As competition between cities to attract investment intensifies, a new breed of investment agencies have cropped up across Europe. London, Berlin and Paris all have privately-backed ventures working to draw innovative companies. And now, Barcelona does too.
Barcelona & Partners launched in June 2021 with the goal of attracting companies in life sciences, advanced manufacturing, disruptive technologies, climate change, and the future of mobility and internet. While world-class culture, food and weather have made Catalonia’s capital a beacon for tourists, it is also a hotbed for the technologies and talent driving the new global economy.
Barcelona & Partners’s CEO Angel Garcia spoke with fDi about the city’s tech credentials, the agency’s selective strategy, and how its approach has more in common with venture capital than traditional investment promotion.
Q: What distinguishes Barcelona & Partners from traditional investment agencies?
A: First, we are a private agency. While we have the support of the public administration, our main support comes from the 30-plus Spanish and international companies that are our private partners.
Second, we are mostly proactive, rather than reactive. We look for companies that are thriving in new-economic areas and which might be interested in Barcelona’s ecosystems and talent. We analyse them and then try to convince them to come to the city.
It is difficult to find agencies that are doing this in a proactive way, like us. To some extent, what we are doing is similar to an investment fund, except instead of investing money in companies we are trying to attract those that match Barcelona’s assets. Our team’s profile reflects this: they have strong backgrounds in fields such as investment banking, consulting, project management and marketing.
Q: Do you also facilitate those investments?
A: We are not really focused on landing services. Once the company decides to invest, we have the government of Catalonia which is working on the administrative points. We are much more focused on identifying and letting companies know why Barcelona can help them.
Q: What was the motivation for launching Barcelona & Partners?
A: The main reason was talent. Talented people nowadays want to decide where to live and where to work, so there is strong competition to attract them. Barcelona has always had an ability to draw people who want to live in the city. We are working to attract growing, new-economy companies that might be interested in the talent coming here and, in turn, retain these people and skills in the city. We want to make Barcelona the city of talent.
Q: How did Barcelona & Partners choose its six so-called disruptive areas to focus on?
A: We can count 10–12 disruptive areas, but we have to think about the assets and sectors where the city has something to offer.
Of the six areas we’ve identified, we are currently working with four: life sciences, smart mobility, advanced manufacturing and digital tech. That’s due to their better fit with Barcelona’s value proposition and strong partnerships with our private partners.
Q: What are some of Barcelona’s hidden strengths which investors might not know about?
A: Many investors are surprised by how international it is. One statistic that surprises them is that 30% of people working in the digital and tech space are from abroad. Barcelona & Partners is about helping that talent find a great place to work. Apple already employs more than 900 people in Barcelona and, in September, Microsoft announced an artificial investment research and development centre in the city.
Something that investors, particularly from America, often don’t know is that Catalonia is the third- or fourth-most powerful industrial area in Europe. That makes the region interesting for companies considering advanced manufacturing as they might find lots of customers here. For instance, HP’s biggest facilities outside of the US are in Barcelona.
Our research centres also surprise people. The city has 89 leading scientific institutions and universities, including the Centre for Genomic Regulation which has 400 scientists from more than 40 countries.
Q: How much success have you had to date?
A: We have just started, but there is high interest from the companies that we’ve identified and contacted. More companies are selecting Barcelona for different reasons, including Brexit, talent and more openness to remote working. We started proactively contacting companies when we launched three months ago. The interest we’re getting from them is beyond what we expected, given that they were not considering Barcelona then, but they are now.
Angel Garcia is the CEO of Barcelona & Partners.
If you are a member of the economic development and investment promotion community and would like to be part of the next iteration of the fDi Diaries series, please reach out to fDi@ft.com.