MADRID -- Across the city, tiny "Cathedrals of Innovation" are opening their doors, everyone welcome. No, La Catedral de Innovacion is not affiliated with the Catholic Church, but rather it's funded by the City of Madrid. The government is finally putting their faith and (a little) money toward small business and start-up owners. In a culture that finds entrepreneurial values unusual, this cathedral is an answer to innovators' prayers.
La Catedral offers free space for co-working, networking and training, as well as webinars and master classes to autonomos (freelancers,) start-ups and small businesses. This training is volunteer-based, where professionals can come and share their experiences, advising their peers in the small, but growing world of Spanish business.
Press officer Aroa Perez Fernandez says that, while it's a challenging moment for the people of Spain in general, it's a key moment for entrepreneurs. "Now many people are starting to become entrepreneurs. This is starting right now, but it's not the Spanish custom," Perez says. "We are in a globalized world. This isn't a bad moment to give impetus. It is the moment to change and innovate."
An enthusiastic optimist, Perez continues that, "In fact, in one way, the crisis is an opportunity to change, change your dreams" and life goals. "To launch your own company," she says.
La Catedral features Empleo 2.0, which helps takes the currently-employed into the future. Perez says their projects aren't just for companies, but for citizens, too. Many secretaries and administrative assistants are using the Cathedral as a way to go back to school and learn necessary, hold-onto-that-job skills like email correspondence, electronic scheduling and Excel spreadsheets.
"It can boost the CV" of the employed and unemployed, says Perez.
The 25.1 percent unemployed here in Spain can, of course, take advantage of these resources, too. It may even be better for the unemployed, since nearly all of the activities end well before nine at night, when the average Spanish person finishes their work day. However, these are often vital workplace skills, of which entire small companies may dedicate work hours for training.
Many classes both online and face-to-face are for teachers. At Escuela 2.0, teachers are able to learn how to use free digital content, like e-books, YouTube and social networks, specifically for education. This is particularly important for public school teachers who are funcionarios with jobs essentially for life, that are finding recortes cutting back on public school budgets. Families of these students already have to buy their children's school books, encouraging more and more teachers to move towards free class content. Together, the Internet and the programs El Catedral has to offer can lead faculty to free content. Plus, the entire process of research has evolved -- instead of cracking open an encyclopedia, Google and Wikipedia become sources that students and teachers alike need to learn how to safely filter and verify information gathered.
El Catedral offers similar classes and resources to companies on "how to change your process to update and innovate." At Centro de Innovación Vaguada, next to the large commercial center in the north of Madrid, companies and autonomos may sign up for classes focused on innovation, including on the much-needed-in-Spain e-commerce "How to sell more online" and how to use open-source software to update paperwork and procedures. "Before, businesses were offline, and now (many) are a little antiquated, old," Perez says. During the peak season, the La Vaguada branch of the cathedral hosts at least two classes a day for businesses.
Of course, more than anything, La Catedral is a place for both frikis and those that just wish to be these technology geeks. Every Monday, groups meet at the hipster Malasaña Ciball headquarters to learn HTML5. There are also groups to learn how to write and collaborate on iOS and Android applications, WordPress workshops and other computer skills that are particularly useful to small business owners. Anything to learn and to network are possibilities. There are classes on social networking, clouds, sales and marketing, start-ups, smartcities -- all for and with technology.
This place of worship of technology isn't just based around Madrid, but there is an "extension of the face-to-face learning online," offering certified courses for both individuals and businesses.
As SmartPlanet has already talked about, broad entrepreneurialship -- beyond opening a Cervezeria or a small shop -- is a new idea for the Spanish, making working from home and, especially, co-working seem truly foreign. Both one of the Catedrales in Malasaña and the Hogar Digital in the north of Madrid offer free co-working to citizens, with the networking, the internet connection and all the lovely bonuses of a diverse office space.
Hogar Digital is a home without sleepovers, where individuals and companies can not only take classes, but host courses, meet-ups and events, all for free. It's described as "a house like the future." Located in the business district near Plaza de Castilla, it's a techie's dream home, filled with sustainability and gadgets, open to the public.
Perez says, sadly, that, still, "Very few people know about" the services the Cathedral offers. The series of Madrid technology innovation centers have been only open for less than two years. However, Perez was able to give examples of companies that have begun as a result of their networking, including one small company made up of an engineer, a programmer and a creative, who first met at one of the centers.
"We don't make money, but we can help create a start-up," Perez says, grinning proudly.
May 2013 is the scheduled opening of the newest "cathedral," an impressive update of the old Boetticher elevator factory in the district of Villaverde. Only time will tell what new ideas will rise up from that center.
Photos: La Catedral de Innovacion, Madrid