In a new series, PUBLIC is profiling Europe’s leading GovTech cities, and showcasing the top startups that are transforming public services.
Barcelona is a model for how effective digital strategies can power local innovation. With one of Europe’s strongest startup ecosystems, the city is taking steps to empower smaller tech companies to deliver key digital public services in markets traditionally dominated by large-scale corporate suppliers.
The GovTech Landscape
Barcelona is a genuinely smart city. With a 500km network of optical fibre (one of the most extensive networks in Europe), free WiFi hotspots throughout the city, an interconnected system of air quality sensors and monitors, and smart parking spaces in the city centre, Barcelona truly is at the cutting-edge of urban IoT technology.
Across almost all key public services, the city is using technology and open data to be faster, more efficient and more engaging. Recently-installed digital bus stops include screens with real-time updates on bus location, USB charging stations, free WiFi, and an interactive app store. Waste collection is powered by a network of smart bins that are able to measure remaining capacity, and optimise collection routes accordingly. Even public irrigation is powered by smart sensors, with an automatic system that only waters plants when and where it is needed (a system that has saved the city €500m by conserving water). There are very few cities with an urban infrastructure as smart as Barcelona’s.
The startup and venture ecosystem in Barcelona is also strong, with the city ranking fifth in Europe for total number of startups (over 1,100). High startup growth is supported by a deep local investment and accelerator ecosystem. In 2017, Barcelona startups secured €453m in growth investment, led by notable venture funds Antai, Nauta Capital, and Ysios Capital. 2018 has already seen further growth in total startup deal value, largely thanks to the mammoth €115m Series C round (at a €300m valuation) raised by on-demand delivery startup Glovo.
In addition to the wide network of private accelerator programmes (notably, Startup Grind Barcelona, SeedRocket and 4YFN), the city council runs its own series of small, multi-location startup incubators, managed by Barcelona Activa. The aim of these programmes is to provide workspace, support, and networks to innovative early-stage business, with each incubator focusing on a different theme or technological vertical. These efforts are supported nationally by ENISA, a public fund administered by the General Directorate of Industry and SMEs, which offers loans of up to €300k to new, high-growth ventures.
Given the strength of the local technology startup ecosystem, it is no surprise that Barcelona has taken steps to ensure that startups form a central part of its smart city strategy. This includes providing (anonymised) open-source citizen data to startups aiming to develop digital products to solve public problems, through major intergovernmental data initiatives such as DECODE and Sentilo. Beyond this, the city is now developing a strategy for a new procurement model that can promote greater uptake of startups delivering public services, and avoid lock-in with traditional commercial vendors, which have a tendency of operating in non-transparent data silos. Barcelona’s Chief Technology and Digital Innovation Officer, Francesca Bria. who is driving much of the city’s smart strategy, has ambitious plans to solve this problem:
“We are creating an open digital marketplace to make procurement more transparent so small companies should be able to come on board and compete in a fair way with the big players.”
Barcelona is at the forefront of technology-enabled city governance. Supported by strong national and local government departments for technology and innovation, Barcelona is laying the foundation for a fully transparent, startup-driven smart city. There is arguably no better place in Europe for a new startup founder looking to transform public services.
Top 10 GovTech Startups
Unblur is an intelligent assistant for first response blue light services, integrating dynamic information (drones, cameras, GPS) with static information (databases, maps) to optimise situational intelligence.
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