Madrid can be considered an enterprising city as it is now the nerve center of Spanish entrepreneurship, the fourth most important European city for business and the 12th most competitive in world rankings. How do you characterize the city’s entrepreneurial spirit and how did it come about?
Madrid is one of the major European metropolises and the cultural, economic and administrative capital of Spain. The Community of Madrid boasts a number of strategic factors such as being the preferred site for the headquarters of multinational companies, hosting much of the country’s research activity and has both nationally and internationally prestigious educational institutions.
Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world after Chinese, English and Hindi. And it is expanding with estimates that in 2050 there will around 550 million Spanish speakers only in those countries where it is the official language, not counting those where it is a second language which is the case among Hispanics in the U.S.
According to data compiled by the National Statistics Institute, the Community of Madrid leads the nation in the creation of new businesses, followed by the regions of Catalonia and Andalusia.
From the point of view of the Cluster Madrid Plataforma del Español, we could say that it is an entrepreneurship of institutions and businesses that takes the Spanish language as a market and not only regarding the language teaching sector, but also related industries like translation, tourism, audiovisual production, intellectual and artistic creation, etc. In our cluster, the participating businesses and institutions share backgrounds and knowledge which spark new business opportunities and experiences.
From Madrid Network and especially from Madrid Plataforma del Español we promote innovative startup projects and work alongside these businesses from when they get their first idea until they can put it into practice. We help in the search for financing, for investment, for getting the business known and assist them in coming up with a business model and globalization plan.
Over the past two decades there was been enormous growth in the Spanish language which has triggered a surge in jobs and the creation of a related industry. What is the increasing importance of Spanish and the language teaching sector?
Our language has benefited from the results of several sector studies such as the rise in demand by students all around the world, mostly in the U.S., Brazil and Asia, as well as by Spain’s increasing prestige in fields like sports, music, culture and gastronomy, among others. Spanish is the third most used language on the web and the demand for documents in Spanish on the Internet is fourth among world languages. Spanish use on the web grew by 650% between 2000 and 2009.
At Madrid Plataforma del Español we work with Spanish as a business incubator, a wealth generator and for development.
We encourage the knowledge of our language with the conviction that it is going to be ever more important in the business use of the new technologies. The experience of large Spanish companies proves that the language is a vehicle for business.
The latest data from Google shows that only 8% of Internet content is in Spanish and Wikipedia has more entries in Polish than in Spanish when there are 40 million Polish speakers and 500 million people who speak Spanish. Regarding the dissemination of Spanish on the Internet, there is a lot of room for opportunity. At Madrid Plataforma del Español we work with businesses to strengthen international projects and not only those initiatives focused on regional markets. On any project with which we cooperate we look to see that it is both innovative and global.
This is a project which was an initiative by Madrid Network and a number of private enterprises and business associations. What are Madrid Network’s plans to continue giving added value to the Madrid region?
Madrid Plataforma del Español came about through an initiative by the University of Alcalá de Henares, the Alcalá municipal government and the Corredor de Henares business association which understood the need to restructure what was historically an industrial region. They saw Spanish as an economic resource and the chance to convert some of that old industry into new services. When this plan came about, Madrid Network took it on and created the Madrid Plataforma del Español cluster. It is the only cluster in Madrid Network which has tried to represent three government entities: the autonomous region, the Alcalá municipal authority and the national administration through the Industrial Organization School which is also part of the cluster. We brought together different language business sectors and we work with them to generate new business opportunities. At Madrid Network we seek to simplify and ease contacts so as to create new businesses. Things a company can do by itself go much faster if it is done in a group and if in the same group there are people from different sectors and institutions which are somehow linked to your business, it is much easier to access the global market.
The platform was founded with the aim of transforming the Madrid region into a leader in the Spanish language sector and in related industries. How do you achieve your objective of supporting Madrid as a reference point for all the economic activity related to the language?
