all over the world and the fact that it is a tech startup means there aren’t that many drawbacks to doing business from Menorca. What Camps does point out as a problem is the lack of direct flights to and from the Balearic Islands, always requiring a change at Barcelona to go anywhere. That’s why the firm also has an office in the Catalan capital, where they handle the more commercial side of things, while the technical side of the business is done in Maó. For the entrepreneur, one of the drawbacks of the island is the lack of initiatives or projects aimed at helping businesses, as there is only the Joves Empresaris programme, thanks to which Camps was able to come up with the idea for Mabrian Technologies.

Bolz: "Mallorcans want to work in Mallorca and that’s why neither Barcelona or Madrid can compete with this island"

Yet, the entrepreneur stresses as an advantage the tranquility of living on an island in comparison to life in a large city. Mabrian Technologies has a staff of 12 employees, nine of whom work in the Menorca office. "We are happy because we have managed to attract talent to Menorca," Camps points out.

Germans and Mallorcans

German Mallorca resident, Chris Bolz, explains the case of Urban Drivestyle. This startup wants to bring electricity to the vehicle rental sector on the islands. Its founder, Ossian Vogel, designed his own vehicle and financed it with 350,000 euros raised through Indiegogo. The first example of electric bicycles that could be rented through an app was on Mallorca, and the third version is now being built in Berlin. In all, the company employs 20 people.

Bolz says that doing business on an island is a good idea "because there is always a local that wants to help the project" and in his specific case "the number of tourists is really good for trying out new products." As for finding and retaining talent, Bolz claims not to have had any problems: "Mallorcans want to work in Mallorca and that’s why when it comes to holding on to talent, neither Barcelona or Madrid can compete with this island."

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