Interview to Lorenzo di Pietro, Executive Director of Entrepreneurship, Business and Innovation at Barcelona Activa
Can you introduce the Barcelona Deep Tech Node initiative, and how and why it began?
Barcelona Deep Tech Node is committed to fostering deep tech entrepreneurship due to its huge impact on society and the economy, that can be summarised as follows:
- Generation of economic activity and high-quality employment: research and technology transfer are the best mechanisms to transform science into an economic activity with qualified job positions.
- Concentration and attraction of highly qualified local or international talent: a strong Deep Tech ecosystem in the city attracts more international talent. Barcelona is the third most popular European city for entrepreneurs.
- Attraction of foreign investment: according to Biocat, in the year 2014 there were 6 international investment funds operating in the catalan ecosystem. Now there are more than 70.
- Attraction of R&D and technology-intensive multinationals: the scientific and entrepreneurial commitment is one of the factors of attracting global R&D-intensive corporations.
- High social impact ecosystem: Deep Tech start-ups offer disruptive solutions to the most complex social problems such as human health and climate change, and SMEs: digital transformation.
- Positioning of the city: Barcelona and Catalonia are positioned in a global context as innovative environments where research and talent from universities are well connected with the market and the corporate world.
What are the main goals of the initiative?
- To promote both the creation and growth of start-ups with a global vision within the deep tech field.
- To provide the necessary tools to enable research findings to be transferred to market and society, supporting science entrepreneurs in accessing talent, investment, connections.
- To open up new business opportunities linked to emerging technologies in Barcelona.
- To attract and maintain talent from the rest of Spain and Europe.
- To generate successful benchmarks in deep tech entrepreneurial initiatives on an international level.
- To build a community and become a hub for key stakeholders in the deep tech ecosystem.
What kind of support are you bringing from the city of Barcelona to local deep tech entrepreneurs?
We provide a wide range of services to help science entrepreneurs succeed, including access to capital, market, talent and promotion services.
Regarding private capital, we organize the Barcelona Deep Tech Investment Forum to connect deep tech startups with investors. In terms of public funding, a group of experts support startups in identifying and processing applications for public financial instruments. Besides organizing this Investment Forum, the city of Barcelona will contribute 10 million euros to the Deep Tech Fund to promote scientific start-ups.The activation of this fund will take place in autumn 2022 and is aimed primarily at financing innovation within the ecosystem of deep tech start-ups in Barcelona.
In order to accelerate the go-to-market process, we provide financial support to bring technology to market (Proof of Concept). These Proofs of Concept mainly target to validate the technology in environments outside the laboratory, analyse commercial viability or define and implement the industrial and intellectual property protection strategy. In addition to that, Barcelona Deep Tech Node connects startups and consolidated companies that need to find new technological solutions.
In terms of talent, we support the incorporation of a mentor for a period of 6 months to complement the CEO or to act as the CEO if the startup does not have this figure, and we organize speed dating sessions between job seekers and startups.
Finally, we promote the deep tech ecosystem through the Barcelona Deep Tech Summit, an event to INSPIRE, CONNECT and SHOWCASE scientist entrepreneurs and disrupting technological startups. It is the meeting point of the deep tech community that will take place next 22nd, September in Barcelona.
All of these services are under the umbrella of ‘Barcelona Innovation Coast’ (BIC), a new space for boosting and coordinating innovation that foresees the creation of 40,000 jobs over the next 10 years. The BIC is a new public-private platform that aims to promote the urban innovation zone concentrated in the axis of the coast of Barcelona and that was created with the aim of helping to diversify the economy of the city, with more added value, and by generating quality jobs.
Barcelona has traditionally been a hub of innovation in Europe. Regarding the new deep tech wave of innovation, what do you think Barcelona has to offer to this ecosystem?
We identify two main assets in our city that contribute to position Barcelona as an active player in the European Deep Tech ecosystem landscape: strong research activity and high startup density.
Firstly, Barcelona and its metropolitan area has 7 Universities, 24 Research Centers, 11 Hospital Research Centers, 2 Technology Centers, a synchrotron and 6 Science Parks, this is one of the largest concentrations of science in southern Europe. Moreover, it ranks within the top 50 Science Cities of the world in the Nature Index 2020. Secondly, Barcelona is one of the main European cities for startups, with more than 2,000 technology start-ups. These two facts are converging and we see more and more Universities and research Centers actively promoting the creation of Deep Science and Deep Tech companies. The city currently has around 30 technology transfer entities.
That is one of the relevant characteristics of Barcelona: its ability to convert its Science into Business. One example of this is the Catalan Bioregion (the life sciences and healthcare innovation ecosystem in Catalonia), which in just 20 years has turned the city into one of the 25 main biomedical and biotechnological hubs in the world in number of companies. Barcelona can definitively offer that ability to create science-based startups.
