The following is a guest post by Spencer Coon, Barcelona entrepreneur and founder of Hibox.
Nearly every person that comes to Barcelona, will go to see the Sagrada Familia, the famed cathedral that sits as Antoni Gaudí’s magnum opus in the southern part of the city. When Gaudí took over the project in 1883, he envisioned a soaring visual narrative of Christ’s life. For Gaudí, form and function were inseparable.
A bustling metropolis held in balance by the soft sand beaches of the Mediterranean, a historical hub humbled by the neighboring Pyrenees mountains, local “tapas” with a distinctive sharing culture, Barcelona has an incredibly strong and unique identity. This identity extends to its entrepreneurship scene. While other cities race to replicate the Silicon Valley model, in an effort to be labeled the Silicon of Somewhere, Barcelona steers clear. Barcelona is the epitome of Gaudí’s unique mantra.
When people think of the hottest cities for startups in Europe, most will jump to London or Berlin, sometimes even Paris or Moscow. Undeniably, these cities are some of the greatest places in the world to plant your company’s roots. Nonetheless, like the “Silicon of Somewhere” hubs, there seems to be an intense focus on simply building profitable companies. However in Barcelona, much like Gaudí’s emphasis on function and form, at the heart of its entrepreneurial ecosystem is a focus on the development of entrepreneurs and ideas. As an entrepreneur in Barcelona, I would like to share with you why this city may have the most unique entrepreneurial ecosystem in the world.
In 2016 we moved Hibox’s HQ to Barcelona in large part because of the huge opportunity to market for our enterprise collaboration software in Europe. What found when we arrived was a few local startups that were about to really make things happen and an international crowd fervently focused on the global picture. One of the hidden talents of Barcelona is its ability to attract a diverse workforce. While the rest of the world struggles to find talented developers, Barcelona unlike other hubs has a consistent stream of new talent from just about anywhere in the world. While salaries in Barcelona may not be as high as in Berlin or London, the cost of living in Barcelona is relatively low. For slightly less pay and a lower cost of living, Barcelona boasts an unprecedented increase in the quality of life for its residents. In addition, programs focused on the development of local talent are gaining popularity. Codeworks is full-immersion coding bootcamp to train local talent for technical jobs that is based in Barcelona.
Barcelona Activa which was founded in 1986 to stimulate economic growth of the city, operates a large incubator the so-called 22@ area, a central business district in Barcelona’s formerly industrial area of Poblenou. The area is host to many activities to foster the burgeoning startup scene, support entrepreneurship and battle unemployment. Startups such as Skyscanner, Typeform, Wallapop, and Glovo have settled in the Poblenou neighborhood.
The Ease In Getting Started
The Spanish government has also adopted a relatively easy visa process for entrepreneurs in contrast to countries such as the United States that are shutting more doors than they are opening. Programs such as the Ley de Emprendedores or “Entrepreneurs’ Law” helps international founders secure visas and setup legal entities in Spain. Another government initiative called Rising Startups awards foreign companies €10,000 in cash (equity free!), mentoring sessions, workshops and 1-on-1 meetings with relevant decision makers in large enterprises. Hibox was actually selected for the Rising Startups program in 2017.
When we moved to Spain, we were expecting the notorious Spanish bureaucracy to be tedious and time consuming, but we had a company setup in just a couple weeks. It was incredibly easy to find a lawyer specialized in startup issues with experience in helping international startups get started in Spain (we used Across Legal). Bank accounts and credit cards for the company were low cost and we were able to find the perfect accountants who understand a startups needs and operated mostly through an online platform (check out Metagest). In addition, Acció is a government organization that provides free consulting and other great resources for foreign companies looking to start a business in Catalunya.
Since Barcelona is a relatively small city, the startup community sticks together regardless of location within the city. The networking opportunities created by the array of conferences and events held each year are also invaluable. The Mobile Web Congress alone brings close to 100,000 entrepreneurs to the city each February. 4FYN is a startup business platform associated with the Mobile Web Congress that enables startups, investors, and corporations to connect and launch new ventures together. Unlike Silicon Valley where large companies generate hype and exclusivity, in Barcelona events and meetups are open to everyone. Barcinno, Barcelona’s popular web-based technology news source, keeps a calendar of local events which include major conferences, local meetups, and free bootcamps.
Due to the growing number of accelerators, business angels and venture capital, investments in Spanish companies have grown steadily over the past few quarters, pointing to a steady growth in the ecosystem. According to a report by Spain’s Association for Capital, Growth and Investment (ASCRI) Barcelona regional startups received, in 2015, a total of €371m from both public funds as well as accelerators and incubators, venture capital funds and corporations. Catalonia attracted 56 % of the total investment volume in Spain (€659.4m) and 33 % of all operations. Moreover, on international VC investments Barcelona accounted for 53% of all deals and 71% of the amount invested in Spain (€277.2m). In 2017, already, Barcelona has attracted local and international investors. To name a few funds, Caixa Capital Risc, Inveready, Nauta Capital, Kibo, Sabadell and many others are actively investing in Barcelona startups.
In addition to venture funding, state-backed program Enisa offers soft loans with favorable conditions for high growth potential startups such as a 1-2 years grace period for principal repayment and allows entrepreneurs to connect to other loan recipients in their growing and influential network.
The Barcelona startup scene is made up of a rapidly growing and constantly evolving community of talented, international professionals and forward-thinking organizations. It has all the elements of a successful and healthy startup ecosystem that should pave the way for innovative new companies for generations to come.
Barcelona has the form of an incredible ecosystem and the function of an entrepreneur-focused hub. At the heart of Gaudí’s vision for the Sagrada Familia is a timeless truth; looking towards the future, we should look at nature for inspiration because nature does not go out of fashion. With entrepreneurship shrouded with cities claiming to be the next Silicon Valley, Barcelona’s strength is it ability to remain true to its identity.
About Spencer Coon, author:
I started my career in finance as an Investment Banking Analyst in NYC. I then moved to Chile and co-founded two successful tech businesses. Hibox is a powerful collaboration platform that fully integrates team messaging, task management & videoconferencing in the same app. Hibox is growing fast with more than 10,000 companies signed up, 35,000 active users and +300 paying companies just 8 months after initial launch. We are backed by Telefónica and our team is growing like crazy, with people currently based in Barcelona, Buenos Aires, and São Paulo.
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