Founded in 2014, the local branch of Startup Grind in Barcelona has become one of the most successful entrepreneur communities in the world. The brainchild of Àlex Rodríguez Bacardit, founder of high-end development consultancy MarsBased, Startup Grind Barcelona connects entrepreneurs from around the world, both online and in person.
Since its inception in April 2014, Startup Grind Barcelona has hosted 60 events, and they’ve never missed a single month. They’ve attracted international companies such as Haufe, LoveToKnow and TechBuddy to open an office in Barcelona, as well as international speakers from the likes of Atomico, Blablacar, Shazam and Sendgrid. They’ve also sent renowned entrepreneurs to speak at events around the world. A major influence on the Barcelona startup scene, they channel international investment to the city via their global network and help companies expand overseas through their Startup Grind startup program.
As it approaches its sixth year and continues to cement its status as the leading light of the Barcelona startup ecosystem, we delve into the detail, and discover the story of Startup Grind Barcelona.
The motivation behind Startup Grind Barcelona
Like many of the best ideas, the inspiration for Startup Grind Barcelona came in the company of friends. ‘I’d been organising a weekly event for over a year,’ says Àlex. ‘It was called “the Startup Circle” and was basically an alcoholics anonymous meeting for entrepreneurs – minus the alcohol! We’d get together and talk about the realities of being an entrepreneur, while sharing stories and experiences.’
Àlex realised the wider potential of a platform for entrepreneurs to exchange ideas. In April 2014, after returning from San Francisco, he launched Startup Grind Barcelona. ‘I got a few friends, with whom I’d worked and collaborated with in the past, to help found Startup Grind Barcelona.’ With previous experience of staging large events, Àlex relied on tenacity, self-belief and a network of talented, influential people.
The launch was successful. ‘We’d promoted it well,’ explains Àlex. ‘Everybody was excited. I’d invited all my friends and, with about 60 people attending, we’d sold out the event. Also, we had a high-profile guest speaker – Marc Vicente, who was CEO of Rakuten Spain at the time.’ Despite a few teething problems, Startup Grind Barcelona had landed in style. ‘It was fun … we said to ourselves “Wow! If we can do this successfully in our first event, we can replicate it once per month.”’
An immense impact on the Barcelona startup scene
Bringing great minds together, in an environment where quality is paramount, is something that Àlex is passionate about. His quality-first approach has certainly paid off. ‘Since we started,’ says Àlex, ‘pretty much every month has been a high.’ With an average attendance of 135 at the monthly events, selling out 40-50% (including 9 out of 12 in 2018) and conferences hosting up to 900 people, Startup Grind Barcelona has firmly established itself as a major influence in the BCN startup ecosystem. It has made an immeasurable impact on the startup scene in Barcelona and beyond, by giving creative talent a platform to connect and spark ideas.
‘It’s given me an opportunity to talk with really cool people and changed my vision of how I perceive them,’ enthuses Àlex. From FC Barcelona basketball legend Ferran Martínez, to Dhiraj Mukherjee, co-founder of Shazam, the calibre of speakers has increased as Startup Grind has developed.
Startup Grind Barcelona in five years’ time
For Àlex, there’s no sign of slowing down. ‘There’s a common consensus that after three years, a Startup Grind chapter begins to lose momentum and the team’s motivation starts to plateau. We haven’t found this at Startup Grind. In fact, I think after five years we’re beginning to reach peak motivation.’
There’s plenty of room for growth too, but not necessarily in the conventional sense. ‘We don’t want to grow without adding value,’ explains Àlex. ‘We cannot go much bigger without going crazy and, for me, it’s all about quality over quantity. We will increase the quality of the speakers, sell out even more events and drive international investment. For this reason, and with the support of our outstanding team, I can see myself doing this for at least another five years.’
The transformation of the BCN startup ecosystem
With Startup Grind Barcelona, Àlex has played a pivotal part in the steady transformation of Barcelona’s startup scene. This gives him an interesting perspective on what’s driven the change. ‘There’s been positive change on many fronts,’ he says. ‘Maybe the most obvious is the change of mentality – less talk and more walk. There’ll always be place for coaches and mentors, but Barcelona over the last five years has seen a growing community of makers – people who get things done.’
There’s also been huge international investment in Barcelona – something that Àlex sees as a positive. ‘More international companies coming to Barcelona creates employment, helps the economy, promotes growth and, ultimately, gives everybody a bigger slice of the pie,’ he explains. ‘We’re also seeing more cooperation between corporates and startups. Companies like SEAT, CaixaBank and Schibsted are helping startups to grow by partnering with them and investing in them.’
The Barcelona ecosystem in five years’ time
With a thriving startup scene attracting young talented creatives to the city, Barcelona is becoming one of the major smart cities in Europe. But what would take the city to the next level? ‘I would like to see one or two of the really big players – like Facebook or Google – come to Barcelona,’ says Àlex. ‘That would put us in the “Champions League”, so to speak, of entrepreneurship and technology.’
But Àlex sees potential pitfalls in untethered growth, and thinks that a protectionist approach is sensible. ‘We need to grow, but at the same time we shouldn’t allow this to happen at the expense of the people of Barcelona. There’s a correlation between an IPO (initial public offering) and an increase in rent, which is a big problem. It’s happening in San Francisco, where there is social divide caused by exponential growth. This could become toxic for Barcelona.’
While he takes pride in his role promoting entrepreneurship and fostering the creation of new companies and economies, he’s okay with Barcelona being in the top 10 cities for business, rather than the top 3. ‘We really need to find a balance. Most of the top cities are really good for business, but not necessarily other aspects of life. And if we just take economics into account, we forget everything else.’
Tickets for the next Startup Grind Barcelona Conference in April are now on sale! Join Àlex and other leading figures from the Barcelona startup scene and hear from guest speakers from the likes of TravelPerk, Redpoints and Startup Genome. Get 40% off by using our exclusive code: BarcinnoRocks