What can the city offer to the international ecosystem, to deep tech startups coming from abroad and looking to settle in Europe? What are its competitive advantages over other tech hubs in Europe?
Talent is the main asset of Barcelona. Barcelona has a great capacity for attracting and connecting newcomers to the city. In recent years, more than 40 international corporations have arrived and have located their digital, R&D or innovation center in the city. Barcelona ensures that these centers quickly connect with the ecosystem, facilitating their rapid implementation. In addition, it feeds them with talent. Initiatives such as Barcelona Digital Talent or 42 Barcelona have this mission.
Moreover, Barcelona has a great capacity to attract international investment. Financial Times (fDi Magazine) has rewarded the work carried out by the economic agencies of the city. Nomad list places Barcelona within the first 1% of the more than 1,000 cities that this website orders by preference of digital nomads from all over the world.
Its quality of life plays a key role in attracting talent and investment. The size of the city (not too big, not too small) and its climate and coastal location make the city a desirable place to be. As an example, the scientists at the Biomedical Research Park have their offices right on the beach, they just have to cross the street to have their lunch on the beach, both in summer and winter.
The city is also attractive for its cultural activity, for its diversity (more than 300 languages are spoken in the city!) and for its tolerance. Startup Heat Map Europe places Barcelona in third place among the European cities preferred by entrepreneurs to start a startup.
What are the main sectors that are currently driving the deep tech innovation ecosystem in Barcelona?
Of course, the bio area (biotech & biomed) is one bet for success in the city’s ecosystem, and shows the path we must follow to consolidate other deep tech sectors. Artificial Intelligence is suggested as another area in which local R&D finds application through Deep Tech startups.
Recently, Apple acquired a local startup, Vylink, which was an spinoff of one of our universities. Finally, quantum technology. Startups like Quside or Qilimanjaro indicate that our research centers can fuel the growth of this field.
What trends are you currently seeing in the deep tech entrepreneurship ecosystem in Barcelona?
First, we see the consolidation of the entire bio-ecosystem. Barcelona is a lead-player in biomedical research. For the last 20 years, the city has been putting effort into turning that research into spinoff and startups companies. Today, the biotechnology and biomedical ecosystem is one of the leading ones in Europe. It is no surprise that international money is attracted by this concentration of opportunities. Biocat (the entity that dynamizes and coordinates the Catalan Bioregion) recalls that in 2014, there were only 6 international investors who had invested in Catalan biomedical companies, and that there are currently more than 90 international investment companies that have carried out investment operations in Catalonia. Global money feels attracted by our local projects.
Second, we see that Deep Tech accelerators are expanding. Recently, the return of the European Space Agency (ESA) accelerator to the city was announced. Also, an ambitious accelerator for industrial startups (Stage2) has also just been unveiled. The accelerators of the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) are consolidating their activity in the city: EIT Health, EIT InnoEnergy and EIT Urban Mobility (Innovation Hub South). The city of Barcelona and the Barcelona Science Park have recently announced BCN Health Booster. Finally, the Mobile Word Capital Foundation leads two world-renowned accelerators: The Collider and PUZZLE X Ventures.
Third, we see investors reordering and focusing on Deep Tech. Now they are interested not only in more Glovo’s but also, they desire to invest in projects such as Wallbox, which emerged from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. The concept of Science Equity is beginning to emerge, to sum up this investor’s interest for science-based entrepreneurial projects.
What impact do you expect to see the deep tech sector in Barcelona having on a global scale in the next few years?
Intel and the Spanish government have just announced an investment of 400 million euros for a new laboratory in collaboration with the Barcelona Supercomputing Center. It will be a semiconductor chip design laboratory, which will end up generating 300 highly specialized jobs. Recently, the same research center announced that Barcelona will host the first quantum computing hub in Southern Europe. Both are essential projects to alleviate the lack of European technological autonomy. These two initiatives show the active role and impact that we expect the city to have in the future of European technology. Barcelona is already a global city of innovation. This role (based on its Science and its ability to convert it into technology) will give the city an essential personality in the technological future of the continent.
Do you have in mind a big deep tech project we can expect to see emerging from Barcelona in the coming years?
One we have in mind is Wallbox, a global company dedicated to changing the way the world uses energy. They have created smart charging systems that combine cutting edge technology with outstanding design, managing the communication between car and charger via easy to use apps. Wallbox is a technological startup from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia valued at more than 1,500 million euros and are being pinpointed as one of the global companies of reference in bidirectional electric chargers.. But this is just one example. There will definitely be more fascinating initiatives in the near future.