In 2012, Herman Narula and Rob Whitehead founded Improbable. A year later, this startup British was still having its headquarters in the house of Narula's parents. Five years later they grew the horn with which they all dream: the Japanese Softbank invested in it more than 500 million dollars, on a valuation of almost 1,300 million.
The achievement of lmprobable is not turkey mucus. The sum invested by Softbank is the highest recorded in Crunchbase between the financing rounds closed by startups who work with artificial intelligence in the last twenty years. These things do not happen often in the United Kingdom. They are less frequent even in the whole of Europe. And in Spain it is easier to hunt a gamusino.
The problem is not artificial intelligence. In fact, this pair of magic words seems like the hand of Midas to the other sides of the pond. Between 2011 and 2017, startupsof the sector have accumulated a growing private investment supported mainly by the United States and more recently with a notable contribution from China. This is set out in an analysis of the OECD that assesses the profitable pending as evidence that investors are increasingly aware of the potential of artificial intelligence. "Investors understand the problems of the entrepreneur and have a global perspective, if the product and the team like it, the opportunities to be invested increase a lot," explains José González, executive director of Oliver, a startup that brings artificial intelligence to the shin guards of the football players.
The problem is that Europe has not smelled 92% of the 50,000 million euros that private capital invested in startups In this field from 2011 to mid-2018. Moreover, the piece of booty that does reach our shores is distributed in a disproportionate distribution headed by the United Kingdom, Germany and France. In 2017, these three concentrated 82% of the investment.
- A bit of a bit
Meanwhile, the seemingly worthy fourth place of Spain in the ranking translates into a rickety 3% of the cake that, let's not forget, was already depleted of the global scenario. "Getting money to start in Spain is very complicated", agrees Iñaki Murcia, executive director of Gleam, a startup that uses artificial intelligence in the detection of cybersecurity threats. "In addition, in this sector it is even more difficult, you require very specialized profiles, which are very, very scarce and expensive." You compete with the big companies -Telefónica, Google, the banks …- for finding the talent and retaining it, and you need a lot of R & D. "
However, the gold rush that already feeds these ventures overseas seems to be reaching Europe. The last decade has meant an increase both in the number of investments and in the amount of these. The change began, of course, for the United Kingdom, but it is also evident in Germany and France, and is timidly appreciated in Spain. "In some way, artificial intelligence is in society, now everyone wants to solve their problems with artificial intelligence, so the initiatives are multiplied, some of them very little serious," Murcia reasons.
It seems that creating a startup is worth a billion or nothing
To the problems to get investors is added the need to defend the credibility of a field that more and more applicants are interested in turning straw into gold. In addition, balls like the one of Improbable blur the perspective of the vast majority of projects, which compared to the unicorn, are kept afloat with alms. "I think you're losing respect for money, it seems that you do not value your day-to-day work. startups like us, we have 15 or 20 employees and we are working hard, we raise a million euros. And suddenly you see out there that others have raised sixty. It seems that creating a startup it's just that it's worth a billion or nothing. There is no real business creation, the quick ball is sought, "regrets Sergio Orozco, co-founder of Triporate.
This startup, which brings artificial intelligence to the travel agency sector, has not gone bad either. "We already have around 500,000 euros of investment between public and private, and now there will be another million with which we will continue to develop the product, we are doing well, but we are a grain of sand," explains Orozco. However, the co-founder of Triporate views with optimism the advances of the Spanish ecosystem. "Great players, like Google, Lanzadera or Wayra, are increasing the success rate, Metrics is no longer creating for creating, but putting a strong base and knowledge so that projects can live much longer."
Orozco, González and Murcia agree with Miguel Ángel Ivars, executive director of Adtuo, in which the differences between Spain and its neighbors are matters of maturity. "Spain is much better prepared than previous years, and finally there were success stories that enrich the sector and generate the conditions to raise investment," says González. It is not that we are now at the top, but before we were worse. "I rode another startup in 2007. At that time we started with bank financing, because there were almost no investors in Spain, so it was a bit difficult to access funds, "Ivars recalls.
The executive director of Adtuo, which is dedicated to optimizing and automating advertising campaigns on social networks, is very aware of the power that these days have the words "artificial intelligence" when whispered in the right ear. "We at the marketing level can take advantage of a technology that we use to sell it as such, but there will come a time when it does not have to be a competitive advantage." On the one hand, it predicts that in the future this technology will be in everything. On the other, he sees it as one more step on the ladder to success. "It can be useful, although later it's not all you do, Google was good at searching first …", he reasons.
When the national investors do not allow themselves to be convinced and the option of raising funds at weddings baptisms and communions becomes insufficient, there is the alternative of marching in search of better pastures. "In general terms, it is easier to get financing out, however, the bet is complicated, because in general foreign investors demand the location where the fund is, so you are forced to make tough decisions for yourself. for your team ", explains Iñaki Murcia.
Another resource is European funds. "We have presented several times, but it is very difficult," Orozco laments. The simple candidacy to access the funds of the Horizon 2020 program may exceed the resources of any startup. "You have to spend a lot of time and money just to prepare yourself, and all that can not be used for what you really need to do, which is to move your product forward," adds Murcia.