The information in this document reflects the situation when it was written in 2006. Please bear in mind that some contact information may since have changed.
responding to industrial restructuring by opening up entrepreneurship to young people and women
The “Technological City of Valnalón” sprang from the ashes of one of the most severe processes of industrial restructuring in Europe. Over the last twenty five years Valnalón have developed a complete “chain” of educational and training activities to forge a culture of entrepreneurship in an area that had grown used to dependence on never-ending mineral resources, big companies and help from “father”state. Through their participation in three EQUAL projects Valnalón have managed to move a series of excluded groups, like women and rural youth, closer to the “fast track” of business creation.
One of the main aims of the Lisbon Agenda is to promote a “more entrepreneurial culture and create a supportive environment for SMEs”1. This is seen as a major challenge in Spain where according to a recent study “47% of parents encourage their children to look for a job in the public sector as the best career option”2. However, it is an even bigger challenge for regions like Asturias which, after nearly two hundred years of relative prosperity based on mining and steel, has lost nearly a quarter of its jobs in just two decades. The consequences are staggering. The rate of unemployment among young people is nearly 40% in the former steel industry areas like Valnalón.3
The Director of the Technological City of Valnalón, José Manuel Pérez, argues that to deal with this kind of situation it is important to start changing mindsets at a very early age: ”to become an entrepreneur is like becoming an sportsman. If you really want to do it, you have to start when you are 5 years old”. This is exactly what they have done. Over 52,000 people of all ages have now taken part in their many programmes. Günter Verheugen, Vice President of the European Commission in charge of Enterprise and Industry, says “take note of what is happening in certain Asturian schools and institutes. If we want to create more employment, Europe needs more young people who are prepared to take risks and create their own employment.”
There are eight projects in Asturias financed by the second round of EQUAL. All are led by the Regional Government. The EQUAL project “Equality Creates Enterprise”, in which Valnalón is a partner, together with the Regional Women’s Institute, the Women’s World Bank, and several trades unions and employers federations, wants to apply 20 years of Valnalón´s experience in building entrepreneurial culture to support women set up their own business. As José Manuel Pérez says, thanks to EQUAL, Valnalón now has its “female team”.
Valnalón has also participated in two other EQUAL projects – “Empezar” and “Equal Avanza” these focus on spreading entrepreneurship culture even further - among young people living in many of the region’s remote rural areas. Through all these projects EQUAL has allowed Valnalón to adapt its highly innovatory methodology to reach groups that are not normally the beneficiaries of programmes for industrial restructuring.
from coal and steel to the hearts and minds of entrepreneurs
Way back in 1987, the Regional Government handed José Manuel Perez the keys of the former offices of “Duro Felguera” and asked him to find alternatives to what was previously the most important and prosperous steel factory in Spain. Valnalón, the regional government owned company directed by José Manuel, transformed part of the premises into the first business centre of the region. But what companies were going to come there?
It was clear that the business centre lacked “raw material” - but now the raw material was not to be found in the ground – it lay in the creativity of existing and future generations of Asturian people. Valnalón’s success in fashioning an entrepreneurial culture that taps this creativity is based upon a number of key lessons which have great relevance for other EU countries. These findings have been adapted through EQUAL to fit the specific needs of women and other groups.
First of all, Valnalón considers that it is important to intervene across the complete life cycle in a way which they compare to training for a “high risk sport”. The process starts with” little sportsmen and women in primary school; it is still with them when they enter the junior team in secondary school; the best ones then go to the professional team”. At every stage, the students have “specialist trainers” to support them, but success depends on their own efforts: “People come here to train. We help them to train. But it is they who are going to the Olympics” says Pericles. “The young people are always the protagonists”.
Secondly, Valnalón has imaginatively adapted their training methodology to recreate real life situations at every state of the process. For example, in primary school, Valnalón’s EME Programme4 transforms the entire class into a real cooperative. “The children make rules of the cooperative, they design and make the products – puppets, flower pots, hair slides, dolls as well as the marketing and publicity campaign. The great moment arrives in May, when they all get together in the marketplace of their hometown and actually sell the products. Finally, they decide themselves what to do with the benefits”.
