We interviewed Trini Bofarull, Director of Foreign Investment at Catalonia Trade & Investment – ACCIÓ, to better understand the state of the digital ecosystem and talent in Catalonia. We will also discuss what are the key factors that make Catalonia, and Barcelona, dare big companies like Microsoft.
What is it and what is the role of Catalonia Trade & Investment – ACCIÓ?
Catalonia & Trade Investment – ACCIÓ is the Catalan Government’s unit within the Department of Business and Employment dedicated to quality foreign investment. Our priorities are to attract industrial and technological investment.
Industrial investment has traditionally been the most important, but in recent years technological investment has been added, which provides great added value and complements industrial investment.
We work on proactively attracting investment, we identify those companies with the greatest investment potential and we go and look for them and we present Catalonia as what it is, a technological industrial HUB where it is easy to do business, and we offer our support throughout the process.
This support consists in the fact that when the company has an idea or an investment project, it is assigned a project manager. Normally, we compete with other European cities for investments and our job is to make a very attractive candidacy claiming our assets so that finally the company decides to go to Catalonia.
When they have finally succeeded in investing here, we continue to accompany them in the process of finding a location and offices. We also help them in the search for partners and talent that can help them in their establishment. Likewise, we also offer our support in any management that you may need.
Once this investment is implemented and operative a new step is opened, the aftercare. At this point, we continue the relationship with the company seeking its development and future investments.
What is the situation of technological investment and digital talent in Catalonia?
The investments in the technological field that the Catalonia Trade & Investment-ACCIÓ project is supporting are higher than ⅓ of the total. Of the total number of foreign investment projects from 2016 to 2020 that were undertaken, 33.8% were technological investments. This represents an increase of 28.8% compared to the previous five-year period.
This is a very positive outlook that shows how technological investment in Catalonia has been increasing. These investments are mainly based on the possibility of hiring technological talent.
It is estimated that there are currently approximately 12,900 ICT professionals in Catalonia, this figure will grow by 12.8% in the last quarter of 2020. We find that the most demanded profiles for software companies are programmers, although thanks to the investments that are being made in the field of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchain, an important demand is emerging to cover profiles of higher added value.
On the other hand, it should be noted that Catalonia, and specifically Barcelona, is one of the most important startup hubs in Europe. Catalonia Trade & Investment-ACCIÓ does the task of identifying and registering startups, currently, we have more than 1700 registered startups.
Of these more than 1700 registered startups, the majority are related to the technology field. We have seen a strong international presence in the startup ecosystem: 26% of the employees are foreigners and 2O% of the founders are also foreigners.
All in all, the investment, the demand for talent, and this startup ecosystem make the digital talent scene in Catalonia very positive.
Right now, Catalonia is importing or exporting digital talent?
On this point, I would say that above all we are importing digital talent. Digital talent nowadays is one of the most demanded around the world because of the development and demand in this area. Barcelona ranks 5th in this area as the most attractive city for digital experts. The current digital ecosystem and the potential and attractiveness of Barcelona as a technological city make it a meeting point for digital talent from all over the world.
On the other hand, we also create a lot of digital talent, which is one of the reasons why many companies end up betting on Catalonia. 12 very powerful universities with more than 500 degrees that provide a large number of graduates to the digital ecosystem.
In addition, Barcelona is the only European city with two business schools in the TOP 10 business schools in the world, ESADE, and IESE. This high-level training in the field of business is also very attractive to companies.
Another very important point is the development in Catalonia of coding academies that train people from scratch in digital issues, which is an important source of reskilling, bringing a large number of professionals to the digital ecosystem.
It is true that we also export digital talent abroad. This talent that is exported also ends up being a kind of ambassador for Catalonia’s digital talent. On the other hand, we have also noticed that this talent that is exported often ends up returning to Catalonia, sometimes with teams and investment.
What are the key factors that bring large companies like Microsoft to Barcelona?
The case of Microsoft is one of these cases you mentioned. This project is led by a Catalan who went to work in the United States a few years ago and who has promoted and defended within the company the installation of a HUB in Barcelona.
The deciding factors in this case, and in most cases, are the digital ecosystem and the digital talent that can be found here and the one that Barcelona can end up attracting. The ICT sector has become one of the most dynamic in the Catalan economy, we have one of the most important clusters in Europe, with more than 16700 companies that are part of this sector.
Catalonia is ranked as the first non-capital technological city in the world. We have a 5G laboratory open since 2019. In addition to infrastructures such as the BSC, the Barcelona Super Computing Center.
All this, together with the fact that there are companies, such as Amazon or Nestlé, that have already made the step before and that put us on the map, serve as a business case to demonstrate with guarantees that it can be done.
Although the Barcelona brand is very important, what is happening in Catalonia beyond Barcelona?
One aspect of our work at Catalonia Trade & Investment – ACCIÓ is to make companies that want to invest in Catalonia aware that they can do so anywhere in the country, not only in Barcelona.
The university and business sector offers very attractive opportunities beyond Barcelona. Girona, Tarragona or Lleida, for example, are emerging as very good options.
Interesting initiatives are taking place throughout the territory, such as the Catalunya Rural Hub initiative that promotes the establishment of IT professionals in different rural areas of Catalonia. Another very interesting initiative is stem cat that promotes technological skills among young people with the aim of improving digital literacy and increasing the incorporation to technological careers.
On the other hand, in Tarragona and Terres de l’Ebre we find the initiative CLUSTER TIC CATALUNYA SUD, a cluster formed by 44 companies with the aim of promoting the ICT sector in the area. In this area, we find examples such as IBM that has an initiative in the city of Reus, or the startup Freshly Cosmetics that was born there and currently employs more than 1000 people.
In Lleida, we find a similar situation, with a very rich ecosystem. To give an example of many, in Lleida they celebrate the Google DevFest, an event of technological diffusion promoted by the group of Google developers of Lleida.
All these dynamics and examples highlight the strength and health of the entrepreneurial and technological fabric of the whole territory, not only in Barcelona.
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