A stately home for bright ideas

Around 30 young Spanish entrepreneurs are trying their luck at Brooklyn’s StartupsMansion

Upstairs downstairs: Some of the young Spaniards taking part in the StartupsMansion project.
Upstairs downstairs: Some of the young Spaniards taking part in the StartupsMansion project.Edu Bayer

There are no maids, silverware or hunting trophies at StartupsMansion. Instead, this run-down house in Brooklyn’s Chinatown is inhabited on egalitarian terms by more than 30 young Spanish entrepreneurs who have transformed it into a business incubator.

It remains to be seen if 909 59thStreet, just south of the historic Green-Wood Cemetery, will produce the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, but it does at least have a garage. And not far from here, a metro ride away, are Manhattan, Wall Street, Silicon Alley, the investors, the contacts, the mentors … the money to help all this budding talent reach fruition.

The idea is to see if we can do something with the resources at our disposal”

From the outside, StartupsMansion looks nothing so much like a flophouse for newly arrived migrants, or the set of some reality show, with people constantly coming and going.

But the people sharing its five bathrooms and three kitchens are all engineers, software developers, hardware developers, and graphic and web designers, who between them have come up with ideas such as a sticking plaster for diabetics, an application for traveling the world without knowing your destination, another to help marshal resources for families affected by brain damage, a platform for managing subscriptions, and a videogame with a distinctly Galician flavor. The ideas all boast attractive names such as SchoolMars, Ameiga, Gigoing, Visualify, Tweri, Tuintra, Kydle, and many more. Most of the residents here are still in their twenties and each has invested in coming to New York on a tourist visa for three months to try their luck.

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Startups Mansion is the brainchild of Spaniards Pascual Aparicio, Ignacio Hojas and Carlos de Ory, who say they grew tired of the problems they faced trying to get their tech startups going in Spain, and so moved to San Francisco. To fund their projects they decided to set up a business incubator with other like-minded Spaniards. They put the idea out on the social networks, and soon found 750 people in Spain prepared to make the move. After selecting 31, they then decided on Brooklyn, where they found a large house with a garage owned by a Chinese family.

The three-month stay in StartupsMansion costs around €2,000, including flight, lodging, a work-station, and the contacts needed to make a start. The program has three phases: an initial contact where participants meet and get to know each other; the development stage, which sees an idea either take shape or be abandoned; and the close, when the results are evaluated. “Our philosophy is: make a lot of mistakes, make them early, and do so as cheaply as possible. The idea is to see if we can do something with the resources at our disposal. We’re satisfied. We want the program to last,” says Aparicio.

My company has  learned to live without me. It’s been worth it just for that!”

Talking to the participants, all seem happy with their experience, which comes to an end on December 3. Lander Amorrortu, a 34-year-old from Bilbao, is working on a virtual reality project applied to the energy industry. His stay in New York has allowed him to meet with some of the main players in the sector. “And in my company, they have learned to live without me. It’s been worth it just for that,” he jokes.

Merche Sánchez, 30, had her own startup accelerator in Barcelona, but decided to take a break and see how things work in the United States. “I needed to slow down and get some experience over here. I’m going to Silicon Valley next. I’m very happy with the way things have gone,” she says.

Eduardo Jorgensen, aged 22, is a medical student trying to apply technology through his startup MedicSen. He came to StartupsMansion to find backers for a sticking plaster that helps diabetics manage their blood sugar levels. He has since joined forces with Merche Sánchez to set up Mistery Tour, a travel platform that provides last-minute cheap airline tickets.

Xavier Barata is the 32-year-old founder of King of App, a cellphone applications platform. He’s looking for investors, and has so far managed to secure a stand at the upcoming MobileWorld Congress in Barcelona.

Some projects have even been created during the participants’ stay in Brooklyn, the result of late-night conversations or walks in the park.

José Vicente Lobo, aged 24, says he was returning one evening from Manhattan when he came up with the idea of Shouter, a social network app that works within a limited area. “We just started talking about it, and now we’ve set it up. It’s amazing,” he says.

One of the main requirements is that you have to be open to working with others”

Abdón Rodríguez, 22, says he has made major improvements to his videogame War of Sides after testing it out on his roommates. Manuel Zafra has used his time to launch a subscription app, as well as to develop a cellphone application that, once you provide it with your measurements, tells you which clothing brand best suits you. His floor-mates Miriam Alcaide and Elena Yepes, aged 31 and 32 respectively, are working on Tweettohelp, which links business, NGOs, and social network users to work on corporate social responsibility. “For each tweet, a company plants a tree. The idea has been well received by NGOs over here,” says Miriam.

“One of the main requirements for taking part in the project is that you have to be open to working with others,” says Aparicio. During the three-month stay, the entrepreneurs also receive visits from mentors such as Andrés Leonardo Martínez, head of program development at Google; Luis López, a lawyer specializing in data privacy; Juan Manuel Baixauli, who runs an online travel agency; and Juan Merodio, a social networks expert. Those experts unable to make the trip to Brooklyn can pass on their wisdom via the video conferences held in the somewhat chilly garage – withstanding the New York cold is, of course, another of the many tests that visitors to StartupsMansion have to face.