Barcelona is well known as one of Europe’s industrial powerhouses. A city recognized for its vibrant and strong economy, Barcelona is also celebrated for its ability to reinvent itself in the face of new global challenges, making it a flagship of innovation at European and world levels. Other media have indeed recently ranked it as the best city to visit in the world highlighting its world-class architecture, and thriving arts and cultural scene, in addition to its undisputed position as a successful economic and business hub.
To further boost Barcelona’s leading position as an innovation center, the city is committed to ramping up its already impressive efforts in the digital sphere.
In the wake of the pandemic, we have recognized the extent to which technology can keep us informed and connected. To achieve all this, the digital city model must facilitate teleworking, online training, e-health; it must also bring new thinking into the areas of mobility of people, the use of buildings and city centers, and have an attractive, digitized commercial offer.
Barcelona is often praised as a global, open, and connected city, well known for its ability to leverage technological and digital innovation to improve the city and the lives of those who live in it. Unsurprisingly and according to Atomico’s State of European Tech 2021, Barcelona is currently the seventh most attractive European city for investment in technology companies.
It is home to over 1,900 startups and has the largest amount of office space occupied by tech companies like Google, Apple, Facebook or Oracle, of any European city. In 2021, the Boston Consulting Group’s Decoding Global Talent report ranked Barcelona as the sixth for number of startups and ninth for attracting talent.
In recent years, Barcelona managed to position itself as one of the most important digital hubs in Europe. A new law on startups recently approved by the Spanish government is introducing significant tax advantages for international professionals and companies wishing to relocate to Spain. The government has also made visa applications and the process to obtain residence permits simpler for entrepreneurs and investors.
The Mobile World Capital Barcelona Foundation (MWCapital), a public—private initiative with a mission to drive the digital development of society and improve people’s lives globally, plays a crucial role in the digitization of the city. With its support, Barcelona has hosted some of the world’s best-known technology events including the Mobile World Congress, Integrated Systems Europe, Puzzle X, and the Smart City Expo World Congress. It has also helped attract major infrastructure projects such as the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, the first quantum computer in southern Europe, and the Alba Synchrotron, which will be the most important electron accelerator complex in the Mediterranean. Furthermore, it has promoted programs such as the MWCapital Intelligent Connectivity scheme and the 5G Barcelona initiative, the driving force behind more than 25 pilots with 5G technology in the city, making Barcelona the 5G hub of southern Europe. Finally, MWCapital has an innovation program, The Collider, which in five years has helped launch nearly 20 health, energy and industry 4.0 science and technology startups. Since 2021, the program has also supported foodtech and new materials (Puzzle X) ventures. In the field of talent, the foundation is behind the Barcelona Digital Talent platform, tackling the current digital talent gap to promote market competitiveness.
Barcelona has a strong international community that makes up 21 percent of its population. To help attract talent from abroad, Barcelona City Council has opened ‘The Welcome Desk’, a one-stop shop to help new residents with arrangements associated to their move: registering for residency, enrolling children in school or finding a home.
Barcelona’s plan for the next decade
Barcelona has been working on the Barcelona Green Deal, a plan to lead Europe’s transition towards a green, digital and more equitable economy, in line with the objectives included in the 2030 agenda set by the United Nations.
The Barcelona Green Deal addresses the city’s needs regarding its economy, urban development and social transformation with the aim that, by 2030, Barcelona will be among the most competitive, sustainable, and equitable cities in the world. The city aims to consolidate its already diversified economy to continue generating quality employment and leading a successful digital transition — one that is fit for purpose in terms of sustainability and the challenges posed by climate change.
Under three axes — competitiveness, sustainability and equality — the city has drawn clear strategic lines to promote six major urban areas — Zona Franca; Montjuic; the city center; the 22@ district; the Besòs; and the new science and health hub — through seven key sectors of the city: the creative sector; the proximity economy; the visitor economy; industry 4.0; health; biodiversity; and the digital sector.