Last year, Startup Grind Barcelona organized its first yearly conference. It was a bigger event than usual and was thought as a bridge between San Francisco and Barcelona to commemorate the first direct flight between both cities. This meant lots of speakers who came directly from Silicon Valley. This also meant a different change of pace for organizers.
“This year, we changed a little bit,” explains Carlos Cruz Rastrojo, Startup Grind BCN co-director. “We focus more on tech, context; because Barcelona is becoming a tech hub, and we want to strengthen that position.”
Barcelona is, indeed, becoming a tech hub. For years now, the city has established itself as popular place for startups to come and launch their businesses. According to investment firm Atomico, in 2017 Barcelona ranked third as the most important startup city in Europe, behind London and Berlin. There are already several cases of success from the city, like Glovo, Wallapop and Typeform, just to name a few. But there are hundreds of up-and-coming startups that complete the city’s ecosystem as well.
Lluis Gómez, from the Barcelona City Council, told EU Startups that the city had a healthy community of “around 1400” startups last year, which attracted some 443 million during that period. Besides a number of advantages, like being attractive for international talent and having numerous support entities like accelerators, coworking spaces and many tech hubs, the city also has a big plus on its side: it’s host to many important tech events.
Mobile World Congress is arguably one of the most important tech events in the planet, and Barcelona is its designated home. But other top-level events have also made the Spanish city its preferred location, like Smart City Expo World Congress, IoT Solutions World Congress, VM World and even more.
A conference “from the ground up”
One of those many events includes, of course, Startup Grind. Monthly talks is something that no one else was doing, certainly. But with a yearly conference also possibly set on place, and so many similar ones already here, we must ask: what does Startup Grind offer that other tech events in Barcelona lack? Startup Grind BCN Director Àlex Rodríguez Bacardit explains it: “We noticed that the ecosystem there a lot of conferences and big events, but all of them are very institutional and created by big companies, or even public institutions. I noticed there was not a single conference that was built from the ground up by entrepreneurs, by a small community.”
If last year saw the inclusion of many Silicon Valley figures, this time the focus was different. “I really wanted to give the spotlight on the companies that are betting in Barcelona, foreign companies that are coming here like N26 or Dow Jones; but also great projects that coming from Barcelona that need more international exposure.”
You could tell by the lineup that he was right. Venture Partner at Atomico Alexis Bonte touched on the subject of how do VC evaluate tech, answering some of the more pressing questions regarding investment. He warned certain red flags investors should look for, like entrepreneurs without real dedication or who thought of investors as bosses instead of partners. “When you’re a VC, you’re not the boss, you’re the investor. VCs don’t want to invest in an entrepreneur who’s not their own boss.”
Dow Jones CTO in turn spoke about how established corporations could also innovate, as it wasn’t something exclusive to startups. He admitted that there were “a lot more spreadsheets involved, more questioning,” but ultimately if the right tools were set, innovation could happen—particularly if the proper communication channels were set in place. He also looked as diversity as a great source of innovation thanks to the many different perspectives coexisting. Just in the Barcelona Dow Jones offices, he said, there were 30 different nationalities.
Barcelona is not just a tech hub, though; but also a cultural center for all of Europe. Vicens Marti, President of Tangelo Games and Elrow, talked about live shows and events, something very familiar for Barcelona, a city that attracts many important music festivals. When asked what role tech played in this scene, he answered that the show side is “very human, ultra human,” but that all the planning and preparation behind stage was a completely different stage. Inevitably, social media has forever changed the industry, and while music will still be a thing, he thinks gaming is the cultural sector where real innovation will happen.
A look to the future
“The best thing that we’re doing is… the Barcelona brand, it’s still attractive,” says Rodíguez, arguing that the city positioning itself as a tech hub is the right way to go. Meanwhile, Cruz mentioned some of the things the city needs to improve upon, like legislation. “Things have a improved and are more business-friendly, but there’s still a long road ahead,” he explained, echoing the same sentiments towards investment—lots of improvement but room to grow as well.
Startup Grind is one more cog of the immense machinery that is Barcelona, but one that will continue to strengthen the position the city is enjoying. “We don’t like to settle,” says Cruz. “Next thing is consolidating this yearly conferences that will be a reference point in the Barcelona calendar, and Europe.” As one of the most influential Startup Grind networks, that might just happen.