We want to help with the current change in the economic model and create a new model for growth based on innovation. We want Madrid to become the logical destination for foreign students who have chosen to study Spanish because Madrid enjoys a strategic position in Spain and Europe for connecting with Latin America. Madrid has Barajas International Airport and the public transport system is excellent and one of the cheapest in the world. Conditions here are perfect for foreign students. In order to achieve this we have several partners who offer specific services which provide added value to the traditional Spanish-language learning offer. On the other hand, we seek business projects which have an important technology component so they can take part in European and international projects. Madrid Network encourages participation in European programs so as to have agreements with other institutions and to attract new lines of business. In the case of Asia and China, we emphasize that in Madrid one can find not only Spanish-language teaching but also learn the culture. Competing with Latin America in teaching Spanish is difficult because we have only 40 million inhabitants, but the added value that Spain offers is cultural knowledge and language and cultural tourism with the Prado, Thyssen and Reina Sofia museums and the diversity on offer for the foreign student that no Latin American country has. And if you factor in businesses and companies, foreign students who have picked Madrid are going to discover a global vision that will enhance their professional profile.
Could Madrid then be considered the best link to Latin America?
Without a doubt. Madrid is positioned as the logical choice for Chinese students doing university and post-graduate degrees as well as for those studying professional or business Spanish and for facilitating contacts between local universities and companies with Chinese universities.
At Madrid Plataforma del Español we work to see that the use of our language eases business ties with Spain as well as the Latin American markets and also as a cultural reference.
It is well known that in the beginning of the globalization of Spanish business Spanish-speaking countries were targeted using the language as a way in and to keep costs down. Now, however, Spanish companies are present all around the world and have many non-Spanish speaking employees.
Therefore, the establishment of specific collectives, taking into account the culture, is an opportunity that we at Madrid Plataforma del Español encourage among our associates. We are open to receiving requests from public and private institutions for business training for young managers as well as for cultural immersion.
Learning Spanish is not only fostering the teaching of our language, but also our business culture and the networks that promote globalization of businesses within their own environment.
Madrid Plataforma del Español offers its associates services such as identifying links between different economic entities. Which are the most important of these services?
We offer two types of services: free services and premium services. The list of services is very long but among the free ones the most important is networking which are quarterly sessions to which we invite partner companies from different clusters. These could be from the tourism sector, graphic arts, audiovisual and Spanish-language teaching. We organize meetings where company representatives can make contacts with up to 30 potential clients. This is very valuable for small and medium-sized companies, which can get in touch with big enterprises.
Also among our services are the Comité Internacional de Proyectos (International Projects Committee) and the Plataforma Cloud which is a closed platform for the 700 cluster partners where you can offer your services, seek out partners for innovative projects, organize video conferences and take advantage of all the other Plataforma Cloud services. As part of the Cluster del Español, you are a member of Madrid Network and on one hand are working on a team with other companies from your sector, and at the same time you are working with the rest of the dozen clusters so your reach is very wide. There is also assistance in participating in European business projects and we have an innovation unit that offers a search service for partners and for public and private financing. We manage the contact, present the proposal to investors and guide the company throughout the process. There are also virtual and actual showrooms. The list of services is very long and one interesting fact is that few companies quit the clusters. In the case of the Spanish cluster, the dropout rate is only 2%, which shows that the partners are happy and we continue to add new companies.
Some Chinese students find the education system in their country very rigid and less than innovative which puts a break on their creativity. How would you describe the education on offer in Madrid and do you believe it can be an advantage to a Chinese student studying Spanish here instead of back home?
These days, all the universities and business schools in Madrid have incorporated new teaching technologies with classes given through tablets or online platforms. There has been vast investment in the Community of Madrid to provide students and professors with the latest technology.
In the cluster we promote interaction by companies and institutions linked to the Spanish language with different sectors of the industry such as linguistic services, Spanish teaching for foreigners, training, language technology, translation, the audiovisual sector, music, tourism and publishing.
From these synergies come projects which help foreign students who have chosen Madrid during their stay here and in their studies.
Madrid Plataforma del Español currently groups some 30 businesses and institutions, which provide online services to those people interested in improving the knowledge of our language.
A good example is www.olesay.com which designs learning projects for students in Spain. It was created to meet the demand for business internships at Spanish companies active in specialized sectors. Its aim is to offer universities and foreign institutions the chance to learn about attractive innovative sectors in countries like China where Spanish companies have a growing presence. The internships are of between three and six months in Spanish companies with accompanying instruction in Spanish for foreigners at universities or private language schools officially accredited by the Cervantes Institute. This program has enjoyed great success with U.S. and Canadian universities and we are currently looking for Asian universities and institutions to broaden the program’s international reach.
Another example is www.calamoycran.com, a publishing company which is a pioneer in the correction of texts and which offers classroom and online courses for Spanish correctors and others courses for language professionals, editors, translators and layout designers.
