Teresa Alarcós (MBA ‘92): “The culture of entrepreneurship is being built now, and now is the time to dare”

October 7, 2021 2:58 pm

Teresa Alarcós has more than 20 years of experience on boards and executive committees of cultural institutions, foundations and companies in various industries. She has been an executive at L’Oréal Paris, Vivendi Group Paris, Lycos Europe Gütersloh, Yoigo Madrid, Eli Lilly and Ono-Vodafone. She is currently a mentor for several blockchain and big data companies, the founder and president of W Startups Community, and a member of Women Corporate Directors, an international network of non-executive directors.

With six years of experience as a non-executive director at multinational technology companies, Teresa is highly committed to focusing on strategy, innovation, talent and governance to create sustainable long-term value through technology. Another very important part of her life is volunteering and leading associations that support women, in addition to fundraising for various causes related to health and society.
We spoke with Teresa about the current challenges of business, her book Emprendedoras: Las líderes que cambian el mundo en la era digital (“Women entrepreneurs: the leaders who are changing the world in the digital age”) and her experience with the Esade Alumni Cultural Industries Club.

-As an expert in good governance, with a special focus on sustainability, diversity and blockchain, what do you think are the main challenges facing companies today?
Cultural change is the biggest challenge companies face. As Peter Drucker said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. In other words, we must take advantage of the exponential changes we are experiencing – sustainability, digitalisation, diversity, etc. – to create more value in organisations through new business models and, as Professor Michael Porter might say, staying a step ahead of everyone without forgetting society, your customers or your employees. All the while, you have to think long-term, looking beyond economic performance, which is necessary but, by itself, insufficient. As consumers, we want to buy with our hearts from companies that share our values. This is the new capitalism. But there is an additional challenge in society. We must all learn about AI, ML, blockchain, CRISPR, robotics, VR, AR, etc., learn about their uses and be on the lookout for new ones.

-What motivated you to found W Startups Community? What are its objectives?
I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. When I was a board member, I tended to focus a lot on intrapreneurship. As an executive, many entrepreneurs have asked me about how to start a business, how to launch their brand, get investments, jump to other markets, etc., so I decided to bring together more people who shared these interests and who wanted to join the cause of closing the digital gap (UN Sustainable Development Goal 5). And so we started a journey that has been ongoing for five years now. Being independent is difficult, but it is the only way to bring together many initiatives and be strong.

-In your book Emprendedoras: Las líderes que cambian el mundo en la era digital, you analyse the digital gender gap, but you also reflect on what it means to be a woman entrepreneur today. What role should women play in the economy of the future?

It is the economy of now: a disruptive economy that is growing exponentially. Modern corporations will be the sum of many startups; universities will be a meeting place for creation. And everything is moving very, very quickly. We have only been carrying smartphones in our pockets for 14 years, and in that time we have practically become integrated with these devices. One minor player can upend an entire industry. We haven’t seen anything yet. For example, in the future, medicine will be preventive, sensors will keep track of us, we will manage data, we will be able to anticipate illnesses, energy will become green, food will be designed and grown in labs, etc.
In the book, I explain how to build bridges between ecosystems and corporations. I chose ventures from five different continents to show how, through disruptive models led by women, our commitment to fulfilling the 2030 Agenda – the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals – can be accelerated. Throughout history, many women innovators have been overlooked and forgotten, but my book tries to bring to light the hidden talent, the hidden value that exists in every country. It is truly inspiring for men and women and opens up new spaces in which to operate. It inspires positivity and a desire for entrepreneurship.

-In your professional experience in places like Spain, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Latin America and Scandinavia, how do women understand entrepreneurship?
There are two clear universal points. First, enterprises where there is diversity (meaning women founders) are more profitable, more solvent and longer-lasting. Second, the presence of women in this industry is scarce, among both founders and investors. That’s why we carried out a study that led to the approval of funding from Enisa – the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity – specifically to activate projects led by women entrepreneurs. When you say you want to be an entrepreneur, it’s like saying you want to become an astronaut and go to Saturn. But the culture of entrepreneurship is being built now, and now is the time to dare.

-What has your experience with the Esade Alumni Cultural Industries Club been like?
Culture and technology go hand in hand. We are in the age of creation, in a world full of platforms where women must participate from the outset, thereby preventing biases. That’s why the Cultural Industries Club has organised a presentation on blockchain and cultural industries and we have looked at issues of good corporate governance, for example with the Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza and her foundation. We have also invited Assumpta Serna, who spoke about ethics and new emerging models. We have discussed leadership with the orchestra conductor Claudio Abbado, and spoken with Michael Haefliger, director of the Lucerne Festival, about the importance of listening, respect, coordination, etc. – a delightful series of lessons that are equally applicable to business management. In other words, we are learning about governance models and succession planning, innovation and disruption through the cultural industries.

-What challenges does the club face?
Now is a time of change. Many new ideas are emerging. The challenge for the future is to create interesting, diverse, international teams.