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Entrepreneurship in Gibraltar: a pioneering spirit

The NS Gibraltar hears from three entrepreneurs who have made the Rock their home for innovative business

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With its population of 30,000 and a land mass of just 6.8 square kilometres, it’s impressive that Gibraltar boasts nearly 18,000 registered businesses, with about 1,700 incorporated annually. Indeed, many locals are proud to talk about the culture of entrepreneurship they say has always characterised the territory, particularly in recent years.

For Gemma Vasquez, chairperson of the Gibraltar Federation of Small Businesses (formed in 1996), entrepreneurship is a mindset with old roots. “Historically, tradespeople settled here from all over Europe,” she says. “It’s part of the lifeblood of Gibraltar. The Gibraltarian mentality is about looking for new ways to grow, trade and diversify.”

Sectors such as e-gaming, law, hospitality and tourism are doing particularly well. But that’s not to say that starting a business on the Rock isn’t without its challenges, Vasquez says. “As with anywhere in the EU, regulation can make it difficult for start-ups. Space is also very limited, so rent is at a premium, especially in the centre of town.

“There is no typical profile of a Gibraltarian entrepreneur,” she adds. “They come in all shapes and sizes.” So what are some of these diverse individuals up to? We hear from three . . .

The Techie

“Gibraltar is the right size for a good testing ground”

Alex Capurro, founder and CEO, Easy Payment Gateway

What does your business do?

Easy Payment Gateway (EPG) is a digital payment management solution, founded in 2014. EPG lets online merchants (large and small) add multiple payment solutions, including credit card processing, to their online business. It’s simple and secure, and we work with credit card acquirers around the world.

How big is your business?

Currently we have 15 staff, although we are growing very quickly. Our estimated turnover is £5m for 2015.

What are the biggest opportunities for your business in Gibraltar?

Gaming companies. We have more than 15 years of experience in gaming and payments, so we can offer the companies here in Gibraltar a solution for their payment needs, as well as full fraud prevention services. We can also offer physical retailers the latest technology when it comes to credit card machines, and on a yearly basis there are more than 14 million tourists in Gibraltar who spend money in the retail market.

What is the biggest challenge?

Our biggest challenge is educating merchants and businesses alike that there is so much more that we can do to optimise their payments. Businesses know they need payments just like they need electricity, but they don’t always understand how to make their system better.

Do you think Gibraltar offers a productive environment for entrepreneurship?

It depends on the business. I think Gibraltar is the right size to be a good testing ground for any tech company. There is a wide variety of businesses, offering a good spread of customers. However, there are issues when it comes to recruitment and office space.

It’s very difficult to find local talent when it comes to technology and software development and it’s even harder to find good office space at a decent rate without a three- or five-year lease, which can be a show-stopper for any start-up.

What one thing would make all the difference to your business?

The answer for me would be local talent. I would love to employ more local people if they realised the significance of technology and software development as a career.

 

The Lawyer

“Competition is second to growing Gibraltar’s reputation”

Peter Howitt, founder and CEO, Ramparts Law Firm

What does your business do?

I set Ramparts up in 2012, and our focus is European e-commerce and finance clients. We’re not a traditional law firm; we see our practice as a business partner that delivers legal and commercial support. We advise clients on a wide range of regulatory, commercial, transactional and corporate issues. Our clients cut across the e-payments, e-money, funds, online gambling, financial services and technology sectors, ranging from start-up entrepreneurs in Europe to multibillion-dollar listed entities in the US.

How big is your business?

We have seven team members (four qualified lawyers and three support staff). We are recruiting for two to three more lawyers in Gibraltar and one more support staff. We’ll also be opening our first UK office (likely Manchester) next year.

What are the biggest opportunities for your business in Gibraltar?

Over the next six months we will be doing more to ensure our cross-border expertise in regulatory issues, intellectual property and commercial contracts for the online gambling community. Additionally, the so-called fintech [financial technology] sector in the UK is really hotting up. Having a presence over there will allow us to bring back useful networks and experience to Gibraltar.

What is the biggest challenge?

Getting the message out to all the great lawyers who want to work for a new firm.

Do you think Gibraltar offers a productive environment for entrepreneurship?

Yes, very much so. I think we are blessed with a number of intelligent, active and supportive stakeholders (government, regulators, industry, service providers) that see the big picture and the importance to us all of being part of Gibraltar plc. There is much more we can do to continue to pull together and be seen as market leaders in finance and e-commerce. Even when there is competition between some of us, the competition is secondary to the overriding objective to support the growth of Gibraltar’s reputation.

What one thing would make all the difference to your business?

I hope that our commitment to invest in innovation, and our passion to support disruptive entrepreneurship, leads to new strategic relationships with more innovative finance and technology business and funds across Europe and the world.

 

The Wedding Planner

“The Chief Minister placed all his faith in me”

Monica Coumbe, founder, Hour Concierge and Hour Weddings

What does your business do?

I mainly do corporate events, weddings, launches and seminars. I have also teamed up with another event organiser to expand my services and together we have just opened a shop in the area which rents out props for weddings and events.

My business started in February 2007. The online gaming company I was working for got hit by the change in US laws seven years ago, so I sat down and thought of what to do next. I decided to set up my own business, doing what I enjoy, using the experience I had gained over the years.

There have been some exciting highlights. I worked on the wedding of [the designer] John Galliano’s niece. It was great to see all the sketches he made for her. Organising the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo’s wedding was a trying experience because it was high-profile and he placed all his trust in me (but it had a happy ending). I was also part of the Channel 5 documentary Britain in the Sun while I was co-ordinating artists’ riders backstage at the Gibraltar Music Festival.

I would consider myself a hub point for Gibraltar, especially for people who need to get something done locally (corporate or private matters) but don’t have the time or the local knowledge.

How big is your business?

I’ve worked on my own all these years, and hired freelancers as and when required. Now that we have the shop, we are three people working together. Business has been increasing steadily.

What are the biggest opportunities for your business in Gibraltar?

I would say the growth of new areas in the events industry. We are interested in small to medium-sized companies that need to get away from their office environment and want to hold meetings, conferences or team-building events in the sunshine.

What is the biggest challenge?

Finances to expand the business. I have tried to get EU funding for start-ups and asked the government to help with my vision, but unfortunately I haven’t hit with the right department yet. Also, last year we had big problems opening bank accounts in Gibraltar as Barclays had stepped away from high-street banking, and that affected entrepreneurs. Now Gibraltar has opened its own bank. It seems very promising and hopefully will make life easier.

Do you think Gibraltar offers a productive environment for entrepreneurship?

Yes, Gibraltar has a productive environment for entrepreneurship if you have something unique to offer and if Gibraltarians as a whole believe it is good for the economy.

What one thing would make all the difference to your business?

Getting Gibraltar on the map – and showing people what a unique and an attractive place it is.