Snapshot of the state of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Barcelona from BBVA Open Summit 2023

Barcelona, birthplace of unicorns such as Factorial and Travelperk, is home to more than 2,000 startups, with healthtech and e-sports ventures at the head of the pack. Last week the city, a leader in the European entrepreneurial ecosystem, hosted the sixth edition of BBVA Open Summit 2023, BBVA Spark’s main event. Several local entrepreneurs at the summit underscored the opportunities the city provides to create connections and attract talent, as well as Barcelona’s innate predisposition to innovation.

Caterina Llull y Sabastida was born and raised in Barcelona’s Ribera (El Born) neighbourhood in the 15th century. After the death of her husband, she picked up the reins of the family business and established herself as a renowned merchant along the Mediterranean. Six centuries later, the land that produced the woman who is celebrated as Spain’s first businesswoman today continues to be a land of entrepreneurs and innovators striving to leave their mark on a booming ecosystem.

In 2022, the number of startups in the Catalan capital grew by 6.3% to over 2,000. A big number that becomes even more relevant if you look back to five years ago: high-growth companies have increased by 79% since then, according to figures from the Analysis of the Startup Ecosystem in Catalonia 2022 report published by ACCIÓ, the public agency created to promote the competitiveness of Catalan companies.

“Catalonia is home to much of the talent and investment that occurs around the world of startups, both nationally and internationally”

This growth has earned Barcelona the spot as the fifth best European ecosystem for a startup, only trailing behind Paris, Berlin, Stockholm and Amsterdam. On a global scale, according to The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2023 by Startup Genome, Barcelona ranks fourth in emerging ecosystems, and estimates its value at 21 billion dollars. “Catalonia is home to much of the talent and investment that occurs around the world of startups, both nationally and internationally”, said Peio Belausteguigoitia, BBVA Country Manager Spain during the sixth edition of BBVA Open Summit 2023, which was held at La Llotja de Mar (Barcelona). Several high-growth Barcelona-born companies met against this backdrop to present their solutions in the Demo Zone to the more than 600 attendees at the event.


Healthtech and video games, the industries that rank Barcelona among the world’s best

The evolution of the ecosystem is also reflected in the surge of an increasing number of companies in advanced stages of growth. In 2022, Barcelona contributed to the growth of the list of unicorns, companies valued at over $1 billion, with HRtech, Factorial and travel management company TravelPerk. Not to mention that other Barcelona-based companies like Paack, Impress, Wallapop, SpliceBio and Typeform, are expected to follow in their footsteps, according the Spain Ecosystem Report by Dealroom with the collaboration of BBVA Spark.

The growing role of companies like Impress, a company that specialises in invisible orthodontics, also comes hand in hand with the increasing relevance of the healthtech industry in Barcelona. Investments in startups operating in this market hit 296 million euros in 2022, according to figures from Biocat, for a year-on-year increase of 19.59%. WIVI Vision, a startup that provides visual cognitive assessments, kicked off its operations in the city in 2016. “At the entrepreneurial level, Barcelona is positioning itself really well in health and that helps it gain the traction that it has in recent years”,  says  Eva García, co-founded of WIVI Vision, at BBVA Open Summit 2023.

"Barcelona gives you visibility to a number of profiles that you won't have anywhere else"

Broomx, a company that launched in Barcelona in 2014 and has developed a projector to create immersive experiences that help patients improve their mental well-being, was also in attendance. “Operating out of Barcelona, with partners like ACCIÒ, and the accessibility of events like the Mobile World Congress and 4YFN, has helped us make connections. It’s a very exciting environment at the entrepreneurial level and for research”, commented Ignasi Capella, CMO at Broomx.

Beyond healthcare, Barcelona is also a leader in the video game industry. Catalonia was the  top region in the EU for attracting investments for this market from 2017 and 2021. Companies like Ludium Lab, which focuses on software virtualisation through cloud gaming (a way to play video games through remote hardware) and launched its operations in Barcelona in 2012, contribute to the industry’s growth. For Alberto Mera, Business Development Manager at Ludium Lab, being in Barcelona means having “the ability to access talent from all over the world”. “That’s a plus, because it affords you exposure to a number of professionals that you wouldn’t find anywhere else”, he added.

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Barcelona, capital of talent

Not only is Barcelona a breeding ground for new high-growth companies, it is also a magnet for startups that land in the city to launch their internacionalisation process. An example of this is the U.S. content analysis platform for companies Semrush, which, after setting up in Barcelona in March 2021, already has 300 employees.

It’s not the only example. Proptech startup Nomad Homes, originally from Dubai and with offices in Portugal and France, also set up in the Catalan capital in 2022. “Barcelona is a very open city, with people willing to try new products and systems. That’s why we moved here to continue to pursue our goal: to change the real estate market”, said Danilo Cataneo, the company’s General Manager.

“The challenge is changing the mindset”

The growth of the healthtech and video game sector, as well as the influx of these high-growth companies, is fuelled by the talent forged at institutions like the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and the Universitat Poltècnica de Catalunya (UPC). The technology behind Ludium Lab was developed by its two founders, Álex Pajuelo and Javier Verdú, who are engineers and professors at the UPC.

Spaces like the Distrito 22@ tech hub and the support of associations like Tech Barcelona, a non-profit organisation that aims to connect and raise the visibility of startups, also drives the city’s evolution.

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But what challenges lie ahead for entrepreneurs and innovators in Barcelona? Ignasi Capella, from Broomx Technologies, suggests that companies that are in advanced stages of growth  need support, and partners like BBVA Spark can help by offering a comprehensive range of services. Eva García, from WIVI Vision, goes even further. “The challenge is changing the mindset”, she says, “and believing that we can do it”.

García’s words echo the way Caterina Llull y Sabastida thought about overcoming adversity and keeping the family business alive six centuries ago. Today her inspiring example runs through the veins of Barcelona’s entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystem and took shape at the BBVA Open Summit 2023.

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