Barcelona is world-famous for its fascinating architecture, great gastronomy and paradise-like vacation spots. This inspiring setting is also one of the largest entrepreneurial hubs in Southern Europe, known for its advancements in biotech research, healthcare services and a thriving start-up scene.
This thriving start-up ecosystem, combined with affordable prices, cultural diversity and an open-minded attitude of their locals makes Barcelona a no-brainer choice. Furthermore, the Catalan capital is known for facilitating large hospitals to open their own innovation departments, making the city the place to be for all digital health entrepreneurs.
A blooming startup ecosystem
Barcelona’s digital health start-up ecosystem is increasingly considered one of the most active in Europe. It has been the fifth biggest European start-up hub on EU-Startups’s ranking for the past four years and, according to the Barcelona & Catalonia Startup Hub’s 2019 analysis, the city is today home to 1,500 start-ups, a number that has increased 38% over the last three years.
Barcelona ranks in the top 15 ecosystems in several rankings from Startup Genome. The report Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2020 is the world’s most comprehensive and widely-read research on start-up ecosystems. Also, the Trust Rank 2019 of the Startup Heatmap Europe places its ecosystem in 3rd place.
Because of this rapid rise in the most well-known rankings, the Financial Times recently declared Barcelona as one of Europe’s most successful start-up centres.
The high rating of its ecosystem is based on the city’s rapid adoption of new technologies and its entrepreneurial DNA, attracting innovation and talent, as well as the city’s reasonable prices and growing support from both public sector and private associations. Organizations such as the Barcelona Health Hub, headquartered at the iconic Hospital of Santa Creu i Sant Pau, play a strategic role in this digital health alliance by linking start-ups, industry, healthcare professionals and investors.
Download the infographic of the Barcelona & Catalonia Startup Hub 2019 report.
Barcelona means innovation in health science
Barcelona is also a world reference in the health and life sciences fields. There are more than 1,000 companies and 89 organizations dedicated to research in this sector within the city. This gives us an idea of the relevance of this key industry, which has demonstrated its resilience in the current Covid-19 health crisis.
That’s why the city is home to over 100 digital health start-ups and hosts a large number of healthcare events, such as Eyeforpharma and Bio Europe Spring, along with other international technology-centric events including the Mobile World Congress (MWC Barcelona), the world’s largest exhibition of the mobile industry, 4 Years From Now, and Smart City Expo, the leading international event on urban development. These conferences are growing each year, and so does the start-up ecosystem, bringing together companies from all over the world, making Barcelona a focal point for innovation and connectivity.
“Barcelona is now among the most successful startup centres in Europe”
Financial Times. December, 2019
Hospitals and research centres of great international recognition
One of the main components of this ecosystem is Barcelona’s network of high-quality hospitals. In Catalonia, there are a total of 103 hospitals (including 18 university hospitals) and 199 community and mental health centres. These centres employ almost 93,000 professionals. Some of Barcelona’s hospitals are considered benchmarks at a European level, such as the Hospital Clínico, which was recently ranked #21 in the World’s Best Hospitals list published by Newsweek.
The city also has world-class health research centers of great international recognition and houses some of the most advanced medical infrastructures such as the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB) or the research institutes of the main university hospitals such as VHIR, the IDIBAPS or the IDIBELL.
On the other hand, Barcelona and its surroundings are the birthplace and headquarters of large companies in the pharmaceutical sector such as Almirall, Esteve, Ferrer, Grífols, or Lacer, among others. Other international leading corporations in the sector are also present here, such as Amgen, Novartis, Sanofi, Roche, Bayer, B.Braun, Boehringer Ingelheim, Chiesi, Hartmann, Lundbeck and Menarini.
Moreover, this entire ecosystem is nourished by increasingly solid investments in the Barcelona area According to Biocat, in just 10 years, the number of foreign investors participating in these companies has gone from 0 to more than 50, and in the last five years alone, the number has increased tenfold.
If there is something that also makes Barcelona special, it is that it is one of the cities in the world where most clinical trials are carried out. According to Biocat data, the city is among the 10 most important cities in Europe in terms of participation in clinical trials and among the 20 most important in the world. If we only take oncology into consideration, it is among the 5 most important in Europe and among the 10 most important in the world.
Vall d’Hebron, Hospital Clínic, Hospital de Bellvitge, Sant Pau or Hospital del Mar are some of the hospital centres in Barcelona with the highest participation in clinical trials.
Digital Garden, in the right location at the right time
The growing start-up ecosystem of Barcelona and the ability of the city to attract international talent, has encouraged large corporations to establish their technology and innovation centres here. Almirall is one of them, as the company launched its Digital Garden accelerator in January 2020. This initiative allows start-ups focused on developing innovative technology-based services and solutions to play a relevant role in tackling dermatology challenges. The Digital Garden differentiates itself from other accelerators by taking no equity in the companies accepted into the program and has been built for success by closely studying other programs working to accelerate start-up innovations elsewhere in the sector.
The acceleration program includes the opportunity to collaborate on actual projects within the company and to leverage leading hospitals in Barcelona as a test bed for digital pilots, with potential access to HCPs and patients. Moreover, internal leaders from various groups at Almirall serve as voluntary mentors to these start-ups.