This case study was prepared by Ivan Diego from Valnalon, edited by Joseph Tixier from the OECD LEED Programme 


With a population of slightly more than 1.000.000 inhabitants Asturias is a small autonomous region located in the northwest of Spain. The region boasts of a glorious industrial past largely based on coal mining and steel industries. The onset of a protracted economic and social crisis in the late 70’ led to a steady stream of coal pit and factory closures and subsequent loss of jobs and social unrest during the 80’. In this respect the region shared the same fate as many other mining areas in Europe (Lorraine, Yorkshire, Ruhr, South Wales). Spain’s accession to the European Union in 1986 granted access to a considerable share of Structural Funds that should help Asturias to overcome such a dire economic and social situation. Considerable efforts and funding have been devoted to the promotion of entrepreneurship ever since. Whereas during the late 80’ and 90’ the regional development policies focused on the development of new infrastructures and industrial state as key enablers of entrepreneurial activity, the turn of the century saw a shift to a more holistic approach in entrepreneurship policy broadening the scope and goals and seeking to engage a wider constituency of stakeholders. To date three consecutive action plans have been put in place to promote entrepreneurship in the region : Primer Plan de Fomento de Cultura Emprendedora (2005-2008), Segundo Plan de Fomento de Cultura Emprendedora (2009-2012) and the current one, Programa Integral para el Fomento de la Cultura Emprendedora (2013-2015). This 3-year plan contemplates a 26.7 Million € budget for investments in three strategic areas:

  1. Nurture entrepreneurial talents and entrepreneurial culture: entrepreneurship education
  2. Provide support for startup and consolidation with a specific focus on social entrepreneurship
  3. Follow-up, dissemination and positioning of Asturias as an entrepreneurial region.

The Action Plan is firmly anchored in a broader policy known as the Agreement for Employment and Progress in Asturias (Acuerdo por el Empleo y el Progreso de Asturias 2013-2015) that entrusts the Regional Department of Economy and Employment to design and implement the plan in close cooperation with a broad range of stakeholders including business associations, business centres, trade unions, schools and universities.

The promotion of entrepreneurialism in education took centre stage in the first comprehensive regional entrepreneurship action plan (2005-2008) and has never ceased to gain traction. In this respect, Asturias efforts in making entrepreneurship education an integral part of wider socio-economic development have been lauded by the EC in the 2010 report “Towards greater cooperation and coherence in Entrepreneurship Education”.

In the next section we will be looking at Valnalon contribution to the development of this agenda and its position within this constellation of regional stakeholders pushing forward the entrepreneurship education agenda. 


Valnalon was the first public-funded Business Centre in the region. It started operations in 1987 in the premises of an old steelworks factory and its creation somehow signalled (a more or less traumatic) transition into the post-industrial era. Nowadays Valnalon is a regional government agency in charge of promoting entrepreneurship. Valnalon has developed some expertise in two different but interrelated areas:

While start-up support was certainly encoded in the DNA of the organization since its inception, Valnalon understood that this alone will not suffice to bring about the changes needed to increase entrepreneurship in the region. Valnalon continues providing business start-up advice, training and support to budding entrepreneurs but entrepreneurship education is considered on par as a key strategic area. Thus, since 1994 Valnalon has spearheaded developments in this field bringing together decision-makers, practitioners, and other social agents such as employers and third sector organizations to design and deliver a coherent portfolio of entrepreneurship education projects in primary, secondary and VET schools in the region. 

The design and kick-off of the First Regional Action Plan for Entrepreneurship in 2005 represented a tipping point. Whereas previous efforts were largely dependent on the willingness of isolated schools and teachers to get involved in our entrepreneurship education projects, political endorsement and a medium-term funding strategy provided better leverage to expand and deepen the entrepreneurship education agenda in Asturias. Although it should be pointed out that a first step in this direction was taken a couple of years before, in 2003, with the embedding of EJE, a mini-company programme, as an optional subject in the regional curriculum of secondary education. As a result, the regional government granted our organization a leading role in the promotion of entrepreneurship in Education from Primary to VET acknowledging Valnalon’s pioneering efforts and access to a well-developed network of schools and teachers.

