Hector Cuenca: “The discourse of entrepreneurship can reach absurd limits”
At the age of 21, Héctor Cuenca coordinates, as a partner and growth manager, an ambitious project: NewGen (also known as Odder ). This is a platform born in Barcelona that aims to connect young professionals who have decided to go for a promising idea.
In addition to trying to discover more about this interesting project in which he is immersed, we wanted to meet with this student of Business Administration and Law to talk about the concept of entrepreneurship and the new labor reality of those of us who are not yet over thirty.
Psychology and Mind: We know that lately you’re dedicating your time to NewGen, which is a platform to connect entrepreneurs and make it easier for them to develop their project. Am I right?
Héctor Cuenca : To that and to try to get two runs, in that order of priorities (laughs).
In NewGen you have also had the idea of offering the possibility for the people enrolled to have the support of expert mentors in different areas of work. How did the idea come about?
It’s not new. Mentoring , as it is called today, is an institution as old as mankind. What is new is the willingness to create platforms that democratize access to it. That is, nowadays, if you want to receive mentoring from someone the most you can do is ask for advice from family, friends, ex-teachers… And be lucky that some of them have enough faith in the project and in you, as well as enough time and resources to help you develop it. What does this mean? That people with a higher social background, or with greater networks, are the ones who really get mentors who can make a difference. What we’re saying – and it’s something that’s working quite well in the US, facilitating the success of new, viable and original projects and the social advancement of their creators – is to create a completely transparent platform, where you can see the different mentors who are willing to invest a monthly afternoon in a project, as well as their skills and professional and academic background, and ask for the attention of those who convince you most, and in which these mentors can also see the profiles of all kinds of young people who apply for their mentoring and select from these the one who seems most qualified, brilliant, original… It is, in short, a way for talent and originality to prevail over circle and social background.
What is an entrepreneur? What is the difference, in your opinion, between “entrepreneurship” and “social entrepreneurship”?
Entrepreneur is, in theory, the person who, with his or her creativity, comes up with a new product (or a variation on a product) that provides added value completely different from those existing on the market and who is capable of at least making the necessary arrangements to get the project under way. Not every entrepreneur is an entrepreneur; nor is everyone who “has an idea”… We must demystify the idea of “having an idea”; there is a joke among entrepreneurs that, like so many jokes, hides a great truth “-I have a magnificent business idea, I just need an investor willing to finance it and an engineer capable of carrying it out -Then what do you have? An entrepreneur is not an intellectual who makes castles in the air, but an executor. Another thing is that this is desirable: It could be argued, quite rightly, that there should be bodies, state or private, that make it possible for all good ideas (viable, with real added value and with a positive impact on society) to have funding and staff to carry them out, and then we entrepreneurs could just be planners, and it would certainly be more efficient and fun, but unfortunately that is not the reality.
I’m just, for the sector I belong to, I have some pretty… Let’s leave it at that. For me, there shouldn’t be any difference between entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship : Neither can one pretend to have a viable economy based simply on “social projects”, which often lack profitability, nor a society worth belonging to if economically profitable projects are harmful to that same society. There is a concept in economy that, only if it were taken into account and corrected, would end with a great part of the cruelty of the market failures: the externalities. An externality is a result (generally negative) of the activity of a specific company that, because it does not impact on it in any way, is not accounted for. This is the case, for example, of toxic discharges in the event that there is no regulation in the state in question.Since not a single dollar is spent, that activity is not recorded. Only if the States calculated the externalities of each company through impartial audits, and did not allow the existence of projects which – even if only in economic terms – cause more harm than good to society, would we end up with the need to differentiate between “Entrepreneurship” that is profitable but without a soul and “Social Entrepreneurship” that is committed but not viable. Moreover, I believe that precisely this dichotomy is very harmful to our world view: it bathes everything that is of public utility with a certain patina of insolvency, utopia, and deficit.
Do you think that entrepreneurial discourse is abused? On the other hand, what do you think is the relationship between this new way of understanding labour relations and the phenomenon of “precariousness”?
Of course it’s abused. It is a very useful discourse in a situation like the current one, of galloping economic and institutional crisis, and of increasing lack of understanding of the States towards their citizens, as well as of increasing labour flexibility. And of course, this sometimes leads to absurd points, where it seems that even the unskilled worker in construction or industry has to become an entrepreneur and a freelancer. There is a perverse point in this, especially when Spanish legislation makes it so difficult for freelancers (or self-employed, as they have been called all their lives). Furthermore, we return to the question of “What is it to be an entrepreneur” and we see that by the very nature of the concept, it is only applicable either to sectors in rapid evolution or to classic professions but of a “creative” type, from the Law to Literature or Marketing, in which the personal characteristics of the worker can make the difference.
