Barcelona Activa, The Economic Development Agency of Barcelona City Council

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Barcelona (ciudad)

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Main actors

City Government, Regional Government, Private Sector

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

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Ongoing since 1986

Barcelona Activa works with small businesses and start-ups to promote entrepreneurship and provide employment opportunities in the city.

In 1986, Barcelona City Council established Barcelona Activa to develop strategies that support employment, business development, entrepreneurship which in turn foster a more diversified economy.

To promote entrepreneurship, Barcelona Activa offers a comprehensive model including technical coaching, feasibility assessment, tailor-made training and incubation programmes. This approach helps to facilitate the transformation of business ideas into successful enterprises. Its impact on the local economy has been significant in providing services that assist young people to enter the labour market and by supporting entrepreneurship.

This case study was contributed from the UCLG Learning Team.

UCLG mini peer learning #19 on urban management and public service policies - learning between Barcelona and Brazilian Mayors.


Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Barcelona (ciudad), Spain

Size and population development
In 2018, the Institute of Catalonia recorded the city of Barcelona’s population as 1,620,343. The city covers an area 101.4km2 with a population density of 15,987 per kim2. The population of the city remains relatively stable as it is already exceptionally densely populated while the surrounding metropolitan area continues to grow steadily

Population composition
The population is comprised of 52.73A% female and 47.27%male. The 0-14 is recorded at 12.63%,15-64 at 65.83%, 65-84 at 17.41% and 85+ @ 4.13%. 62% of the population were born in Catalonia, while almost 24% come from other areas of Spain. Approximately 14% come from other countries, a percentage that has significantly risen from less than 4% in 2001. Most migrants are from Pakistan, Italy, China, Ecuador, Bolivia and Morocco and the city is home to Spain’s largest (approximately 3,500) Jewish community. Spanish is the most spoken language in Barcelona and is understood almost universally. After Spanish, the Catalan language is the second most spoken language, and is understood by 95% of the population, while 72.3% can speak it, 79% can read it, and 53% can write it. 49.5% of Barcelona residents of all ages identified themselves at Catholic. The numbers reflect a broader trend in Spain whereby the numbers of self-identified Catholics has declined. Other religions include Jewish, Islamic, Evangelical, Jehovah’s Witness, Evangelical Buddhism and Eastern Orthodox.

Main functions
The city of Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia and the second-largest city in Spain. The city is located on the Iberian Peninsula facing the Mediterranean Sea between the mouths of the rivers Llobregat and Besòs and bounded to the west by the Serra de Collserola mountain range, the tallest peak of which is 512 metres high. Barcelona has a rich cultural heritage and is today an important cultural centre and a major tourist destination. Particularly renowned are the architectural works of Antoni Gaudí and Lluís Domènech i Montaner, which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Main industries / business
The city of Barcelona is a leading economic, tourism, sports, cultural heritage, arts, science, fashion, and commerce center. In 2018 it maintained its ranking as the fourth most economically powerful city by GDP in the European Union and is one of the world's most prosperous city brands.

Sources for city budget
The City of Barcelona draws its budget for public expenditure largely from property tax, fees, fines, operating revenues, other taxes and subsides from the Government of Spain

Political structure
As the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia, Barcelona is the seat of the Catalan government. The city is also the capital of the Province of Barcelona. Barcelona is governed by a city council formed by 41 city councillors, elected for a four-year term by universal suffrage. Barcelona's city council is organised in two levels: a political one, with elected city councillors, and one executive, which administrates the programs and executes the decisions taken on the political level.

Administrative structure
Since 1987, the city of Barcelona has been divided into 10 administrative districts. These are administrated by a councillor designated by the main city council. The executive branch is led by a Chief Municipal Executive Officer who reports to the Mayor. It is made up of departments which are legally part of the city council and by separate legal entities of two types: autonomous public departments and public enterprises.

The 1992 Olympic Games hosted by Barcelona led to a seismic change in the city’s business and economic direction. Supported by the city council, a shift from an industrial based economy to a service-based economy commenced. As a result, most of the industries located in the Besòs area were moved outside the city boundaries, providing an opportunity to develop services and housing in the vacant land and buildings.

In 2000, Barcelona’s 22@ project was launched to re-purpose 200 hectares of the industrial area of Poblenou, located in the north-eastern part of Barcelona, into an innovative urban environment. Subsequently, Barcelona City Council formed the Agency 22@ Limited to implement the planning and infrastructure rollout and advance the economic development of 22@.

In 2008, 22@ Limited was de-commissioned, and the economic development aspect of the project was assigned to Barcelona Activa. The project now focuses solely on the local economy and promoting knowledge based services that have created 93,000 jobs in the last 16 years in Barcelona.

Since it began operation in 1986, Barcelona Activa has offered a wide range of services to small and micro-scale businesses and starts-ups, especially in the IT sector. It has allowed business ideas to transform into effective enterprises providing technical coaching, feasibility assessment, tailor-made training and incubation programmes.

