Social Point, Wuaki, Trovit, Privalia, Letsbonus ... Successes with a common denominator: Barcelona. The Catalan capital has established itself as one of the hubs of start-ups in Europe and look to the future with optimism. Aim high, although aware that there is much work to be done. The idea, the dream, is to become one of the global benchmarks. At the height of the greats.
El Mobile World Congress puts it back in the center of the planet. The meteoric rebound in the sector in just a decade has not yet exhausted its full potential, those within it defend. For now there is no roof.
Several factors play in Barcelona's favor to get closer to the top. It already has an established start-up ecosystem, there is local and international talent, it has a robust business fabric, the sector has public support and is cost-competitive. The talent thing is the key factor. Barcelona's multiculturalism allows it to hire people from all over the world and operate from here in international markets with people from there, without leaving the city.
For those who come on site there are advantages. To start with, a lower cost of living than in competing cities. And the 'sun and beach' also count: the mild climate is the great intangible factor. The Mediterranean lifestyle likes outside. But it is not just with that. "If you do not have the necessary ingredients such as talent or economy developed with the other (the intangible) you would not have enough", says Joan Romero, CEO of ACCIÓ, the investment attraction agency of the Generalitat. "But all things being equal, you prefer it," he continues.
They are points in favor in the fight to attract investment. Despite this, the first places are still far away. "We have already played the world league," says Miquel Martí, CEO of Barcelona Tech City, but clarifies that it is among the top 25 global hubs. And there is still a long way to go to reach the top ten: “If we follow the current line in three or five years we will be among the top fifteen. To get closer to ten o'clock many things have to be aligned ”, he acknowledges.
He has nothing to envy to San Francisco
That does not mean that it can be measured face to face with the referents. "It has nothing to envy San Francisco," says Jacinto Roca, founder of Wuaki.tv, referring to the birthplace of Silicon Valley. Wuaki's is one of the success stories from Barcelona. The company was acquired by Japan's Rakuten in 2012, which has turned it into their video-on-demand platform, now operating as Rakuten TV.
Optimism is based on numbers. 34% of Spanish start-ups are in Barcelona, in the lead; in 2017 it captured 453 million, 58% national; and it is the fifth largest European hub and third in attractiveness for founders, according to data compiled by Mobile World Capital and the Atomico fund.
It grows year after year: the best sample is at 4YFN, the fair parallel to the mobile fair that was born from the impulse of Mobile World Capital itself and the GSMA.
The impulse of Barcelona Tech City
"Barcelona may end up being a global hub, but there is a lot of work to do," says Romero. The sources consulted agree, in any case, that there is potential to be. Barcelona Tech City, the public-private drive cluster that has become a benchmark European start-up center, will contribute a substantial part of this. It stands as a beacon of the sector: it has 600 associated companies in the digital and technological sector in Barcelona, which in turn already mobilizes 1.200 million annually and employs 30.000 people.
With him, not only has it been possible to “increase competitiveness, investment and knowledge”, in the words of Martí, but it has also managed to drag down the large traditional company. Seat, Gas Natural or CaixaBank have settled in the Pier 01 headquarters. Giants that are far from the start-up concept, but have managed to fit into their ecosystem.
Despite the growth, pending tasks remain
To reach the top you have to touch perfection. There are several fronts to resolve. There is a lack of a legal and fiscal framework "adapted to start-ups," says Martí. In addition, to promote collaboration with the university and research world, he says. "Make life easier," says Romero.
On the other hand, visibility is lacking. Know how to transmit successes. Let the world know what happens in the city. Many of the companies that succeed are in the background. “There are great entrepreneurs about whom little is known sometimes,” Roca sums up.
Catalonia has always had an entrepreneurial mindset
“Catalonia has always had an entrepreneurial mindset. We must not be afraid to launch projects ”, abounds Daniel Viniegra, director for Spain at the French Ikomobi, who landed in Barcelona four years ago. A decision that has boosted the business: last year, revenue grew 200% in the city, which will allow the firm of user experience solutions to reach one million in turnover.
Another key factor is that the investment takes off. It is still far from the levels of the United States or Asia. Capital is more conservative in Europe. "Access to large amounts of financing is more difficult," believes Roca. Iñaki Ecenarro agrees. In 2014, he sold his company, Trovit, started in Barcelona, to Next for 80 million hits. Another success. He asks to put his feet on the ground: "Some important success story is missing ... A few Spotify or Zalando," he says with his eyes on Europe.
Even so, it is positive for the future. Trust the next generation, the one who has seen that Barcelona can be successful. Maybe that's where the technological 'hit' comes from that drives the city to the maximum. It all adds up in the race to be on top of world hubs.