Innovation was the name of the game in Barcelona’s free trade zone even before Covid-19, but the pandemic has quickly accelerated the zone’s vision of becoming a hotspot for start-ups and new technologies. Pere Navarro, the state special delegate of the Consorci de la Zona Franca (CZFB), the public body that operates the zone, says technologies such as 3D printing are already a reality, while the CZFB is leveraging digital technologies to produce the Barcelona New Economy Week (BNEW) and thus recreate digitally opportunities for business networking.

Q: The CZFB is making available new space to become a hub for start-ups and innovation. How is the zone supporting new forms of production and economy? 

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A: The industrial cluster of the zone developed around automotive firm Seat in the 1950s. Back then, automotive was the most innovative industry, and here we are 70 years after, exploring the new economy again. We launched an incubator for start-ups working with 3D printing, where we currently host 40 companies. Besides, we are investing €20m in a new property called D-Factory,where companies are going to work on technologies such 3D printing, robotics, the Internet of Things, and blockchain.

We are exploring all these new technologies whose importance has grown, now that we have realised that producing goods closer to final consumers is very important. Technologies such as 3D printing have already allowed us to produce 400 ventilators during the [Covid-19] lockdown. They have been very useful, and adjusted quickly to events that no one had foreseen, and have shown that they are not something for the future, they are a reality today. 

Q: What is BNEW? 

A: In the current circumstances, we had to cancel the physical events we had planned for 2020. Nonetheless, we want to continue to be a source of opportunities in this respect, which is why we designed a hybrid event like BNEW. It will have five main verticals: logistics, digital industry, real estate, e-commerce and economic zones. It’s going to be a business-to-business event for professionals, particularly from Europe, Africa and the Americas, and we are expecting about 10,000 people following it online, and another 1000 people here in Barcelona. 

Q: Why are you doing BNEW? 

A: We are doing it to create opportunities and business networks. We are developing our own digital platform exclusively for this event and everything will be streamed live on October 6-9. It’s going to be our first opportunity to recreate business networks after the pandemic – we believe the event can help economic recovery. 

Q: How is BNEW going to be different? 

A: It’s based on three main pillars: knowledge sharing, business networking, and showcasing talent and innovation. We will have about 400 speakers that are going to connect with the audience in different ways, be they panel discussions, interviews or fireside chats.

With regards to networking, despite the many digital ways we use to communicate with each other on a daily basis, there are few chances to replicate business networking digitally, which is what we are trying to do with BNEW through a very direct way to establish digital contact. There will be private meeting rooms, there will be a chance to engage with the speakers, and there will be a space where delegates are matched automatically, according to their own interests.

Last but not least, we want to showcase talent and innovation and we want to give companies a chance to explain what they are doing and how they are innovating. On a broader level, we want to make it a real show to engage with people digitally, we want it to be a sensorial experience. 

In association with the Consorci de la Zona Franca de Barcelona.

This article first appeared in the August - September edition of fDi Magazine. View a digital edition of the magazine here.