Description of the organization and its work

Valnalon’s workforce consists of a multidisciplinary team of twenty-four people. It is primarily funded through regional government revenues ring-fenced in the regional entrepreneurship action plan. An output-based budget is reviewed and approved with a total yearly sum of 350 000 € for the work in entrepreneurship education.

In its role as intermediary organization, Valnalon does not only help schools in translating policy into practice but nurtures ongoing collaboration and dialogue among decision-makers, practitioners, and other social agents such as employers and third sector organizations in the design and delivery of entrepreneurship education projects in primary, secondary and VET schools. 

Valnalon designs and publishes teaching resources, provides teacher training and offers advice and continued support to an extensive network of schools implementing different entrepreneurial education projects.  Our project portfolio aims at creating a continuum of experiences for students and teachers touching upon different aspects of entrepreneurship.

Primary Education

EME – Year 5 and Year 6 pupils create and manage a cooperative throughout the school year. This cooperative manufactures products that are sold in a local market or fair once a year.

Secondary Education

JES is a first contact with social entrepreneurship. A student-run NGO is created and put in contact with a partner school in a Southern country. Both sides work together to identify needs , co-create a development project and devise a fundraising campaign.

PETIT encourages technological innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. Students form innovation teams to design and make an innovative product which is showcased at the Inventors’ Fair at the end of the course.

EJE is a mini-company project with an international dimension. Student-run cooperatives trade real products on a small scale in with mini-companies from other regions or countries, Imported products are sold in the local market in order to later analyse the results and divide the profits, as in any real business.

Upper secondary & VET

TMP aims to encourage a culture of entrepreneurship and business among final year students. Local entrepreneurs visit the school and share their experience.  Some students volunteer to participate in RetoTMP, a 3-day Design Thinking challenge posed by real companies.

EIE is an active methodology to cover the contents of new VET module; “Business and Entrepreneurial Initiative”. Students work in teams to find a good business model for an SME directly related with their VET qualification.

Special education

EMC is an educational project aimed at students of Special Needs and Integration Support Centres in which they create and manage a cooperative throughout the school year. They manufacture products which they will then sell once a year at a local market or fair.

This extended portfolio has slowly built up throughout the years. Experience shows moving from a project idea to widespread adoption requires the right mix of early engagement of a team of committed teachers in the design phase, political support, budget availability, and a “start small”/”lean entrepreneurship” mentality. In the earlier stages teacher workgroups are configured and the methodology and teaching resources are fine-tuned through small-scale pilots and interventions at school and classroom level. Teachers involved in the piloting phase tend to become our best ambassadors. This process has been re-enacted in the design of our latest project for Early Education. Pilots have recently started in some Early Education Centres during this school year and hopefully improved before it’s fully fledged in 2015-2016.

In spite of aforementioned developments, it’s fair to say entrepreneurship education does not rank high in the list of priorities or concerns of teachers in the Asturia region. The usual raft of factors used to explain the limited buy-in of entrepreneurship education in Europe are insufficient to fully explain the situation in this side of Europe. Some teachers seem to equate entrepreneurship education with some of our mini-company based projects while some others ignore it altogether or are openly critical about the alleged benefits of entrepreneurship education.

A great deal of work is needed on the parents’ side too where entrepreneurship education is narrowly perceived as a mechanism to encourage business start-up. Overcoming such misunderstandings is the main motivation behind Valnalon pilot project for families, EFE.

Considerable efforts have been devoted to transfer know-hows. This is been done through agreements with different local, regional and national authorities. Steps for a 2-3 year implementation process are clearly delineated in the agreement and comprise the training of teachers, adaptation and translation of teaching resources and a schedule of regular meetings with schools, teachers and groups of students in order to track down and develop a precise understanding of the implementation phase.

Active participation in European projects and initiatives represents another core area of our work.  Europe provides a good opportunity to identify trends and new developments in the field, to share ideas with likeminded people and organizations and to explore promising areas for further work that are aligned with the organization’s strategy. For instance ADEPTT, a Leonardo da Vinci Transfer of Innovation project, was devised as a possible way to engage a broader cross-section of teachers in the conversation surrounding entrepreneurship in the region.

