Barcelona: A major hub for startups in Europe

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Published on 2023-09-25 at 11:00 by Javier Olivas Alguacil
We had the opportunity to speak with Xavier Mayo Torres, Head of Foreign Economic Promotion, who gives us the keys to understanding the success of a city whose appeal continues to grow.

Barcelona, a booming European hub

According to the Startup Heatmap Europe 2023 report, Barcelona is the European Union's second most popular startup hub. It is also the fourth-largest entrepreneurial ecosystem in Europe, with the highest number of scale-ups, according to Dealroom data in January 2023. The city was also highlighted in Startupblink's Global Startup Ecosystem Index 2022, ranking as the EU's fifth-best ecosystem for startup creation.

The city has established itself as the European capital of technology clusters. It boasts 96 international technology development centers and is expected to have an annual economic impact of 2 billion euros by 2025. In addition, Barcelona is home to many major international companies such as Bayer, Ocado Technology, Schneider Electric, Zurich, Cloudblue, HP, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Sanofi, Boehringer Ingelheim, Alexion Pharmaceuticals and IBM, contributing to its dynamism and commercial appeal.

According to the DEEP Ecosystems 2023 report, Barcelona is one of the continent's top six business hubs, alongside London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris and Lisbon. Together, these hubs have already attracted over 75% of all entrepreneurs and startups in Europe in 2019, as well as 44% of investment.

The growth of startups in Barcelona has been described as remarkable. According to data from the Barcelona & Catalonia Startup Hub 2022, there are 2,022 startups in the city, which is an 86% rise from 2016 to 2022. In addition, Barcelona is home to 7 unicorn companies, 284 scale-ups, and has generated 19,000 jobs. In 2022, these startups generated sales of 1.7 billion euros and received investments of 1.653 billion euros, consolidating their position in the European entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The number of foreign residents in Barcelona has risen from 2% since the municipal census in 2000 to 22.4% in 2023. This figure alone gives an idea of the city's social transformation. This demographic shift, driven by Barcelona's economic dynamism and high quality of life, has been accompanied by growth in its business and innovation fabric.

The Catalan capital has succeeded in positioning itself thanks to a combination of talent, infrastructure and a favorable legal framework. Barcelona City Council, through its development agency Barcelona Activa, has two departments, Barcelona International Welcome Desk and Barcelona International Business Landing, which focus on international talent, business attraction and the city's international projection.

According to Xavier Mayo Torres, responsible for promoting the city abroad, "the Barcelona International Welcome Desk website is one of the most consulted, as it contains the most up-to-date information on the crucial aspects of settling in Spain".

Direcció de Promoció Econòmica Internacional

The Barcelona International Welcome Desk, dedicated to people wishing to settle in Barcelona or who are in the process of doing so, aims to help new talent integrate so that they can develop their full potential. It offers not only information but also support in processing residence and work permit applications, finding accommodation, accessing health and education services, as well as advice on setting up a business, paying taxes, mobility and public transport, among other things.

The Barcelona International Business Landing service aims to attract high-value-added business initiatives in order to promote the creation of wealth and quality jobs in the city, as well as the city's projection at the international level. Xavier Mayo emphasizes that "its mission is to reduce the threshold of uncertainty and facilitate the installation of companies, accompanying them in the process of landing in the Barcelona ecosystem".

In this sense, he highlights the effort made by Barcelona City Council to implement and develop to the maximum the new startup law approved by the Spanish government in 2022. These new regulations make it easier for foreign founders to set up startups and attract international talent. And as Xavier explains, "This new legal framework has put us on a par with the other countries around us, and Barcelona is trying to make the most of the opportunities it represents."

What does Barcelona have to offer entrepreneurs, startups and businesses?

Barcelona has talent, infrastructure, capital, and a new legal framework that is much more conducive to the growth of a dynamic and innovative entrepreneurial fabric. Xavier states, "Barcelona has a combination of local and foreign talent that puts it at the forefront of the international startup scene."

On the one hand, higher education feeds the labor market with talent: last year, 252,000 students were enrolled in Barcelona, including 26,000 foreigners, in 9 universities. The city also offers an excellent technology ecosystem, with numerous specific programs for incubators, research institutes, technology gas pedals, prestigious business schools and events devoted exclusively to entrepreneurship, such as 4YFN Barcelona, linked to the MWC.

The city has solid and robust financial backing. In 2022, 1.6 billion euros were invested in startups. The city also invested 5,000 million euros between 2018 and 2022, placing it fifth among European Union hubs for financing rounds raised for venture capital startups (Source: Barcelona & Catalonia StartupHub, 2022, ACCIÓ).

What is the profile of the companies and people who settle in Barcelona?

According to Xavier, the municipal office "primarily aims to attract the upper end of the global business process value chain: research, patent and intellectual property generation, global or European headquarters. These are the ones that will generate more and better jobs".

According to last year's data, foreign companies break down by country as follows:

  • France - 1,243 companies (13.6% of total)
  • United States - 1,194 companies (13% of total)
  • Germany - 1,119 companies (12.2% of total)
  • United Kingdom - 959 companies (10.5% of total)
  • Italy - 722 companies (8.4% of total)
  • Netherlands - 488 companies (5.5% of total)
  • Switzerland - 460 companies (5% of total)
  • Luxembourg - 330 companies (3.6% of total)
  • Belgium - 272 companies (3% of total)
  • Japan - 233 companies (2.5% of total)

(Source: ACCIÓ)