Another technologically innovative company, which develops products and services based on natural language processes, is www.molinodeideas.com. Its applications are effective in the teaching and learning of Spanish and can be used by any business or person that wants to improve their services through linguistic solutions.
www.alcalingua.com is the University of Alcalá center dedicated to teaching Spanish to foreigners and training professors of Spanish. It also produces educational materials for teaching Spanish and classroom and online multimedia programs. It is located in the old town neighborhood of Alcalá de Henares, just 30 minutes from the center of Madrid.
The University of Alcalá, one of the oldest in Europe, was founded in 1499 by Cardinal Cisneros. Today, the university is a modern institution that offers a wide range of graduate and post-graduate degrees adapted to the European Higher Education Area in fields from humanities to engineering and from social sciences to experimental and biomedical sciences.
Www.liceus.com is a company which has developed all its activities in the field of higher university education by working with many public Spanish universities and more than 1,200 university professors. Liceus provides classroom and online learning in humanities with an exclusive portal focused on cultural dissemination and communication within that field.
At the University of Alcalá all degree programs provide the chance or the obligation to do an outside internship. The university helps the students search for the best internship placement depending on their studies, preferences and goals. The Vice-chancellor for International Relations arranges internships in foreign businesses and institutions with the aim of giving our students not only real work experience but also the chance to learn or improve another language and learn about the work culture of other countries.
The University of Alcalá clearly embraces internationalization and has a large number of foreign students in its classrooms. There are many student exchange agreements, Erasmus and others, which allow students to move back and forth and we have also made a big effort to attract paying students who come here for short or long periods or who come to finish their degree. The university also has arrangements with prestigious foreign schools for granting co-degrees.
Along with all this, the university also tries to strike a balance in accepting foreign students from different parts of the world so there is a good cultural mix with students from North and South America, the rest of Europe and China.
Spain is in first place among European destinations in the Erasmus program rankings. How does this contribute to a more open and tolerant society?
It’s very important to have a large number of foreign students, most of whom live with host families as this contributes to tolerance which is increasingly evident as more and more families offer their homes for student stays. This kind of thing helps spread the use of other languages. The number of Madrid residents, for instance, who speaks English, is growing and now a foreigner in the city has no problem in communicating and that’s very important. The services sector is increasingly adapting to the needs of these students and it is even more and more common these days to take home uneaten food from restaurants, something unthinkable in Spain in years past. This constant flow of foreign students is forcing us to adapt to their needs as they adapt to ours.
In 2007, the Education Ministry signed an agreement with its Chinese counterpart which allows Chinese students to study in Spain with having to take university entrance exams. Is there much potential for Spanish universities to attract a large number of Chinese students?
A lot of potential although I am not the best person to answer for all the universities. Those that are part of the Madrid Network are making a huge effort to lure the maximum number of Chinese students and are adapting the rules to offer them a quality service.
In Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is formed by the characters which mean danger and opportunity. Does Spain represent a good opportunity to present projects in different economic sectors?
Spanish industrial data is on the rise, the opportunity to generate business, economic activity and create employment linked to the Spanish-language sector in things like training, tourism and content, both for the Internet and audiovisual, is very great. Our television series and programs are becoming more popular in overseas markets and there is great potential in selling educational, publishing and entertainment content to Asia. Several months ago a project was unveiled to create an Hispanic-Asia center in the Community of Madrid which would serve as a bridge for Asian companies which want to set up in Madrid and for Madrid companies that want to do the same in China. The dean of the department of philology at the University of Shanghai is an honorary member of the cluster. We are promoting projects which apply methodology adapted to the Chinese student who is more accustomed to studying a language through repetition.
You choose Madrid to continue your training which you began in Argentina and in fact Madrid is a melting pot of the different cultures which speak Spanish. From your personal experience why do you believe that Madrid is the best place to study in Spanish and how do you think the Chinese student is received in this city?
I can’t be objective when speaking of Madrid because I have felt totally integrated since even before I came here. I have had the chance to live in other cities and without doubt Madrid is the place that I have chosen to continue my career and live with my family. Madrid is a very cosmopolitan and multicultural city which easily accepts foreigners. A Chinese student will tell you that one can enjoy Madrid day or night. Professionally, I can say that the city values people for their knowledge and not their nationality and personally, I have made great friends here who I value for their warmth and wonderful sense of life.