Anchoring in partner school

What follows is an account of the origins and implementation of EMC, our entrepreneurship education project for Special Education. The educational needs of students with intellectual disabilities who have completed compulsory education (16 years) demand a curriculum that prioritizes the development of personal autonomy, social and community integration and integration into working life. This involves catering for the specific needs of individual students and providing the right level of support. EMC is an entrepreneurship education project was carefully designed to fulfil the following goals:

But the post-16 educational landscape for intellectually disabled students is far from simple.  A bewildering array of educational pathways depending on the target group complicated things in the design phase of the project. Accommodating this diversity stood out as a key requirement so that EMC could fit in:

a)        Last courses of Basic Education (EBO)

b)        Transition to Adult Life (TVA)

c)        Initial Professional Qualification Programmes (PCPI) in the form of "specific Workshop."

d)        Occupational workshops

EMC reinforces some of the methodological approaches teachers are already familiar with. It taps into Cooperative learning and Project Based Learning and engages students in a real-life experience: setting up and managing a co-operative to make and trade handicrafts in the local community.  This requires contacting different stakeholders in the local community (eg. raw material suppliers, potential customers, other schools, local entrepreneurs in the role of experts, and mentors, and even paying a visit to the local bank branch to apply for a micro-loan.)

This case study attempts to encapsulate a 7-year experience in running EMC project at Centro de Apoyo a la Integración  "Ángel de la Guarda", herafter referred to as CAI ANGEL DE LA GUARDA,  an Integration Support Center for people with Cerebral Palsy located in the outskirts of Gijón (Asturias).  Rafael Álvarez (IT and EMC project coordinator at the school, Nerea Vilaseco (Workshop coordinator) and Laura Palacio (Logopedics) shared their views with us over a cup of coffee in the CAI ANGEL DE LA GUARDA canteen on a sunny September morning.

The Centre is run by an NGO, ASPACE ASTURIAS, (Asociación de Ayuda a Personas Afectadas de Parálisis Cerebral / Cerebral Palsy Support Association). The centre is co-financed with regional funds provided by the Department for Education and Social Welfare. The staff, consisting of 18 professionals (including workshop coordinators, sport trainers, physiotherapists and a specialist in logopedics), provides support to 55 users. ASPACE provides integral support and training for adult people with cerebral palsy with a view to enhance integration in social and working life, and improve their personal autonomy and welfare.

It all started 7 years ago. “Unwaged labour with disabled people was under the radar of the regional administration for some years in order to avoid exploitation practices” Rafael says. “Measures were adopted the sale of products manufactured in the workshops of Integration Support Centres was explicitly prohibited.  This unleashed a lack of motivation and we saw the interest among users plummet as they saw products stocking up in the shelves.” In 2007 Rafael comes across EMC, Vanalon mini-company project for special education and contacts us in order to find ways to overcome this problem. Just a year later EMC’s Teaching Resources were published following a successful piloting phase, and shortly after CAI ANGEL DE LA GUARDA joined the project. Twenty people with Cerebral Palsy with good cognitive and communication skills joined forces and the co-operative “ASPACEGI ARTESANOS” was set up.

In 2011 the regional Government of Asturias and Valnalon signed a collaboration agreement to further extend EMC project to other Integration Support Centres.  The document underlines that EMC main purpose is educational and does clearly state product sales are only permitted once a year (at the local marketplace). Business-to-business sales are strictly forbidden.  This agreement is renewed on a yearly basis.

ASPACEGI ARTESANOS Co-op is encouraged and supported by all and sundry at CAI ANGEL DE LA GUARDA. Weekly meetings are scheduled by co-op members and educators in charge but this will be absolutely impossible without the cooperation and willingness of other staff members to reschedule other daily activities. 

ASPACEGI ARTESANOS co-op has developed an extensive network of contacts with other student-run coops in primary and secondary education schools of the region.  However, Rafael points out the need to strengthen this aspect and expects Valnalon to assume a leading role in making this happen via meetings to reinforce peer-to-peer learning among teachers/trainers and coops of different education levels.

