A Woman for All Seasons

Bridging the cultural divide

How venture capitalist Laura Gonzalez-Estefani is bridging the EURO-U.S. cultural divide

By Doreen Hemlock

Her father was an entrepreneur in import-export who spoke four languages and traveled the world. Her mother is among the first generation of women in Spain moving up in corporate management. She grew up knowing no limitations on geography or gender, encouraged to dream big and “go for it.”

That background helps explain why Madrid-born Laura Gonzalez-Estefani is pioneering from Miami, developing one of the world’s few investment platforms led by women, focused internationally and working hands-on with entrepreneurs even before they take in seed capital.

She founded TheVentureCity in 2017 and has already raised nearly $180 million to invest in software companies globally, with stakes in such South Florida ventures as Boatsetter and Outloud.ai. Headquartered in Miami and Madrid, TheVentureCity now works with roughly 180 founders, 110 companies, 50 investors, and 70 partners from Google to eBay. Its staff tops 30 in Spain, California, Brazil, and Miami, where it employs eight, says the effervescent Spaniard, who calls herself “a citizen of the world.”

“Talent has no zip code,” says Gonzalez-Estefani. “And you don’t have to move to the U.S. to work for an American company now. There are so many Americans building ventures now from Argentina, Spain, and other places where the cost of talent is cheaper.”

A mother of three and now 46 years old, Gonzalez-Estefani became a tech entrepreneur at age 21, co-founding an international beach tourism site, Esplaya.com. That was back in 1999, when the internet was new and “empty of content,” even before Google took off. But when the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, the intrepid Spaniard says she learned a hard lesson: “What it meant not to have the right investors.”

She went to work for others, including Siemens and eBay, and in 2008 became Facebook’s first employee in Madrid as country manager for Spain. She helped develop Facebook in several European nations, and in 2011 moved to Facebook headquarters in California, eventually leading its growth and mobile partnerships for Latin America. She traveled often through Miami, where she was impressed by myriad entrepreneurs from humble origins – often immigrants like herself – who’d built billion-dollar companies that she dubs “iguana-corns” and developed multi-generational wealth from their own sweat and creativity.

“The biggest surprise for me in Miami has been the talent,” says Gonzalez-Estefani. “Very early on, I got to meet Manny and Melissa Medina, Adriana Cisneros… people whose families started pretty much from nothing; extremely resilient, scrappy, authentic people who don’t hide who they are and are proud of their beginnings. They’d invite you to their homes, cook for you, introduce you to their friends. And I was like: What is this? When I moved to the [San Francisco] Bay Area, nobody welcomed me this way.”

Eager to return to entrepreneurship and innovate in financing startups, Gonzalez-Estefani relocated to Miami in 2015 “to learn from the best,” she says. She tapped her network from Silicon Valley, Latin America, and beyond, partnering with Miami-based investment advisor Clara Bullrich and operations chief Santiago Canalejo to launch TheVentureCity two years later. She calls the group a community, not a venture capital company. “We had a community of founders and operators before we had a venture capital fund,” she says.

TheVentureCity now invests in multiple ways. Its VC funds operate like most, typically investing $3 to 8 million in early-stage ventures over a period of 10 years. Its holding company also offers seed capital, often $250,000 to $500,000 for some 30 companies a year. Plus, the group pumps in extra when its portfolio companies do well, sometimes starting Special Purpose Vehicles to invest another $5 or 10 million. What’s more, the team and its network work hands-on to mentor promising entrepreneurs, with Laura an empathetic, high-energy cheerleader quick to laugh and share, colleagues say.

The vibe in the community is more collaborative than many VCs, even festive. The joy flowed at workshops and its latest summit held at the New World Center in Miami Beach in February, attended by some 400 people, under the motto: Listen to the music, not the noise.

Bilingual and bicultural, Gonzalez-Estefani recognizes the importance of navigating business cultures across borders. She sees big differences, for example, in the two nations where she’s lived longest: Spain and the U.S. Start with problem-solving. Spaniards, she says, tend to be “tremendously creative” when they find a roadblock: leaping, tunneling, doing back-flips, often acting without asking – all in the knavish, sometimes crafty way known in Spanish as “picaro,” she says. Americans instead tend to be more “by the book,” asking permission first and often taking longer to address the roadblock.

Yet for company-building, Americans are typically motivated to think big and view failure as a step to potential success later. Spain’s culture tends to be more conservative. Spaniards tend to have little or no tolerance for failure, often crimping the ambitions of would-be innovators, she says.

“In Madrid, you don’t talk about your mistakes,” says Gonzalez-Estefani. “But here in the U.S., you share learnings all the time – ‘I made this mistake, and this is what I learned.’” She’s instituted frank discussions about mistakes at TheVentureCity, with meetings featuring “The Challenge of the Week” and its lessons.

Such insights, enthusiasm, and openness sparked tech executive Francesca de Quesada Covey to join Gonzalez-Estefani in leading TheVentureCity in 2021. The two had worked together at Facebook and stayed friends. De Quesada describes Laura as an energetic, kind-hearted, visionary thinker who fearlessly follows her intuition and pursues her goals, making sure to lift all around her in that building process.

“Laura’s focused on entrepreneurs who don’t come from traditional ecosystems. She says you can find great talent everywhere but not opportunity, so she works to extend that opportunity to people who can be the great solvers of today’s challenges,” says de Quesada, who recently left TheVenture City to become Miami-Dade County’s Chief of Economic Innovation and Development.

Years ago, when Gonzalez-Estefani’s parents first encouraged her “to dream big,” they had to no idea she’d soon be helping others do the same.

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