The process is taken one step further in the next lap of the “race”. Under Valnalón’s EJE programme5 young secondary school students between 12 and 16 years old also create and manage their own cooperative but this time for international trade. They invest their own money and get in touch with other cooperatives in Spain or, even better, in other countries. For this they have a range of options in places where Valnalón has transferred its methodology: 8 other regions of Spain as well as Mexico, the United States, Canada, UK, Northern Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Slovaquia and Belorussia. The cooperatives trade using new technology and communicating in English. There is even an agreement with the regional bank to support the cooperatives with micro-credits.
Valnalón also operates a series of programmes in Universities. The top “athletes” can perfect their business idea in Valnalón’s incubator and when they are ready, they can start to trade in Valnalón´s Business Centre, where they have 3 years to consolidate their company.
Another interesting feature of Valnalón’s approach is that they do not see entrepreneurship simply as a set of technical skills such as book-keeping and marketing which are only useful to private businesses. They see it is as a much broader set of attitudes and competences like team-working, decision-making, risk-taking, innovating and so on which can be applied to all walks of life. So they argue that those who don’t go on to become professional “”sportsmen and women” can practice their entrepreneurial skills as employees within private companies and in the public sector (they have coined the phrase intra-entrepreneurs) as well as within the community as social entrepreneurs.6
Finally, Valnalón realises that it is not possible to change mindsets simply through innovatory educational methodologies. There is also need for far-reaching work with other stakeholders like teachers, parents and the rest of the community.
equality is good for business
Iron, steel and mining make for an overwhelmingly male work culture and, unsurprisingly, most of the redundancies that took place in these industries in Asturias were made up of men. However, 60% of the people unemployed in the region are women. Rafael Vigil, an adviser in Valnalón’s Incubator Unit recognises that there are differences between the needs of women and men entrepreneurs: “Women’s projects take longer to mature. Women also stay longer in the incubator – around 1 year compared to 6 months for men”.
So the Equal Project “Equality Creates Enterprises” builds on Valnalón’s methodology to reach out and deal with the specific needs of women entrepreneurs. The project has three parts: firstly a study on the causes of discrimination against women in the Asturian job market; secondly an e-commerce platform to help the women promote and sell their products; and thirdly, a school for women entrepreneurs.
The latter is the heart and most innovative part of the project. According to Maria José Ramos, a regional minister7, “the project aims to develop a new way of intervening in the labour market from a gender perspective”. The study has helped the project identify six key barriers faced by women entrepreneurs in Asturias and the school based in the old steel company premises has tried to find solutions to each of them.
Lack of time and the burden of family responsibilities:
The solution found by Valnalón is based upon designing a short 64 hour starter’s course for women entrepreneurs - that is both flexible and mobile. Child care comes as part of the package.
The School´s core team is composed of 6 women. Although they are based in Valnalón’s offices they move to where the women are. They identify possible places for the course by establishing contact with local territorial agencies and organisations that already know the women. This is one of the strong points of the programme: the school reaches many women through local agencies, so these agencies do not see EQUAL as a competitor.
When they have reached enough number of women for the course (around 10-15), the school establishes personal contact with them to adjust the location, dates and timetables of the course to their needs. Women are even given the possibility of following different modules of the course in other places. Finally, quality childcare is provided in the form of the Schools “ludoteca”.
Cristina Ferrer Casas went to the territorial agency to look for information on the possibilities of work in the area. “They told me about the course in the Local Development Agency. It was well organised and there was a good balance of people on the course.” She has just established her enterprise providing rural accommodations.
Lack of confidence and self esteem
According to Ana Belén Díez, the Director of the school. “the women often have the basic experience and competence required for the business world but they haven’t developed these into the skills required for running a business. For example sometime they know how to make something but not how to sell it.” The solution adopted by the women’s school is to devote the first 12 hours of the course to role playing and other activities designed to increase confidence, and self-esteem. This increases capacity of the women to identify what they already know and what they need to know to launch a business.
Lack of certain skills in business management and new technology
Using Valnalón’s experience, the course, builds both these aspects into a series of short highly practical modules that relate to real life.