CAI ANGEL DE LA GUARDA is an outward-looking school and last year ASPACEGI ARTESANOS had the opportunity to meet a local entrepreneur, Lara Hernández, a young woman who had recently started a freelancing career in psychology.  Co-op members listened to a first-hand account of the advantages and concerns faced by a real entrepreneur. Rafael, EMC project coordinator at CAI Angel de la Guarda, recalled “They soon realised Lara’s problems were somehow similar to the ones we experienced in the co-op”

In 2014 CAI ASPACE  set up a link with a similar institution in England, Northgate School Arts College from Northampton (England) This first international experience was an opportunity to exchange information about the co-op and trade a small amount of products.  There are plans to continue this relationship this year.

To sum it up, Rafa says “It’s been 7 years since “ASPACEGI ARTESANOS” was created Some things stay and some others are changed. Co-op members come and go, new workshop coordinators are appointed, but the co-op is alive and kicking. This year we will seek to reinforce links with local organizations and companies in order to keep on improving. “

Achievements and impact

Belén (52 years old) is one of the founding and most active members of the Aspacegi Artesanos co-op and feels really proud of their achievements “I find it very interesting. We get familiar with the way a business is run and we learn to manage our own money. It feels like a real job. There are deadlines to be met and each of us has its own share of responsibility”.

Alfredo adds “The market day is very special. Selling our products feels like a reward for all the hard work we’ve put into.  The process of manufacturing and labeling is very interesting as we ignored pretty much everything about it.  Our work at the co-op has led us to appreciate the work artisans do.”

In a more critical vein, Lorena, another co-op member wishes they had more meetings with Valnalon coordinator. “Going out more often on day trips to visit real companies was another demand.  We would like to see our families further involved.  At present they remain largely unaware of the work we do at the co-op.  They could spend a full day working at the co-op or attend one of our meetings. “

Inspiring and anecdotal testimonials aside, the sceptical ones may remain unconvinced. In fact, and this is just us playing the role of devil’s advocate, some people may find preposterous the mere idea of promoting the development of entrepreneurial skills with this particular target group. When confronted with this question, Laura (Logopedics) did not hesitate for a second:

“Obviously the point will be completely lost if success is meant to be measured in terms of business start-up rate by this group of people. You have to look elsewhere. Let me just focus on communication skills as this is my main area of expertise. People involved in the co-op experience a massive improvement in this area and I guess this is just because the co-op puts them through a lot of situations they have to grapple with. There are decisions to be made, conflicts to be solved, ideas to be discussed… all in all this just gives you a flavor of the  fantastic and diverse mix of opportunities they have to express themselves, and listen and understand what others are saying.” Laura Palacio Fernández

Rafael agrees and adds to Laura’s comment: “The co-op is not an end but a vehicle, a very useful one, to improve the integration and autonomy of these people. With EMC Project our students have the opportunity to show their initiative, responsibility and autonomy to develop a project from beginning to end.  They realize each of us is equipped with a different but equally valuable skill set. Showcasing the project in the local community does definitely build up their confidence and self-esteem.”

CAI ANGEL DE LA GUARDA is one of the 28 Training Support Centres involved in EMC project in our region. Add to this figure another school in the neighbouring region of Galicia. Last year 1100 users created and managed 38 co-ops.

At the decision-making level, EMC has been endorsed by the Asturias regional Department of Education as a tool to develop the entrepreneurial competence in special education schools. This was shortly followed by the Department for Welfare and Housing decision to commend the adoption of EMC tool in other Integration Support Centres (non-formal learning institutions targeted at adult people up to 50 years old)

The project has been successfully transferred to special education schools in Galicia. This entailed adaptation and translation of teaching resources.

EMC, alongside the rest of entrepreneurship education projects developed by Valnalon, has certainly contributed to obtain the following recognitions. To name just a few:

Success factors

Policy level

School level

Classroom level

Obstacles and ways to overcome them

Polic/project level

School/Practitioner level

Classroom level


EMC project (in spanish)

Aspacegi Artesanos Co-op (in spanish)

Partnership with Northgate Schools Art College (UK)