Unicornesses to-be; Spanish unicorn candidates with female tech founders

Updated: May 3

"It is very difficult to want to be what is not seen", says Andrea Barber, co-founder of RatedPower in an interview. That is so true. This is not another depressive article about how little of the total venture capital in the world goes to female entrepreneurs. Instead, my intention is to highlight amazing Spanish women in tech, having managed to raise substantial capital so that their examples can inspire more women worldwide to follow suit. Money talks. Keep on reading for this data.

Veronica Pascual, CEO of ASTI Robotics, Rebeca Minguela, founder of Clarity AI, Andrea Barber, co-founder of RatedPower. Montage of LinkedIn profiles, (except for the added unicorn horn naturally. ;)

Building (Su)unicorns = Sustainable Unicorns


We need a powerful name for the future unicorns that are building real wealth, in pure monetary terms, and in parallel building sustainable impact for this one planet that we all share. I hereby coin Suunicorns = Sustainable unicorns possessing an especially green heart.


For more of these crucial-for-humankind, innovative tech startups to be built, I am convinced that we need to showcase the value of the feminine touch in business, of course side-by-side with the equally brilliant men in a gender diverse team.


For Spain's thriving tech ecosystem, there have been many predictions made lately about future unicorns. In the case of Clarity, the ones in-the-know all seem to be unanimous in dubbing it a unicorn by 2023. As of September 2021, the founder Rebeca Minguela and her team achieved a valuation of 400 million euros, from a total investment of 73 million euros.


As for the future unicorness-status for a company founded by Veronica Pascual, today CEO of ASTI Robotics, and for RatedPower, co-founded by Andrea Barber, you might need some more convincing. Let me elaborate.


Unicorn guessing-game in Spanish media


Analyzing search traffic, the most popular words for this site (expandtospain.com) are by far "spanish unicorns". There is so much more to share with the world in terms of innovation taking place in Spain. But since the, slightly obsessive, identification of Spanish unicorns means the ability to attract A LOT of more money to the ecosystem, I will continue to share these rainbowy nuggets of information with you.


In fact, I am taking some credit for the influx of unicorn guesses in Spanish social media after posting this in Expand To Spain's feed on Jan 12:


"My (Spanish) candidates for Unicorn status are:

Factorial HR, CARTO, Paack, Clikalia, Belvo, Capchase, TravelPerk, Exoticca, Clarity AI, Wallapop, Typeform, Cobee, Abacum."

- Miguel Arias, an active Business Angel investing in Internet based start-ups in Spain, in his predictions (in Spanish) for 2022 here."


A few days after this post had gone completely viral there were a plethora of predictions from local investors in Spanish media. One example is this image in a Twitter post by well-known investor Carlos Blanco on Jan 24, 2022, stating that the list is "a collaboration with 30 VCs & BAs" and that the criteria for selection is having had/is signing rounds of €10M+.

Twitter post by well-known investor Carlos Blanco on Jan 24, 2022.

In my hunt for female tech-founders, I googled images of the founder-teams of these soon-to-be super famous entrepreneurs. The results were demotivating, to say the least. The vast majority of the images in the search result show three thirty-something aged, Spanish, cross-armed men, dressed in t-shirts and sneakers. Only one female entrepreneur - Rebeca Minguela, who is the sole founder of Clarity.

Not one to give up easily, I then dedicated hours to searching in my memory and online in Spanish media for more credible unicorness candidates, determined to craft this piece. Although only two more women are featured in this shortlist, I did find many more Spanish, female tech stars with massive potential to highlight in a future piece.


30% of venture capital to women-led vehicles by 2025


"I am a woman, what is your superpower?" Have you heard that expression? It makes me smile every time. For me, the superpower consists of having a stronger intuition, being more empathic, inclusive leadership, valuing societal gain over short-term, individual gain, just to give you some examples. All of them are skills that drive profitability and innovation.


In 2021, European Women in VC, presented a report to the European Commission, defining a goal of 30% of the available limited partner and funds-of-funds capital to go to women-led vehicles, in the next 3-5 years. This metric seems achievable if focused upon.


