If you stopped someone on the street to ask what comes to mind when they think of Barcelona, you could get a few different answers.
If you asked a sports fan, they might say the soccer team; a holidaymaker might say the beaches; a culture vulture might say the city’s vibrant architecture.
Ask a businessperson, however, and an increasing number might say the city’s booming startup culture.
In 2018 alone, Inc., Valuer, and Startupblink all ranked Barcelona among the top 50 startup hubs in the world, with Startup Heatmap placing the city third in Europe for entrepreneurship.
When you talk to some of the people involved in the city’s startup scene, it’s not hard to see why.
“Entrepreneurial spirit you can sense everywhere”
“There are several things that should be taken into account,” says Jordi Vinaixa Serre, a lecturer in the Department of Strategy and General Management at Barcelona's ESADE Business School.
“We have many companies here, and from a social point of view the people in the area have always been used to setting up their own small businesses—the entrepreneurial spirit is something that you can sense, and you come across it almost everywhere.”
This environment is encouraging for new entrepreneurs; for ESADE's part, the school hosts an innovation hub called Creapolis, and students can gain access not only to the Barcelona startup community, but to like-minded students and alumni.
Jordi himself has frequently helped to facilitate startup growth in his specialization area of science and tech innovation—for instance through ‘innovation speed-dating’ on the MBA program.
During these speed-dating sessions, MBA students equipped with business smarts are matched with science- and tech-based innovators with ideas for products.
According to Jordi, many promising business ideas emerge, and he is proud of the school’s role in activating Barcelona's potential for ambitious students.
“ESADE allows you to go your own way and see what happens,” he says.
A supportive infrastructure
One student who has done just that is Miguel Sanchez Rubio, a recent graduate from the MBA at ESADE. Currently at the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey, he has found the buzz of entrepreneurial activity in Barcelona not just encouraging, but very informative.
“I was amazed at the number of events happening in the city, some of them sponsored directly by the ajuntament [the city council],” he says. “This speaks very well of a city that’s forward-thinking in terms of fostering conditions for business development.”
For students at ESADE, the council's commitment to supporting entrepreneurship isn't the only advantage.
Miguel took part in the Challenge-Based Innovation project (CBI) on his MBA, which works together with CERN in Switzerland as well as two other universities to support students as they pursue an innovative product.
The CBI helped Miguel to create a preliminary prototype for WaterWall, a device which allows users to recycle water internally within the home.
“We have so far presented it in a couple of competitions outside of the CBI program and won awards and recognitions,” Miguel says. “Our next step is to build a full-scale prototype and then continue our journey to look for partnerships.”
With the business landscape of Barcelona laid out ahead of him, and ESADE's support in navigating it, Miguel feels little trepidation about starting his entrepreneurial career.
“The name ‘ESADE’ is like a passport that gives you access to many resources,” he explains, “most importantly a vast number of business professionals and entrepreneurs that are willing to help and guide you on the way.”
An international community
This community of supportive businesspeople is at the heart of the city’s success as an entrepreneurship hub, particularly because of its internationality.
With over 17% of its residents coming from other countries, Barcelona has a decidedly international flavor, and the MBA program at ESADE is home to 40 nationalities.
For Aayesha Khan—another ESADE MBA and the co-founder of El CamBio Lógico, the first store in Barcelona to sell only zero-waste and plastic-free products—this was a huge attraction.
In fact, it was the deciding factor in her choice to start her entrepreneurship career in Barcelona instead of her native New York, itself a world-famous startup hub.
“I wanted to have an international MBA,” she explains. “A lot of schools in the US say they’re international, when really only a small part of the population is from another country—at ESADE, you had the majority of the population coming from [abroad.]”
This exposure has served Aayesha well, not only in her startup project, but also in her continuing corporate career.
“All the jobs I’ve had in Barcelona have been with people from all over the world,” she says. “It’s never just working with people from Spain—the experience of the MBA has helped me a lot.”