There's no denying, Silicon Valley is the Mecca of all things start-up. It is, after all, the birthplace of venture capital, billion dollar unicorns, and sweatshirt-and-jeans-wearing millennial masterminds. In 2015 alone, over $27 billion in venture capital funding was pumped into the region, a staggering figure that dwarfs even the closest competitor ($7.3 billion, "Silicon Alley" in Manhattan).
And yet, while records are shattered daily and mind-boggling investment numbers are thrown into play, is Silicon Valley becoming a land reserved for the entrepreneurial elite? Has the Bay Area lost touch with its hustling, hard-working origins?
One unsuspecting European city has become a flourishing capital of entrepreneurship. It's a place shaped by its historic past, where some of the world's greatest artists, thinkers and explorers collided to create history as we know it. That city is Barcelona, and it's gearing up for a tech revolution.
I recently spoke to Jon Stanners, Head of Global Talent Engagement at Telefonica Alpha, about the prolific emergence of Barcelona as a hot-bed of entrepreneurial creation.
Unlike the Valley, where money gets thrown around like toys from an angry toddler, Barcelona demands a more dollar-conscious entrepreneur. With investment at a premium, entrepreneurs are forced to work harder and smarter, perhaps a closer reflection of what the Valley used to be like before money flooded the region.
While Barcelona poses no immediate threat to the Valley's crown, it does seem poised to make a big splash on the international start-up scene. So let's explore six reasons why Barcelona is becoming a beacon for good old-fashioned entrepreneurship.
1. History & Technology
Barcelona is a cultural mélange, defined by its collective past yet ever focused on its future. This coming together of history and technology is incredibly unique, and definitely works in the city's favor. The old, gothic architecture and graffiti-laden streets pose a sharp contrast to the Valley's neatly trimmed hedges and ultra-modern office buildings. And yet, Barcelona's backdrop serves as a poignant parallel for its hard-working, gritty, entrepreneurial attitude, which makes it the perfect place for young, aspiring entrepreneurs.
2. Political Movement
Barcelona's governing body are pushing for reforms and encouraging innovation at an exciting pace. Barcelona's first female mayor, Ada Colau, is ripping out the old, Draconian ways of doing things. New laws and funding are being generated to encourage digital development within the city. This energy is making Barcelona the perfect place for entrepreneurs looking to start their first company, and with the political climate favoring large-scale investment, now is the time to make a splash.
3. Start-up Culture
Believe it or not, Barcelona is home to some of the world's most exciting tech companies, start-ups and innovation hubs. In 2014, Barcelona-born Scytl, an electronic voting tool, secured $104 million in investment; in fact, it's changed the global landscape of political engagement in just a few years. The used-item trading app Wallapop has garnered lots of attention recently and is reported to have received $40 million in investment. Smaller tech companies are emerging as well. 8fit, a tech platform delivering bespoke training schedules, raised $2.25 million in May 2015. The general theme is that the future is very much happening now.
4. Talent on Tap
There's a diverse array of talent flocking to the Catalan coast, making Barcelona somewhat of a melting pot for innovation. Telefonica, one of the world's largest corporate telecoms companies by market cap, has recently pumped money into moonshot incubator Alpha, a rival to Google X. Alpha embodies Barcelona's ambition and drive well; the innovation hub is attempting to solve some of the world's toughest challenges, and employs the greatest minds on the planet. From theoretical physicists to biotech experts, it's a testament to Barcelona's allure and proves there's an abundance of talent on tap.
5. Rebel attitude
As the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona is rebellious by nature and feels inherently different to the rest of Spain. This rebel attitude seeps its way into every day life, and creates a diffusion of entrepreneurial spirit amongst Barcelona's residents. There's a palpable correlation between the thriving start-up scene and the wider socio-political mindset. In fact, Barcelona played host to major disruptive events and conferences in 2017. Mobile World Congress, the world's largest gathering for the mobile industry, was held in Barcelona in February 2017, while smaller-scale events like Barcelona Startup Week celebrate the best of Barcelona's disruptive startups.
6. Massive potential
Unlike Silicon Valley, where the start-up landscape is incredibly saturated, Barcelona feels unfinished, like a work of art waiting for a deft hand to flick a brush and finish the composition. For aspiring entrepreneurs and young creatives, it's the perfect canvas to begin with. Don't be surprised to see more and more tech minds flock to the region, especially as investment begins to accelerate. When you consider the culture, talent, political climate and tech advancements, it's clear to see why Barcelona is becoming a warranted rival to other major cities.