The feasibility of this goal is supported by VCs increasingly understanding the market value of having female founded, or co-founded, companies in their portfolios. I am also reading and hearing about a new willingness from VCs in Europe to clearly state their objective for gender diversity on their home pages. That small, yet so significant, action alone could encourage more ambitious women to send in their pitch decks and indirectly speed up a pro-female founder capital allocation by 2025.


I have "spent a lot of time" with all of the candidates by reading interviews and social media posts, and listening to available video material, mostly in Spanish. Overall, I am so impressed by how well they convey the obvious need to showcase a profitable business-case, together with the value it is generating for society as a whole. These women have mastered delivering data-driven facts, powerfully articulated from the heart and the mind. Here they are:


Rebeca Minguela, Clarity AI, first Spanish Unicorness?


Screenshot: Deep Tech for Climate Solutions, Rebeca Minguela interviewed by Matt Frei, Nov 9, 2021

Founded in 2017, Clarity AI has offices in the US, UK and Spain and has a client network with over $10 trillion assets under management. (Pause to let that number sink in.)


The first sentences of her LinkedIn profile read as:

"Rebeca is Founder of Clarity, which tries to solve the problem of inefficient and unequal allocation of capital, by developing a universal framework and building an automated tool to rate companies, projects, governments and NGOs."

I would like to delete the word "tries" as her company is already doing this on a huge scale with the backing of the most influential leaders in finance worldwide. Notably Black Rock announced a minority investment on January 15, 2021 to integrate Clarity AI’s capabilities with their end-to-end operating system for investment professionals.


Later that year, in December, another giant, Softbank, announced their investment in Clarity. Jimi Macdonald, investor for SoftBank Investment Advisers in a press release:


“The sustainable investment market is already more than one third of total global assets and growing rapidly. Empowering investors to make informed decisions about social and environmental impact is a real differentiator, and we are delighted to work with Rebeca and her team to bring this technology to an even larger network of stakeholders.”


Previously, Minguela has been part of defining and leading the Global Digital Transformation Program at Santander Bank. She first gained stardom in Spain's startup ecosystem as a founder and CEO of Blink Booking. This last-minute, hotel-booking app was acquired by Groupon in Sept 2013.


Prior to Blink, Rebeca worked as Senior Associate at Bain Capital Private Equity, as management consultant at Boston Consulting Group, and as engineer at German Aerospace Agency, Siemens and IBM.


"How We Can Utilize Deep Tech for Climate Solutions?" (link to video)


This question was raised in a panel organized by the New York Times, Nov 2021, in which Minguela participated.


"We need to learn to live with estimations in this area (Climate change). People accept estimations every day but around sustainability and climate, people are skeptical to use these kinds of estimations", she stated in response to why the available tools to measure impact are not more widely embraced. She continues:


"We need confidence and expertise to use the tools and ask ourselves "How are the tools being used today? We (Clarity AI) make estimations of carbon footprint, they are based on calculations from 30.000 companies."


She emphasizes that it is important to work towards a better understanding, a greater level of certainty but that "it does not need to be perfect."

"Investors are making excuses that the data is not reliable enough. It (the data) needs to not be misleading, while directionally get it right and be able to answer which company is a high pollutant versus a low pollutant”, she says.


All of the panelists agreed on the importance of providing reference points and also provide a sense of hope that there is a potential to address Climate change in the needed time frame. Clarity AI certainly provides us with hope, and measurable hope at that.


Andrea Barber, RatedPower, shining brighter than the sun


Andrea Barber together with co-founders Juan Romero and Miguel Ángel Torrero.

Andrea Barber founded RatedPower in Madrid in 2017, together with Miguel Ángel Torrero and Juan Romero, after having worked together for the same company. The trio is on a mission to increase the global solar energy capacity by providing software to design solar plants more efficiently.


From their different roles in the industry, Miguel Ángel Torrero, a photovoltaic engineer and Juan Romero, an expert in mathematical models and solar energy, experienced inefficiencies in the engineering process of photovoltaic plants first hand. That sparked a common vision to transform the design- and configuration-process of solar plants.


The company now offers a cloud-based software-as-a-service (Saas) that automates and optimizes the analysis, design, and engineering of photovoltaic plants, in all stages.


