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Barcelona Is A Hub For MBA's Start-Ups — From FinTech To Electric Vehicles

Thriving tourism scene, networking opportunities, and elite business schools prove alluring

Barcelona’s mixture of sun, sea and start-ups is helping to create a hub for fast-growing businesses.

With a thriving tourism scene, good transport links — and a famous soccer club — the Spanish city is a magnet for travellers and trade fairs. But it is increasingly alluring for founders too.

Its international business schools attract global talent and serve as launch-pads for promising ventures. At IESE Business School, the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center, the Bertrán Foundation Chair of Entrepreneurship, FINAVES, and the Business Angel network organize training, research and networking activities for students’ entrepreneurial projects. According to data from PitchBook, IESE MBAs raised $171 million in venture capital for 32 companies between 2010-2015.

Networking opportunities are in abundance. The Mobile World Congress attracts 2,000 senior tech executives to Barcelona each year alone.

However, it can be hard to lure talent from other EU capitals, and the financing environment is not as mature as some rival start-up hubs, say local entrepreneurs.

Still, the city is home to local heroes such as Privalia, a flash sales business, which was acquired this year for $560 million. Online voting tool Scytl secured $104 million in 2014.

Below, BusinessBecause profiles two IESE entrepreneurs growing businesses in the Catalan capital.

Timo Buetefisch

Cooltra Motos

Turnover: €7 million

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Timo Buetefisch, chief executive of Cooltra Motos, says: “The climate, the internationalization, the size, [and] the cultural offer make this city a good destination to start a business.”

Cooltra Motos is a motorcycle rental start-up whose clients include Burger King and Just Eat. Founded in 2006, the company has a fleet of 5,000 and 100 employees. Turnover was €7 million in 2015, up 40% on 2014.

Timo hit on the idea when his own scooter broke down, while he was importing packaged flowers from Holland to Barcelona. “The solution was to rent a bike… But I did not know where to go,” he says. “I started to analyze the market and I realized that it was a very good business opportunity.” Barcelona is, after all, a scooter city and the birthplace of the popular Vespa.

It was around this time that Timo was studying for an MBA at IESE. The school supported the company in securing funding, customers, and when Timo decided to bet on electric mobility — 1,000 of Cooltra Motos’ bikes are electrically powered. “Immediately, they trusted me and my projects,” he says.

The company has raised €3 million in investment. Timo admits it has been difficult to find capital in Barcelona, but says the climate is changing: “Bit by bit people dare [to bet] more on low and high-risk investments.”

Grant Taylor

Quotanda

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Grant Taylor, CEO and founder of Quotanda, says: “Barcelona is a beautiful, vibrant city on the Mediterranean with an affordable cost of living. It’s a good place for an entrepreneur to bootstrap a business. With good weather year-round and the mountains and the beach accessible on weekends, the city helps entrepreneurs stay sane.”

The company provides financing solutions for students and schools in the US and abroad. Its slick technology platform puts it into the category of “fintech”— a breed of tech-savvy online lenders hoping to disrupt banks.

Grant’s lightbulb moment came while getting an MBA at IESE. Americans like he had access to loans from the US government, but for the 90% of the cohort from outside the US, cash was in short supply.

“Limited education financing options limit opportunity in most of the world,” he says. “It’s a problem I was excited to tackle.”

Quotanda was launched in 2013. Since then, it has issued 80 loans to 70 borrowers. The company, which has 9 employees, has raised $1 million since inception. 

As well as providing inspiration for Quotanda, IESE was also a great place to launch, Grant believes: “I was able to work on the business plan with some brilliant and motivated classmates and to receive feedback from professors,” he says.

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