Barcelona - the Smart City, Mobile Capital and Leading Startup City - Tenkan-ten by ASICSBarcelona - the Smart City, Mobile Capital and Leading Startup City - Tenkan-ten by ASICS

Growth Catalyst

Barcelona - the Smart City, Mobile Capital and Leading Startup City

Living in Barcelona is something that is undoubtedly very attractive to international professionals. The good weather all year round, the combination and proximity of the beach and the mountains, the cuisine, the culture, the creativity, the people… and, in short, the quality of life, has made Barcelona an attractive place for international talent.  A global hub rivalry has been established - basically concentrated in large and medium-sized metropolises - with Barcelona beginning to stand out among the contenders.

This is not just a view, various international rankings indicate this.  According to the Decoding Global Talent 2018 study by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and The Network, Barcelona is the fourth most attractive city in the world for workers, only surpassed by London, New York and Berlin.

If the main reason some years ago was to broaden personal experience, we can now add the possibility of working on projects with a global vision created in the city, thus achieving good opportunities for professional development and, at the same time, a better standard of living. These factors play an increasingly important role in the vital decision to achieve a good balance between professional and personal life. In addition to the city’s intrinsic attractiveness, it is becoming an important pole of attraction for both startups and international corporations.  Barcelona ranks first among hubs in southern Europe in terms of the number of startups, and in fifth position in Europe behind London, Berlin, Paris and Amsterdam, according to the Ranking of Europe’s biggest startup hubs in 2017 compiled by EU-Startups. Furthermore, the city is very attractive to startup creators, being considered by founders to be the third favourite destination for the creation of a new startup. 20% of European founders would choose this city to establish their emerging company, behind London and Berlin, as the Startup Heatmap Europe 2018 ranking shows.

Why is Barcelona so attractive for startups? The reasons are historical, and not related to a trend. On the one hand, the city has the talent. Prestigious universities and business schools provide companies with professionals and also attract a considerable number of international students every year. On the other hand, the city’s technological ecosystem has been developing and consolidating itself for more than 25 years until it has now become a very active, powerful and competitive entrepreneurial ecosystem. Some of the foremost Internet companies in the Spanish ecosystem have been created In Barcelona, some of which have even featured in international exits, such as Privalia, Social Point or Trovit. Other startups have internationalized on a massive scale, offering their services to millions of customers all over the world, such as eDreams-Odigeo - also becoming the first IPO in the digital ecosystem in Spain. Having first-rate international congresses such as the Mobile World Congress - which has for more than 10 years attracted over 100,000 visitors each year - and benchmarks such as the IOT World Solutions Fair or the Smart City Congress, to name but a few, represent first-rate added value that not too many hubs have. The inspiration of the Mobile World Congress and the Mobile World Capital led to the emergence of 4YFN, one of the main events for startups that has now been replicated in both Asia and the United States.

These are some of the factors that have made Barcelona an attractive city, not only to live in but also to work. Despite the fact that the city cannot compete in terms of salaries with big cities such as Berlin and London, Barcelona’s competitive proposal combines the well-known lifestyle of Barcelona with the effervescent innovation that its entrepreneurial ecosystem exudes. This combination is very attractive to professionals.

Barcelona has accumulated more than 1,300 startups over the last 10 years, many of them with global vision and ambition.  According to a report by ACCIÓ, these Catalan startups have created 13,820 jobs. It should be noted that 26% of these workers are foreigners, mainly from other Western European countries (46%), South America (26%), Eastern Europe (9%), the Asia-Pacific region (7%), Africa-Middle East (6%) and North America (6%), being mostly engaged in functional areas of technology (27%), sales (22%), management and strategy (20%) and operations (17%). In the case of the founders, 15% of the professionals come from other countries. Overall, 38% of Catalan startup founders have previously created other companies.
As for sectors, Catalan startups feature those related to technologies that are linked to industry 4.0, representing 17% of the total, followed by life sciences (13%) and mobile & software (11%). The main business model for these companies is ecommerce/marketplace (45% of the total), ahead of development and manufacturing (23%), software as a service (SaaS) (22%) and subscription (20%).

As for financing, Barcelona is the fourth European city in terms of the investment volume received by startups, according to Atomico 2017. In fact, 3 out of 4 Catalan startups have obtained private financing from some type of investor, while 21% of operations exceed one million euros.

This evolution of the local technological ecosystem has been complemented by the recent announcements by more than 30 international companies that will establish their offices or innovation centres, such as Siemens, Amazon, Airbnb, Facebook, through CCC, Microsoft, Oracle, Lidl, Nestlé, Media Markt, Moodle, Satellogic, Salesforce, Dynatrace, N26, IGG, Scoot or Chartboost, to mention just a few, which support this trend, indicate that the trend is positive and contribute to reinforcing the idea that Barcelona has become a leader in technology and innovation. “Companies committed to the city are clear that the city offers them a suitable technological environment and lifestyle, starting with good local talent”.

To consolidate the ecosystem it is essential to coordinate and align the strategies of the different stakeholders that make up the ecosystem. In addition to the great work carried out by organizations such as ACCIÓ and Barcelona Activa, Barcelona Tech City was also created in 2013, a non-profit association that represents more than 800 companies in the digital technology sector.  The foundational objective of the association is to help to align entrepreneurs, investors, talent, corporations, business schools and public institutions to achieve the ultimate goal of consolidating Barcelona as a leading international technological hub. As a tangible demonstration that this is possible, Barcelona Tech City created Pier 01 Pier01, a physical hub located in Palau de Mar (Barceloneta) that houses more than 1,000 professionals working for more than 100 companies, ranging from start-ups to corporate innovation labs, and including institutional spaces. This unique space that we opened in 2016 has been recognized by Forbes as one of the six best innovation hubs in the world.


Barcelona has in short been doing its homework for a long time and has the necessary assets and support to be attractive as a destination for companies and international talent. It is now even more necessary to carry on working so that the objective finally becomes a reality.







Written by Miquel Martí, CEO of Barcelona Tech City

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