"Between 2010 and 2019, the dramatic fall in solar PV (Photovoltaic) module prices, along with continuing reductions in Balance of System (BoS) costs and the increase in capacity factors, saw the global weighted- average LCOE (levelized cost of energy) of newly commissioned utility-scale solar PV fall 82%, to USD 0.068/kWh in 2019, writes IRENA, International Renewable Energy Agency (Aug 2020).


Simply put, the timing couldn't have been better for the team to come up with a unique solution to aid the world with more ways to reduce costs of producing solar power.


In October 2021 they raised €5.3 million in series A funding to continue their international expansion. They claim to already have 1.300 users in 130 countries. Before that injection of growth capital the company was completely bootstrapped, surviving in all ways possible. Showing impressive resilience.


In an article in January 2020, by El Confidencial, RatedPower is claimed to have "large companies as clients that on average pay about 21,000 euros per year". Giants such as ACS, Naturgy, Iberdrola and Acciona are specified. In another article, additional clients are said to be Shell, 360 Energy, Equinor and Shanghai Energy Corporation.


Before founding RatedPower Andrea worked for Engineering services company Solida for 6 years in Brazil and in Chile, where she led the expansion of renewable energy projects. Regarding female entrepreneurship she told El País in an interview in 2021:

"When I started with RatedPower I was less familiar with more female references in entrepreneurship. That is why, together with two friends of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, we created, as a hobby, the podcast Vostok 6 to interview pioneer women."


"I think it is very important to give visibility to women who are leading projects and initiatives in different disciplines. It is very difficult to want to be what is not seen."


Andrea Barber, Co-founder & CEO Rated Power, presenting Trends Report 2022. Image: LinkedIn feed.

Do you believe in quotas to foster female business leadership and break the glass ceiling? To the question in the same interview, Andrea replies: "I believe that being a founding woman and CEO, and having an inclusive and diverse team, has caused us to capture and retain female talent from the beginning. If we had not managed to attract female talent so easily, we would have prioritized their recruitment."



A queen in Spanish tech - a unicorness in her next phase?


Cropped image from ABB: Sami Atiya, President of ABB’s Robotics and Veronica Pascual Boé, ASTI CEO

For all the techy people throughout Spain, especially in Burgos, she is an idol and much respected businesswoman who turned her family company around when it was very close to having to call it a day.


For the rest of the tech world Verónica Pascual, CEO for ASTI Technologies, became instantly famous last summer when she sold her company to ABB, Switzerland, in July 2021.


The previously, kept-secret acquisition price has now been revealed. According to this source, ABB spent $190 million, including $7 million in cash to buy the Spanish developer of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).


Founded in 1982, ASTI is headquartered in Burgos, Spain and employs 300-plus people in Spain, France and Germany. Veronica Pascual began her international career in a multinational leading company in the construction sector (Paris, London). "In 2004 she joined the family business, ASTI, through different positions within the company. At the end of 2006 she became the CEO and in 2008 she bought the company by acquisition of 100% of its shares, a turning point that marked a new path and direction for the business." (From her LinkedIn profile)


ABB has said that the acquisition will expand its product family into AMRs and beyond industrial and collaborative robot arms. Thankfully for Burgos, it is decided that ASTI’s headquarters will remain in Spain and become ABB’s AMR business headquarters. Pascual will continue to lead the business unit, including R&D, engineering, product and project value-chain.


According to the mentioned source, ASTI currently has revenues of $50M per year with a 30% annual growth rate. "With the ABB sales and partner network, ASTI will now expand their reach from 20 companies to 53 companies worldwide, including China."


Adding today's high demand for robotics and automated solutions to manage logistical challenges, within Retail and Shipping specifically, ABB seems to have made a really sweet deal by "only" paying $190 million.


Why a future unicorness when already acquired?


According to the "unicorn rules", acquired companies cannot be said to be unicorns, although there does seem to be some flexibility in this area. (One example is Spain's unicorn-ish Idealista, acquired by EQT). My own chain-of-thought is that Veronica Pascual, after "serving her time" at ABB as is man