Monica, one of the partners of Arte y Ruta, another company in the Business Centre says that often the investment is less than one thinks. It’s like buying a small car”. The solution found by EQUAL to the lack of adequate finance is to bring in the Women’s World Bank to provide micro-loans adapted to the needs of the women entrepreneurs.
Lack of support from the family
Ana Belén Diéz remarks that “when a man starts up a business the whole family usually chips in. But when a woman wants to start a business they – I suppose you know what you’re doing”. This is linked to the following point…
The dominance of a male entrepreneurial culture
Women not only tend to get less support from their families but also from existing business networks and institutions. To overcome this, the Women’s Entrepreneurship school had their activities assessed by a panel of 12 business women from different sectors. The teachers are also mainly business women themselves to make them as close and approachable to the people who attend the course. Carmen Alvarez, one of the students says “I went to the course in order to meet up with other business women”.
When they have completed the course, the women can use female tutor from Valnalón´s Project Incubator Unit to support the launching of their companies.
long journeys start with small steps
The EQUAL project "Equality creates Enterprise" was only launched in the summer of 2005 so at the time of writing (Spring 2006) it was very early to judge results. Their aim is to train 480 women by 2007 and they have already had to double their initial expectations. The 95 women trained in 2005 are working on 30 business ideas and have already launched 4 companies.
But more fundamentally the goal of EQUAL, like that of Valnalón, is to change attitudes. Belén Tornero (who is this lady? Please identify her…) says that “self employment is a way of living what you really like. Before talking with Valnalón I thought that an entrepreneur was someone with a moustache and suit, someone like Onassis.” She and her partner have created a company called Zeppelín, a tourist consultancy that works mainly for municipalities.
Valnalón is also partner in another EQUAL project that is applying the same methodology to reach young people in the rural world. The aim of the EMPEZ@R project is prepare a new brand of young entrepreneurs who can modernise the food and agricultural sectors of these areas, thereby helping to improve their image and self identity. Valnalón is in charge of training the rural business advisors.
In the project AVANZA, Valnalón also provides training to the staff of rural development agencies. This time, however, the target groups are mainly young women, adults older than 40 and entrepreneurs in small municipalities. The aim is to spread an entrepreneurial culture to the furthest corners of the region.
The credibility of Valnalón and the presence of other key institutional partners such as the Asturian Women’s Institute, various Regional government organisations and the social partners also increases the chances of mainstreaming the lessons from all these initiatives. For example, Valnalóns EJE programme has already been incorporated officially into the educational curriculum in Asturias. Today 1600 students in Spain are busily involved in the programme and have created 70 cooperatives. The programme has been translated into Basque, Catalan, English and Polish and is being used in 135 schools in 11 countries. So the prospects for spreading the lessons from EQUAL are bright.
DP name: Equality Creates Enterprise (LICEA – La Igualdad Crea Empresas en Asturias)
DP ID: ES-ES20040195
National Partners: Banco Mundial de la Mujer, Comisiones Obreras, DG Formación Profesional (Consejería de Educación y Ciencia), FADE, Federación Asturiana de Empresarias y Directivas, Fundación Metal Asturias, Fundación Universidad de Oviedo, Instituto Asturiano de la Mujer, Instituto de Desarrollo Rural, UGT Asturias, Valnalón.
Transnacional Partners: Cerdeña ( Agricultor@: Sostantivo Femminile. DP ID: IT-IT-G2-SAR-012); Amiens ( Articuler les temps de vie : un enjeu de perennite pour les entreprises familiales. DP ID : FR-PCD- 2004-44004)
TCA id code: 3935
Contact DP: Marta M. Rodríguez Díaz Telephone: 0034 985 96 32 55
E-mail: email@example.com Website: www.igualdadcreaempresa.com
Contact Valnalón : Jose Manuel Pérez Telephone : 0034 985 69 22 27
E-mail : Valnalón@Valnalón.com Website: www.Valnalón.com
Other DPs participated in by Valnalón : EQUAL Avanza (ES-20040198) . EMPEZ@R Emprendedores en zonas rurales ( ES-ES20040536)