Sunshine and Startups: Barcelona’s Rise as an International Startup Hub

By Megan Whitfield

Office space at Barcelona Tech City


Long regarded for its innovation in architecture and creative spirit, Barcelona has now cemented this reputation into business as well. Although the broader economy feels the impact of the recent political unrest, the Catalonian capital is rising up the ranks to become one of the top startup hubs in Europe.

Well and truly established as an important international competitor, this bustly metropolitan

Miquel Marti, CEO of Barcelona Tech City

city has been steadily rising up the ladder in the entrepreneurial world over the past few years. Now home to over 1,100 startups, the base for multiple international networking and innovation events, and consistently ranked in the top 3-5 European startup destinations, Barcelona is making its presence known across the globe.

Miquel Marti is the CEO of Barcelona Tech City, a tech startup hub representing more than 600 companies, both local and international. He attributes much of Barcelona’s

success to the “perfect balance between the professional and personal life” this vibrant region provides, “within a fast-growing tech hub.”

“We have a pretty good balance between the different assets you need to create a solid ecosystem. The public administration is really helping, with the part of financing and giving you office space to create your company. The public incubators had, and are having, a really big role in developing our ecosystem,” says Marti. This element has played a big role in Barcelona Tech City’s success personally, having moved from a small office in the area a few years ago to the current 11000 m2 building overlooking the Barceloneta harbour, home to over 100 companies. “And we have sun.”

The investment into the development of Barcelona’s continually-developing startup ecosystem

ByHours office space at Barcelona Tech City

has been further aided by both local and international investors. “The local heroes, seed investors-business angel networks, these kinds of investors, are very good in Barcelona.”

In 2017 alone, Barcelona received 52% of national investments into startups, with local bases earning a total of 477 millions euros- a figure nearly double that of 2016. The council of Barcelona has played a strong role in this ecosystem growth, developing an entire ‘innovation district’, 22@Barcelona, based in the urbanising district of Poblenou. Furthermore, the city is home to more than ten international innovation events, such as the Mobile World Congress, and connected ‘4 Years from Now’ innovation market. Now in it’s 5th year, this event attracts nearly 20,000 guests, and in 2017 featured more than 600 startups in collaboration with GSMA Mobile World Congress.

“We have strong success cases too, which is pretty important in terms of local heroes,” says Marti. Internationally popular home-renting business, Airbnb is based out of Barcelona, as

Holaluz office space

well as RedPoint, the online brand protection company, which recently raised 10 million euros in investment. “They attract international investors… This kind of presence, it puts you on the map.”

A key element to the only-increasing success of Barcelona can be attributed to the local talent being fostered, says Marti. “Business expenditure is more competitive than other areas of Europe [with cheaper rental prices], but the talent is on the same level… The business schools are pretty good in Barcelona [too]. One of the first needs we have is bringing talent to the ecosystem.”

Professor Jaume Valls-Pasola, head of the Strategy and Entrepreneurial department of Barcelona University Business School, agrees. “Barcelona was already a city with a cultural tradition, and presence of, creators in many fields- printing, art, architecture. We had fundings for this development of an ecosystem [suitable for startup businesses]; we had that hard-to-label ‘spark’.”

The strength of the business studies has allowed that to keep developing. “There’s a general trend where we have some of the best world-ranking universities for business studies, and they try to promote entrepreneurship.”

However, the level of growth Valls-Pasola has witnessed is still “astonishing.” “When we launched the Masters Program [at the University of Barcelona], 10 years ago, I never expected to attract the number of students we have now- 200, not the anticipated 30 or so,” notes Valls-Pasola. The courses also gain constant attention from industry professionals, both from the private and non-profit sector, seeking students to get involved with their businesses and sending in “proposals for startups, seminars.”

Staff at work at Holaluz

Not pessimistic

For some, in light of the recent Catalonian referendum and associated decision of nearly 3000 companies to move their base out of Barcelona to other Spanish cities, political instability may seem a risky combination for starting a company. However, Valls-Pasola argues the situation isn’t as dire as it appears. “My point of view is not pessimistic. Many of the companies that moved headquarters are related to financial services, water, and so forth. It doesn’t have a huge economic impact on the region. There may be a short-term effect on some activities, but [in the long-term], gaining a stable government is going to stop any possible negative effects.”

Marti agrees. “We weren’t as affected as it seems. Obviously we know there is some instability and that has made some of the money go away, or be put on a kind of ‘standby’… but from our perspective, we almost didn’t notice.”

co-working spaces at Pier01

Barcelona’s future hasn’t been dimmed. ‘“The ecosystem of Barcelona is still growing, it has a long way to go,” says Marti. “But business expenditure is more competitive than other cities in Europe, with an equal level of talent… It’s a good opportunity for more consolidated, or experienced talent, to create something again.”

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