The economist Rita Almela (Barcelona, 1983) is a founding partner of 101 Ventures, a vehicle for the creation, investment and support of emerging companies (startups) which he launched in Barcelona in 2008 together with Marc Borrell, Jordi Priu, Rafael García Escarré and Guillermo Briones.
His career has spanned London, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Bogotá. In addition, Almela has also worked in the venture capital area of CaixaBank, where she currently holds a position on the Board of Directors of CaixaBank Payments & Consumer and is chair of the Innovation, Technology and Digital Transformation Committee.
Ask: How did your passion for startups and technology start?
Answer: In college. Together with a classmate we developed a business plan on an advertising management platform for mobile phones. We presented it at the Madrid Business Institute where we were selected to participate in a training program for entrepreneurs, from which the launch of the startup CPM Telecom emerged.
P. What did you learn in your next stage, in the CaixaBank venture capital area?
R. A lot of. Caixa Capital Risc is a great entrepreneurship school and has been a clear driver of the entrepreneurial ecosystem from the beginning. I learned to analyze and identify opportunities, understand the vision and passion of entrepreneurs, valuations, technology, market launch, investor relations, internationalization, among much more. I understood what the startups, what are the challenges, difficulties, growth capacity, main mistakes and keys to success.
P. It has also promoted projects on the other side of the Atlantic, such as AlmaShopping.
R. Yes. After completing the Executive MBA at IESE, I jumped to Latin America to create this startup. We started with a subscription model for cosmetic products. In less than a month, customers were already asking us how to buy the products and the big brands asking us to make them their e-commerce. We were the digital channel for the main brands, and we were present in 17 Latin American countries and the United States. After seven years we decided to return to Barcelona, closing a stage that allowed me to get to know Latin America very well and have the experience of having lived in San Francisco, a city where people transmit passion for what they do. It was very inspiring.
P. How did you find Barcelona on your return?
R. It was exciting to see how the activity around startups had taken a spectacular leap. When I returned from San Francisco, I was invited to visit Pier 01 in Barcelona Tech City. And I got to know this magnificent epicenter of the entrepreneurial, digital and technological ecosystem in which synergies arise every day.
P. In what way has the digital ecosystem advanced?
R. Every year we have more entrepreneurs, investors, venture builders hubs (hubs) between companies, universities, business schools, technology centers … Joint work allows innovation, disruptions and changes to emerge that impact companies and citizens with solutions that improve the quality of life.
P. Does Barcelona also arouse interest among the tech giants?
R. Yes. Large international technology companies are eyeing the Barcelona digital ecosystem and acquiring startups local. And also large international technology companies are opening offices here, especially American and Asian.
P. Has hosting the Mobile World Congress helped?
R. Undoubtedly, mobile communication has a fundamental weight in digitization. Having the most important congress, the Mobile World Congress (MWC), with its 4 Years from Now (4YFN) initiative, has allowed to promote a digital ecosystem of technology companies and startups that lead disruptions in mobile communication and the technologies around them .
P. The pandemic has been a catalyst for digitization.
R. Yes. It is bringing to light the capabilities and benefits of digitization, even in sectors such as education, art, culture, retail, restaurants … Without a doubt we are going to see a before and after both for companies and citizens . We are not going to behave the same, or consume the same, or work the same. We are going to enjoy life in a different way. Digitization and productivity improvement will be a cornerstone in the economy.
P. What role will the technology sector have in the economic recovery?
R. It will be key. The impetus in innovation, digitization and investment in advanced technologies will help the recovery and growth of the economy. In addition, it will impact to achieve a better society.
P. How will that society be better?
R. We will learn to enjoy the now, from family and friends, from work, from little things. We will think about how to improve the quality of life, ourselves and those around us. New business models, services and products are emerging that will allow us to live differently, enjoying more than is important.
P. Will it be the startups the ones who will lead it?
R. Yes. We must support entrepreneurship. Collaboration between emerging companies and large companies will be key for the digitization and incorporation of advanced technologies for their operations and new business developments.
P. Is that what they do from 101 Ventures?
R. If is one venture builder [algo así como una factoría de empresas emergentes], which implies a new way of working that resembles venture capital, in the sense that it has investors who inject funds into a vehicle, invest for a few years and then start a divestment phase. The difference is the venture builder instead of starting to invest in mature stages, is involved in the project from its foundation and builds startups from scratch.
P. What investment plan does 101 Ventures have?
R. Since we founded 101 Ventures two years ago, we have raised € 1.5 million. With them, we have built six startups- Wolo, Lets Coder, The Sampling Solutions, Networkers, Frontwave Imaging and Elefant24 and two venture builders specialized in 5G and Data, respectively.
P. How do they choose the projects?
R. We look for solutions to problems, looking for technology to make sense. We are continuously analyzing the global market, what real needs society has, applying two focuses. The first is the digitization and introduction of advanced technologies in mature sectors. The second, the application of mobile technology. The most important factor is to identify entrepreneurs for growth, they must convey passion for what they are developing. And of course market validation is key too.
P. They start out as majority shareholders and then they dilute their participation. Why?
R. Those are the rules of the game. When we sell the first startup I’ll cry. Now we are in the growth and consolidation stage, and we will be there until the first two or three rounds of financing that follow. When companies consolidate and impact society, we will begin the divestment. Our partners require a return on investment, with the highest multiplier and profitability possible.
P. She is the only woman of the five founding partners of 101 Ventures. How is that?
R. I knew Marc Borrell from previous investments and the ecosystem, he introduced me to what they had done since 101 Startups and I joined them in this new project, 101 Ventures. Although I am the only woman in the founding team, we decided to complement it by betting on female talent in the team, and the leadership of women in several of the companies created, as well as diversity.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.