Start-up environments and the case of tourism

Report from a secondment at Tetuan Valley, Madrid

Anne-Mette Hjalager, Department of Business and Sustainability University of Southern Denmark

April 22, 2024

The secondment conducted at Tetuan Valley, Madrid, in March-April 2024 was performed as part of work package 2. This work package “aims to unveil what kind of factors or mechanisms that motivate and prevent sustainable entrepreneurship. It does so by undertaking comparative research from a multi-level perspective including individual and institutional variables. The objective of this work package is therefore to explore context-specific cross-level drivers and hinders of sustainable entrepreneurship.” (project outline).

Tetuan Valley is a start-up accelerator, situated in a Google-for-startups facility in Madrid. Tetuan Valley provides a comprehensive suite of services to early-phase entrepreneurs. These services encompass training, mentoring, advisory support, and networking opportunities. Since its inception in 2009, Tetuan Valley has been instrumental in nurturing numerous entrepreneurs, many of whom have transitioned to other venturing activities in the Google-for-startups ecosystem or beyond. Tetuan Valley works with a variety of partners, including universities and colleges.

The Google for Startups facility, funded by Google, serves as an incubator designed to cultivate an invigorating ecosystem for entrepreneurs. This multifaceted space encompasses office facilities, meeting rooms, rest zones, an auditorium, and a cafeteria. Certain floors are specifically allocated to individuals and startup enterprises under rental agreements, providing them with a stable workspace conducive to work and development over an extended period. Additionally, the environment accommodates digital nomads, who seek a flexible and comfortable workspace for shorter durations, even spanning a few days.

Housed within a transformed warehouse, the atmosphere exudes vibrancy and stimulation. Throughout the premises, one encounters Google-style aphorisms, reinforcing the ethos of hard work, enjoyment, and impactful contributions: “Work hard. Have fun. Make a difference.” “Success will find you working.” “Don’t dream of success. Wake up and work at it. Google’s overarching vision and work norms permeate every corner of the house.

My research delves into critical issues about entrepreneurship and innovation within tourism. In this context it is interesting to notice that the environment in the Madrid’s Google for Start-up has nurtured a few ventures with relations to tourism, two of them noteworthy, “Velada” and “Mogu”. As most start-ups in the house, they are in the digital and tech sector. Velada delivers an app in the field of restaurant services. The business model comprises that the app is offered at subscription basis for the restaurant-goers, who can get recommendations, price advantages, privileged booking services, etc. Veleda initially launched its operations in Madrid but is ready to scale-up and offer the app in other large cities in the world. Mogu is a company that delivers B2B services to travel agencies, tour operators etc. The solution streamlines the creation of travel itineraries for the clients of the travel companies. The company primarily focuses on group tours, including incentive travel, business meetings, family celebrations, school trips, and special interest travel, etc.

My stay at Tetuan Valley substantiates my research emphasis on diverse strategies to foster innovative entrepreneurship within the tourism sector. The instances observed within the Google workspace exemplify the viability of digitizing tourism across the entire value chain.

Prior research has looked into the formats of support to entrepreneurial and innovative endeavors in tourism and can supplement what is seen from the experience from Tetuan Valley and the Google workspace environment. It is highly relevant in my own research on the development potentials in challenged urban centres. Emmendoerfer et al. (2020) examine a number of “InnovationLab” initiatives. They emphasize that the ILabTour are characterized by three intermingled approached: 1) Organizing recognized start-up space and offering startup services; 2) Providing opportunities for experimentation – people and institutions – conducive to tests and experiments with new solutions in a creative manner; 3) Interaction and networks, enabling the exchange of capacities and ideas, and supporting a co-creative endeavor and partnership formation. The authors further illustrate the impact of these approaches by examining artistic creativity in a Finnish tourism destination and the role of arts-and-crafts in a small Portuguese town. Notably, stakeholder workshops play a pivotal role in this process, involving active participation from residents and public actors. The outcomes extend beyond conventional tourism facilities, demonstrating enhanced capacities and unique offerings.

The development of tourism products and services necessitates a robust connection full-scale with customers. How to organize real places as incubators for tourism entrepreneurs? In their recent work, Skytt-Larsen et al. (2022) discuss the concept of utilizing and organizing temporary and short-term arrangements, such as for example street food events, as incubators for tourism entrepreneurs. By doing so, these arrangements offer several advantages, including reduced establishment costs and an attractive proposition for small-scale entrepreneurs seeking to test business ideas without significant initial investment risks.

The co-working space offered by Google in Madrid also actualizes another undergoing discussion on tourism and viability in urban environments. The concept of “entrepreneurial destination”, explored by Thees et al. (2020), recognizes that tourists are no longer solely travelling for leisure purposes; they also seek attractive relocations where they can conduct work as, whether in business, arts, or academia. Co-living, co-working, and co-experiencing play a crucial role for accommodating these “digital nomads”. These spaces not only foster entrepreneurship but also contribute to social change, participation, and city development. Transformation-oriented startups hold potential for enhancing the competitiveness of destination and improving the quality of life for both residents and visitors.

Tetuan Valley and the Google for Startups propelled different perspectives to my research.


Emmendoerfer, M. L., Olavo, A. V. A., Silva-Junior, A. C., Mediotte, E. J., & Ferreira, L. L. (2020). Innovation lab in the touristic development context: perspectives for creative tourism. In Cabeca, S.M., Goncalves, A. R., Marques, J.F., & Tavares, M. (eds.). Creative tourism dynamics: connecting travellers, communities, cultures, and places, 87-102. Grácio.

Skytt-Larsen, C. B., Hansen, H. K., & Busck, A. G. (2022). Temporary urban activities as potential business incubators: the role of networks, time and space. Geografisk Tidsskrift-Danish Journal of Geography122(1), 21-31.

Thees, H., Zacher, D., & Eckert, C. (2020). Work, life and leisure in an urban ecosystem-co-creating Munich as an Entrepreneurial Destination. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management44, 171-183.