It is from a misuse (and abuse) of the concept that the failpreneurs end up emerging, many times simply precarized entrepreneurs/self-employed workers for whom the company ends up being, rather, a poorly paid job and even more of a slave than if it were for someone else. You can’t tell unemployed people from all sectors, regardless of their education, to “get started”, because then we have cases like Rubí, the dormitory town where I lived for many years, where the turnover of bar and shop owners is enormous, generating even more frustration and poverty in those who have been looking for a source of income and stability in their own business.
Moreover, as I said before, even a good idea in a creative sector does not always allow you to get ahead: there are not enough instruments for financing, helping the entrepreneur, etc. In the end, instead of the “creator”, you have to be, especially at the beginning, the boss and the last monkey at the same time. And yes, during that time, you are a “precarious”. So much so.
What is your vision of the current labour market and why do you think “entrepreneurship” is a good option to give an outlet to so many young people who cannot find work? Is entrepreneurship a kind of ‘panacea’ to end unemployment?
Well, in the medium to long term it’s very different. As things stand, you can’t compete on the downside. The relocation , growing mechanisation, technological improvements, mean that market demand for unskilled workers in Europe and much of the Western world is clearly falling. When your job can be done by anyone, in a world with 7,000,000,000 people and rising, they will find someone who can do it cheaper than you. That’s right, that’s why you can’t compete on the bottom. Especially when, as Toni Mascaró said in our event last November 13, in a matter of years we can witness the automation of all production processes in the developed world.
In such a world, the only real alternative for Europe’s youth is to bring much added value. To be able to do things that literally nobody else is able to do, at least not in the same way. We have the perfect infrastructure: almost universal health coverage; free public basic education; the best universities in the world and the highest per capita income on the planet… On that basis, we either create a society of elites or we are making a fool of ourselves. Spain, as a paradigmatic example of playing the fool: we have one of the most educated youth in the world, with a very remarkable percentage of students in the total population, and we are seeing how many have to leave the country or accept jobs below their capacities and qualifications. This cannot be allowed, it is a real waste of talent and public money.
What characteristics do you think define enterprising people? Is their personality or way of seeing life defined by some common characteristic?
I suppose there is a certain mixture between ambition (why should we deny it) and independence, a combination, in my opinion as a humanist person, with a certain halo of romanticism, like Byron’s Corsair or Espronceda’s Pirate (laughs). At the end of the day, you become an entrepreneur in that moment in which you think And these are the job possibilities that society offers me? I think I can do more, so if the job I deserve doesn’t exist I’ll have to create it myself, and that has a touch, you’re not going to deny me, of rebellion, of quixotism, of not accepting the pre-established status quo.
Entrepreneurship is also related to youth and, furthermore, to the ability to be creative. Based on what you have seen in NewGen, do you think that creativity is more valued today than it used to be?
I do not know if it is valued or not, yet, but I think it should be, since it is a rising value. It is the only competitive advantage, in terms of employment, offered by European and Western youth compared to those in other parts of the world. And at other levels, if we stop to think about it: We are a small part, both geographically and demographically, and not precisely one of the richest in natural resources. In the long term, it’s that or nothing.
Since Psychology and Mind is a website dedicated to psychology, I would like to go into this aspect a little more in depth. Do you think that the change of paradigm in the field of work is having a negative influence on our ability to develop in this society?
Maybe we do, since the crisis has taken us by surprise. We were the most hopeful generation in the history of this country (and surely the same could be said of the rest of the West), and now we have fewer possibilities than those that preceded us… It has been a sledgehammer blow, clearly. It has left many young people, and not so young, without a place in society, and those who are still part of it have been given positions far below what they expected or deserved. Now, I believe that some of us will come out of this stronger, especially those who have grown up during the crisis. I think many of us have an attitude of “If it doesn’t exist, if it doesn’t get done, then we’ll have to invent it” and that can be a very important source of social change. We start with the most basic thing, work, without which we have no source of sustenance or role in society… But imagine that the same attitude applies to politics or any other area. That we don’t like the parties that exist? We think one. That we don’t like this cultural system? Well, let’s think of a better one. We could be one of the most influential generations in history… But to do that, we have to understand where the entrepreneurial phenomenon comes from: from the lack of solutions from Papa Estado and Mama Corporación (plus Uncle Gilito from the bank) and consider that if when they don’t give us a job, we’ll do it ourselves, because maybe we have to do the same if they don’t give us justice or democracy.
What is the merit or value you found in Psychology and Mind that led you to want to include us as one of the outstanding initiatives within NewGen?
Precisely that one, that you have been a “Juan Palomo: I cook it, I eat it”; an example of entrepreneurship well understood: starting from scratch, with a good idea, a lot of work and without anyone giving you anything. Damn, you guys are cool. Moreover, you have experienced the “precariousness” of someone who starts a project, making it compatible with long working hours in a different profession to the one you had studied for… You are a paradigm of entrepreneurship.