In 2016, 8,500 people attended Barcelona Activa’s welcome sessions for entrepreneurs, and 5,500 participated in the entrepreneurship training seminars. A total of 14,307 people utilized the entrepreneurship support service, which supported 2,566 business projects. Moreover, a team of business experts answers the enquiries of participants, assesses the feasibility of their business projects and coaches them to help find suitable funding. It also provides access to effective online services such as The Online Business Plan tool.

Barcelona Activa has 4 business incubators (Glòries Business Incubator, Almogàvers Business Factory, ESA BIC Incubator and Canòdrom Creative Research Park) that provide logistical and administrative services and support, information and training as well as access to business networks and funding for start-ups; 5% of their total budget is dedicated to this work.

  • The Almogàvers Business Factory incubator hosts 38 start-ups in the IT sector, e-commerce & creative industry as of December 2015.
  • ESA BIC, a business incubator for projects using new technologies and a knowledge center for the research on space which opened in November 2014, hosts 23 start ups as of 2016.  

M-startup-barcelona is a platform that hosts local & international business accelerators. It focuses on IT technologies and social entrepreneurship with high growth potential. In 2016, M-startup-barcelona provided support to 61 start-ups working in the mobile phone, big data, Internet of Things (IOT) and socially sustainable tourism sectors.

Barcelona Activa manages two entrepreneurship centres, Glories and Convent de Sant Augusti. These centres provide classrooms for training activities, self-use spaces with internet access, and coaching spaces.

In 2016 the budget of Barcelona Activa was € 51.7 million.

81% of the budget was provided by Barcelona City Council, 12% from the Government of Catalonia, 0.1% from European Funds. 64% of the resources were allocated to activities in the area of employment and professional skills, 23% to enterprise and entrepreneurship, and 4% to training programmes.

Barcelona Activa has signed partnership agreements with banking and financial institutions to facilitate the funding of business projects and microbusinesses with growth prospects. In 2016, € 35.6 million worth of funding was raised for 538 start-ups.

Barcelona Activa’s results for 2016 include:

1) Enterprise

  • 9,515 businesses received coaching support;
  • More than € 35.6 million of funds were raised;
  • 289 companies and business projects were activated in the following incubators: Glòries, Almogàvers Business Factory, ESA BIC Incubator, Canòdrom Creative Research Park, M-startup-barcelona Accelerator and Barcelona Tech Park;
  • € 676,931 was the average turnover of the incubator companies in their 4th year of activity.
  • One year after leaving the incubator, companies have an average  survival rate of 81%;
  • 1,700 businesses and 2,700 jobs were created.

2) Entrepreneurship

  • 14,307 entrepreneurs, and 2,566 business projects received coaching support;
  • 617 volunteers participated in tailor-made programmes for specific groups and economic sectors;
  • Barcelona Activa’s Entrepreneurship Centre was awarded the Grand Jury Prize in the 2011 European Enterprise Awards organized by the European Commission.

The global economic and financial crisis (2007 – 2012) was a major obstacle for the project. Spain experienced rising unemployment (from 4% in 2006 to 19% in 2009) and negative growth rates. This situation resulted in a decrease in funding contributions from both the Spanish and Catalan Governments to the agency’s budget. To compensate for this decline, the Barcelona City Council has progressively contributed a larger share of funding to the agency’s budget. In 2010, the funding participation of the Barcelona City Council in Barcelona Activa’s budget was 38%, and in 2016 is 81%.

In 2017, unemployment has been reduced to 11% in Barcelona, while Catalonia is enjoying a growth rate of 3.5%, one of the highest in Europe.

The City of Barcelona has been working in the field of entrepreneurship for more than 30 years and regards it as a priority for the city. Its impact on the economy has been positive and has supported the creation of new job opportunities and provided services to help young people enter the labour market. However, incubator businesses and start-ups are often more product oriented than market oriented so new businesses face a struggle to survive.

During a peer review workshop organized by UCLG in October 2016, the Mayor of Divinopolis, a Brazilian medium sized city of 230,000 inhabitants, highlighted the fact that “the construction of the technology park with both universities and companies is crucial and Barcelona Activa is a good example of the implementation of employment policies”.

Barcelona Activa has a long history of international partnerships through the transfer and exchange of knowledge. Below are some of the examples:

  • In 2008, Barcelona Activa provided technical assistance for the implementation of methodologies and tools to support business creation and business growth for the Brazilian National Network of Business Incubators and Technology Parks ANPROTEC.
  • In 2012, Barcelona Activa provided technical assistance to build a centre to foster entrepreneurship in the city of Bogotá (Bogotá Emprende).
  • During 2008- 2011, Barcelona Activa contributed to the project “Creative Metropoles”. The project goal was to create a flexible and efficient system of public support for the creative industries to contribute to sustainable development at local, national and European level. Participating cities included Riga (Latvia), Helsinki (Finland), Tallinn (Estonia), Vilnius (Lithuania), Oslo (Norway), Stockholm (Sweden), Warsaw (Poland), Amsterdam (Netherlands) Birmingham (United Kingdom) and Berlin (Germany).

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Barcelona (área metropolitana), Spain

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