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Barcelona's Silicon Valley is consolidating its future

The industrial district of Poblenou was decided to become the technological 22@, a cluster of innovation and economic development. After 10 years, the number of high-tech companies is still growing and investigation centres are being set.

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19 July 2010 07:06 PM

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ACN / Paula Mateu / Josep Ramon Torné

Barcelona (CNA).- During the past few years, Barcelona has put itself into the spotlight on the international arena. While the city shines in other areas, it has also gained recognition in the business world. The city has been ranked as one of the best places to do business or start a new company. Barcelona has generated a cluster of businesses from the design and creative world, and the sector that has recently popped up is that of information technology innovation. More than one million square metres of economic activity within the 22@ district and the existence of research centres like BDigital are hoping to bring the next Silicon Valley to the Catalan capital. Or, at least, something close to it.


A study by Cushman & Wakefield\u2019s has placed Barcelona in 4th place in a ranking of the 33 best cities to do business in 2009. The magazine \u2018fDi Magazine\u2019 declared the Catalan capital as the best city in Southern Europe. These are just two examples that have helped to better the perception of Barcelona as a city of business. Every year more foreigners are becoming attracted to the city\u2019s favourable climate, location, and quality of life. The improvement of logistic and scientific infrastructure logistics is another factor influencing businesses to make Barcelona their home base. A study by Cushman & Wakefield\u2019s has placed Barcelona in 4th place in a ranking of the 33 best cities to do business in 2009. The magazine \u2018fDi Magazine\u2019 declared the Catalan capital as the best city in Southern Europe. These are just two examples that have helped to better the perception of Barcelona as a city of business. Every year more foreigners are becoming attracted to the city\u2019s favourable climate, location, and quality of life. The improvement of logistic and scientific infrastructure logistics is another factor influencing businesses to make Barcelona their home base.

\u201CBarcelona as a brand is very well positioned internationally\u2026which is valuable for Catalonia\u201D, assured the Catalan Minister for Innovation, Universities, and Business, Josep Huguet. The Minister pointed out the existence of research centres such as the Centre for Super Information of Barcelona (that operates the super computer Mare Nostrum), the Barcelona Media Innovation Centre, the Maritime Investigation and Experimentation Centre, the Centre for Genomic Regulation, the Barcelona Digital Centre, the Scientific Park of Barcelona and the Biomedical Research Park.

The district of innovation

The 22@ district contains a large part of these centres. The project, which began a decade ago, has transformed 200 hectares of industrial sites into an innovative zone for important research and knowledge. It has transformed Poblenou's old factories, which were known as the Catalan Manchester, into a high-tech distric. In 10 years, they have installed 1,500 businesses. The administration hopes that more than 1 million square metres of economic activity will convert the zone into a Catalan Silicon Valley. They predict that joint work with universities as well as centres for research and creation will evolve into clusters of information technology in the area.

\u201CThe objective of 22@ is to convert itself into a technological centre for creativity and interrelation between businesses and technological centres in the zone\u201D, said Joan Mas, business director of the Barcelona Digital Centre (BDigital). \u201CThe idea is that, as a result of this collaboration, there will be an increase of economic activity in the city\u201D, he stated.

BDigital is part of the web \u2018Tecnio\u2019, a brand created by the Catalan Government\u2019s ACC1Ó agency, one of the primary agencies for applied investigation and technological transfers in Catalonia. It is the centre of reference in Catalonia within its field, according to Joan Mas. \u201CThe services our clients demand, because they do not have the specialised resources available, are our strong research facilities\u201D, commented Mas.

The director recognises the importance of working within a cluster like 22@. \u201CThe act of being in a district like this one permits us to establish better relationships with businesses in our area. We are developing some projects in which we will collaborate with other businesses within 22@ to the point where our own researchers will physically work within other companies\u201D, he said.

An incipient technological centre in Besòs

Other than 22@, the city has two more business zones that are in more incipient phases. Diagonal-Besòs has some 60,000 square metres of economic activity available. The site\u2019s design is intended for companies related to the fields of energy, water, and mobility. Besides these, there will be institutions like the intergovernmental Fusion for Energy (the international project to develop fusion energy, ITER), the Institute of Energy Research of Catalonia (IREC) and the Technological Water Centre (CETAQUA). In addition, the future TGV train station of \u2018La Sagrera\u2019 will be the centre of the zone. Municipal officials hope that the better accessibility as a result of the new station will make the area a point of attraction.

The city of design

For many years Barcelona has been considered a city of design and creativity. Barcelona as an interest for creative people was generated by the Olympic Games of 1992. The director of l\u2019Estudi Mariscal, Santiago Errando Mariscal, classifies the movement that was generated at that moment as \u201Ca move on the part of the society to propose a future project, one that was interesting, contemporary, with attitude, values, and a new way of looking at life\u201D. Errando believes that today, this attitude is \u201Cmore marketable\u201D. \u201CThis is not a project that picks up from the former one. We were focusing too much on the results and lost sight of what is most important, the project\u201D, said Errando.

The director thinks that the attraction for the city\u2019s design sector is already experiencing a downward slope and that in a few years the city will probably start noticing less businesses. He assured that politicians \u201Care more interested in controlling and not generating\u201D and that society has to reclaim more security. \u201CIllusion, liberty and controlled risks are very rich and constructive\u201D, he concluded.

L\u2019Estudi Mariscal will be one of the companies in the current to generate Barcelona\u2019s economy. They currently have around 30 employees and hope to reach 100 workers as the project grows. The company is located in Palo Alto\u2019s complex, an antique factory in Barcelona\u2019s Poblenou that has been converted into a space for diverse businesses related to creativity.

In spite of the proximity with 22@, the director of the study, who is also a part of the Palo Alto Foundation, sees clear differences between the projects. \u201CThis is a greater, more calculated, colder and more orderly operation. It is also freer and smaller\u201D, Errando assured. The space is being converted into a place that generates creative synergies and makes employees have an 'illusion' to go to work, said Errando.

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  • Image of the 22@ district with an old factory transformed into a university centre focused on digital technologies

  • Image of the 22@ district with an old factory transformed into a university centre focused on digital technologies