Catalonia sees over 2,100 startups in 2023, the highest figure on record

Catalan Economy

07 Feb 2024

According to a report by ACCIÓ-Catalonia Trade & Investment, Catalan startups have attracted nearly 5.3 billion euros in the last five years, a 231% increase compared to the previous period.

Catalonia is home to 2,102 startups (data from 2023), the highest figure on record, a 4% increase over the previous year. This is one of the main conclusions of the study Barcelona & Catalonia Startup Hub 2023, conducted by ACCIÓ-Catalonia Trade & Investment - the agency for business competitiveness belonging to the Ministry for Business and Labour - and announced by the Minister for Business and Labour, Roger Torrent, in a press conference this Wednesday. The event also featured the Secretary for Business and Competitiveness and CEO of ACCIÓ-Catalonia Trade & Investment, Albert Castellanos.

The Minister of Business and Labour assured that "the startup ecosystem is a sign of modernity and progress in the Catalan business fabric, it is attractive due to its great capacity to attract talent and foreign investment, and it is transformative due to its high power of innovation and modernization". According to Minister Torrent, "we have a startup pipeline that makes us very optimistic about the present and, above all, the future. The Government's responsibility is to accompany the growth of this ecosystem, so that the sector and the country's business fabric as a whole will benefit. In this sense, he added that startups help to adapt to market developments and find solutions at a technological level, especially in the most disruptive area".

Regarding the ecosystem's size, the document indicates that the number of Catalan startups has grown continuously in recent years and has nearly doubled since the ecosystem was first analyzed in 2016. In fact, 48% of Catalan startups have been created in the last five years, demonstrating Catalonia's dynamism in this field. From a European perspective, StartupBlink, one of the most internationally renowned consultants specializing in the analysis of startup ecosystems, recently recognized Barcelona as the leading emerging business ecosystem in Southern Europe.

“Barcelona is considered, for the seventh consecutive year, the second most preferred hub in Europe for startup founders to create an emerging company”

Albert Castellanos, Secretary for Business and Competitiveness and CEO of ACCIÓ-Catalonia Trade & Investment.

From a sectorial perspective, Catalan startups are predominantly engaged in healthcare (16.9%), business services and software (15.2%), ICT and mobile (5.7%), food (5.2%), and sustainability and energy (5%). Also noteworthy are fintech (4.8%), travel and leisure (4.4%), educational technologies (3.8%), and those dedicated to digital content and media (3.6%).

More employees and turnover

The report concludes that Catalan emerging companies generate 20,600 jobs (data from 2022), an 8% increase over the previous year. It is the first time that the 20,000-worker threshold has been surpassed, doubling since the beginning of the historical series. In recent years, Catalan startups have grown in size, as 32% of the companies have more than ten employees, a percentage that was 18% in 2020. Another indicator demonstrating the maturity of the ecosystem is that 54% of startups in the ecosystem have a founder with previous experience in startup creation, a percentage that has increased by 9 points in the last two years.

From the perspective of talent acquisition, the analysis highlights that nearly one in four workers in Catalan startups (24%) are foreigners. Indeed, Startup Heatmap Europe positions Barcelona as the second preferred startup hub for founders to establish a startup in the European Union, just behind Berlin. According to the Minister of Business and Competitiveness and CEO of ACCIÓ-Catalonia Trade & Investment, Albert Castellanos, "the fact that Barcelona is considered, for the seventh consecutive year, the second most preferred hub in Europe for startup founders to create an emerging company is a clear sign of maturity and the existence of an attractive and consolidated ecosystem".

Regarding business volume, the study indicates that Catalan emerging companies collectively invoice 2.1 billion euros (data from 2022), a 14% increase over the previous year and the highest figure on record. Currently, 39% of Catalan startups have a turnover of more than half a million euros annually, whereas in 2020, this percentage was 26%.

In terms of investment attraction in 2023, Catalan startups closed 288 financing rounds with a volume of 688 million euros in investment, led by the healthcare sector (18% of total investment captured), habitat (13%), transportation (10%), fintech (10%), marketing (9%), and energy (9%). When analyzing longer time periods to mitigate the volatility of this statistic, the report emphasizes that over the last five years (2019-2023), Catalan emerging companies have attracted some 5.3 billion euros, a 231% increase compared to the previous five-year period.

R&D, technology, and research transfer

Startups have emerged as one of the most strategic factors for transferring knowledge to the market and having an impact on the overall economy and society. In this regard, the report highlights that the ecosystem of Catalan emerging companies has 213 spin-offs, which are entrepreneurial initiatives by members of the university or research community, a 21% increase compared to 2022. Thus, Barcelona ranks as the second hub in the European Union with the highest number of founders from local universities, second only to Paris. According to Castellanos, "having 213 spin-offs shows that the startup ecosystem is a source of opportunities for students in our country to develop a business and have a future project".

This commitment to knowledge and research is also evident from the perspective of R&D undertaken by startups: 91% of Catalan emerging companies invest in R&D, while more than half (51%) have some form of patent or knowledge protection system in place.

From a technological standpoint, the study concludes that 31% of emerging companies work with artificial intelligence and big data, with cloud and edge computing (9%), Internet of Things and sensor systems (7%), automation (6%), e-commerce (5%), biotechnology (5%), immersive technologies (4%), and blockchain (3%) also standing out. Thus, collectively, 71% of these companies work with technologies linked to Industry 4.0, a crucial aspect in the context of digitization and technological transformation of the country's productive base.

All Catalan startups compiled in one directory

The study is based on data from the digital platform Barcelona & Catalonia Startup Hub, a directory created by ACCIÓ-Catalonia Trade & Investment in 2016 that registers emerging companies with a maximum of 10 years of existence, technological, with scalable, repeatable business models applicable in global environments, and oriented towards rapid growth.

Barcelona & Catalonia Startup Hub 2023 Analysis

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