The shape of things to come was sketched out by Miguel Vicente, president of Barcelona Tech City and co-founder of Antai Venture Builder: “The next Spotify could be created in Barcelona” he suggested at a Chamber of Commerce lunch. He was serious. It is evident that the Catalan entrepreneurial universe has massive potential, headlined by already-ubiquitous names like SocialCar, Glovo and Wallapop. The fact that some of the brand names are in English shouldn't fool anyone: the truth is that all these start-ups have a Catalan heart. Why does Catalonia attract this go-ahead business class and which start-ups are its biggest successes?
Barcelona, the world's 3rd ranked city in attraction of talent
Vicente made his reference to Spotify, the North American music streaming platform that has been gone viral world-wide, several months ago. Now, speaking to El Nacional, the president of Bcn Tech City confirms it: “Spotify is a great example of success and here we have this ecosystem of capital, entrepreneurs and capacity to attract talent”, the key ingredients for success as an incubator for start-ups and tech companies.
In fact, Barcelona is the city that is home to the largest proportion of startups in the Spanish state, accounting for 34% of the total. In terms of investment, in 2017 the entrepreneurial ecosystem invested 453 million euros within the city of Barcelona. The city attracts 58% of all start-up investment made across the whole of Spain, a 2% increase on the previous year.
“Barcelona is the number three in the world in attraction of talent” - a key ingredient for the creation of start-ups with global vision, says Vicente, and it is at the same time a place with "local and well educated talent". As well, he says, Catalonia, and especially Barcelona, “has very attractive DNA”. “What used to be a city of SMEs and businessmen, has now become a place of start-ups and entrepreneurs”.
The “Mediterranean mentality”
For his part, entrepreneur and private investor Carlos Blanco, a leading reference in the country's start-up sphere, outlined to El Nacional what he considers are the secrets of Barcelona's appeal: "It is a place with an entrepreneurial mentality, which it has because it is a Mediterranean city, and this plays a big role”.
According to Blanco, Barcelona gets the edge when business bases are chosen, in particular due to its good quality of life and the business opportunities that it offers, and this “attracts the international talent, the foreigners who are co-founders of local companies”.
“Moreover, we have very good business schools here”, adds Blanco. With respect to the political situation, Blanco explains that “investors like to live in Barcelona in spite of politics”. “Political instability has had an effect, but even so Barcelona has become the third favourite city for entrepreneurs”.
In fact, Barcelona's virtues have recently also been highly praised among business people in the sector, being a focus for discussion at the sessions held in Sitges by the Cercle d'Economia employers association, at which figures like Mar Alarcón, founder of SocialCar and Estanis Martín de Nicolás, CEO of Schibsted Spain, asserted that Barcelona is becoming consolidated in the world of start-ups and “a third of all its entrepreneurs come from elsewhere and end up staying, because of everything that the city offers”.
A “very intense” year in capital expansion
“Start-ups are trumphing”, says Blanco. “We've been generating successful start-ups for 15 years”. He adds that the existence of what he calls “private civil society" that adds its own commitment to this effort, with projects such as Barcelona Tech City and Pier01, is an additional factor.
Moreover, the entrepreneur here has a specific profile, according to Miguel Vicente. “These are people with a global perspective, with the desire to get ahead with a company created here but ready to compete all over the world”. This last year and a half, he says, "has been very intense in capital expansion", which also "demonstrates the maturity of the sector".
Vicente says that, given the advantages of Barcelona as an incubator for successful start-ups, “there is no reason why the next Spotify could not be created in Barcelona”. “Many of those who invested in Spotify also invest in start-ups from here”, he notes. Moreover, all this coincides with the decision to set up in Barcelona made by several major tech businesses like Amazon, Facebook, Moodle and others, making the city even more attractive for such investors.
On the other hand, Carlos Blanco is not quite as optimistic as Vicente, and does not see a Spotify emerging from Barcelona so easily. “European venture capital is not as mature as that of the United States, which is willing to commit itself to an idea sight unseen”. According to Blanco, in Europe, investors have more aversion to risk, and a company like Spotify “could take 5 years to design its entrepreneurial model”, a patience that is missing here, according to the investor.
With or without a Barcelona Spotify, what is clear is that Barcelona is a magnet for tech companies and entrepreneurs. The following are just some of the Catalan start-ups that have led the pack and raised most capital:
Barcelona start-up that has revolutionized the creation of surveys and forms, thanks to an intuitive creator. Has more than 150 employees, and some weeks ago received an injection of capital of 35 million euros.
2. Red Points
Red Points identifies and automatically eliminates online forgeries and digital content piracy. Growing strongly, having achieved 10 million euros of investment in May, which is intended for expansion to the US market in particular, with the opening of a New York office planned. The company got started in 2011 with the support of local investors and business angels EsadeBan, and in just 7 years has reached international investors.
Housfy has caused a revolution in the real estate market. It is a start-up based on apartment sales without intermediaries, allowing users to save large sums in commissions; moreover, the user only pays if the property is actually sold. In July, Housfy has sold an average of 2 and 3 apartments daily, invoicing between 130,000 and 140,000 euros a month, with up to 60 property sales a month. Housfy attracted 1 million euros in a financing round in February, its second successful appeal for funding in a year, with a third round "of even greater value planned before the end of this year”.
4. 21 Buttons
Catalan start-up set up by two executives from the McKinsey consultancy. A social network with a young target, centred on clothing purchases, simple and comfortable, which users can then show through other social networks. In 2017 it achieved a 13 million euro investment to promote its mobile application. Already has operations in Spain, Italy and the UK.
Scytl as an on-line voting company born in 2001, although its incubation began in 1994 at Barcelona's Universitat Autònoma. Present in many major cities around the world, and after a 2017 funding round, it has now attracted a total of capital of 113 million dollars from seven major investors.
One of the clearest examples of the triumphant Catalan start-up - and one you may already know and use. A mobile application which allows you to make purchases and get them delivered to your home: meals, gifts or supermarket shopping, with more options being added all the time. It already seems a solidly consolidated company, but Glovo was born just three years ago, in 2015, in Barcelona. Its last funding round attracted investment from Japanese commerce giant Rakuten –sponsor of FC Barcelona- and AmRest – a company that manages around 1,650 restaurants in 16 countries under brands like KFC, La Tagliatella, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Burger King.
Peptomuch is a biotech start-up from Barcelona that develops products to eradicate the Myc genes associated with carcinogenic cells. In 2017 a funding round brought 4.2 million euros into the firm's capital. Peptomyc is, in reality, a spin-off of the Oncology Institute at Barcelona's leading Vall d'Hebron public hospital and the Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats.