What is it like to replicate a successful social business? Meet Tania, co-founder of SPEAK Madrid

Tania is the co-founder of SPEAK in Madrid, a social business originally founded in Portugal that she decided to replicate in Spain! Learn about her story, the highs and lows of replicating, her advice to others, and why there’s no such thing as failure. We certainly were inspired and we’re sure you will be too!

What is SPEAK?

SPEAK is an impact venture that connects migrants and refugees with locals living in the same city. We organize community-led online and offline language groups and cultural exchange events.

How did you get involved with SPEAK?

I got involved with SPEAK through Laure, the other co-founder of SPEAK Madrid. Laure was volunteering with Ashoka and she knew about SPEAK. She had also participated in an English conversational group and she loved the project! Laure wanted to bring SPEAK to Madrid and she asked a mutual friend if she knew someone that would like to be a co-founder. Laure then contacted me and when I saw that the mission of SPEAK was related to immigration - I'm also a migrant here in Madrid - I was very interested in the project. So I said, “Ok, let's try it!”. We started to talk with the central team and in July 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, we decided to bring SPEAK to Madrid.

What is the best part about replicating a proven social business?

The part that I appreciate the most with replicating SPEAK is that, as founders of new chapters, we have a great relationship with the central team. They are always supporting us.

And SPEAK has been replicated in 27 cities in the world.

This huge international community that we have as founders and with the central team, it's just amazing to have it because you never feel alone!

You can sometimes feel that you're a bit crazy, but you will always find someone that will help you and support you and try to do things better with you.

What is the most challenging part?

  1. When you're in a big company you have so many people doing small things. When you start to have your own business, you have to do everything. You don't have anyone that you can ask, “Can you do this Excel for me?”, or “Can you do this accountability because I don't know how to, or this legal part?”. You can ask for help but you have to do everything.

  2. I think adapting the communication and adapting the project to the city where you are is very challenging.

When you replicate a project, you have to bring the project to the culture of the city or region where you’re based.

What do you wish you had known when starting to replicate SPEAK?

The financial part for me was the most difficult aspect.

It's true that I wish I had more knowledge of having a sustainable business plan from the beginning. But, it's also true that this challenge has given me all the knowledge and experience that I have now.

It's part of the journey - to test, to see if it works, to retest, to implement some new stuff, then repeat the things that work, and stop the things that don't.

When you study a Master's, you have so much knowledge and experience, but,

when you have your own entrepreneurship project, it's like the biggest Master’s that you will ever do!

What benefits do you see in replicating compared to starting your own project?

You don't have to start from scratch.

I know that when you are thinking about having your own business, and perhaps more so when it's related to social issues, you always want to find the idea that will be the most innovative one.

The point is to have a greater social impact. The most important part is to have a community and someone with whom you can check what works and what doesn't work in different countries. Like this, you can create this “snowball effect”, you know, doing the best you can with many people.

SPEAK Madrid - SPEAKnic

What doubts or fears did you have before starting to replicate?

I think SPEAK arrived in my life at a moment that felt like divine timing. I was collaborating on other smaller social projects, and when Laure contacted me, I felt, “It makes sense to do this”. So I didn’t really talk a lot about whether I should do it or not, I just felt it. I said, “Ok, let's try. Let's go for it” and we did it.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to replicate a proven social business in their region?

1. Be passionate about the project

I think something very important is to be passionate about the project that you will replicate, the people that you will work with, and the mission of the project.

2. Be open to collaboration

It's very important that you collaborate, so you will have to be open to sharing the project with many people. Be very humble, be patient, and keep in mind that you have to have collaboration.

3. Surround yourself with the right people

I also think you have to have a strong team. It's very important when you start to be sure with whom you are creating the team because these kinds of projects have ups and downs.

You will have great moments, but you will also have moments that will be very difficult. You have to have confidence in the team to face all these paths.

4. Know yourself very well

It's ok if you are not destined to be an entrepreneur. We have space for everyone in the world and we need people with so many different perspectives. Just be sure that you can fit in this kind of life because it's much easier to have a paycheck at the end of the month in a big company and you don’t stress - well, I mean, you stress, but not in the same way.

5. Be careful. You might get hooked!

Be careful, because once you take on the project and you are really passionate about it, you won't be able to stop! I think it’s a great experience!

About failure...

Something changed for me when I started to be an entrepreneur - the concept of failing.

I think here in Europe we are so afraid of failing. This has to change because you will never fail. You will just have new experiences in your life. All of these lessons will help you with other moments that will come. So don't be scared of failing, just go for it and enjoy the path.

Everything will be an experience and everything will bring you something in the present moment and in the future also.

SPEAK Madrid

Final thoughts?

I encourage people to go for these kinds of projects and to replicate them because I think we have to be very humble.

There are so many social issues that we have to solve that if you help to make a bigger community, the impact will be much greater in the end.

Also, it's important to remember that even if you are not the original founder of the idea, you are still a part of it!


This blog post is part of an interview series on replicating successful social businesses. Did you enjoy this post? Discover more in our interviews with Narmin from SPEAK Kaunas and Matovu from We Love Reading Uganda.

👉 Want to replicate We Love Reading in your region? Or another successful social business? Check out the Snowball Effect programs here!