Barcelona, Spain

Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Immigrants

Barcelona Activa

April 12, 2010

What's good for business is good for new immigrants and entrepreneurs

Diversity and innovation are part of Barcelona’s DNA and essential traits of this 21st century city.

Barcelona is known internationally as a creative hub for artists, architects, musicians and design. So, when setting the course for the city’s economic development, Barcelona city leaders looked to the historic success of its creative industries and the entrepreneurial drive of innovative small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) as a model.

The result? Barcelona Activa, the city’s dynamic local development agency. Established in 1986 with a mandate to drive business growth and diversify the economic development of the city, Barcelona Activa balances strategies to support entrepreneurial success with a commitment to developing human capital and quality employment.

New immigrants in the city

In addition to Barcelona’s commercial reputation as a centre for business innovation and magnet for hip urban culture, the city is Spain’s second largest urban area after Madrid. The last 10 years have brought a surge of newcomers to Barcelona. Between 2002 and 2008, the immigrant population of the city grew from 3.5% to 17.3% of the city’s total population. As of 2009 18% of the city’s population were foreign registered residents with a very youthful profile; only 2.1% of the immigrant population is over 65.

Beyond their initial reception and settlement, Barcelona does not have migrant-specific support services. Rather, services are provided by mainstream providers and then adapted to social diversity where appropriate. Immigrants to Barcelona already have the entrepreneurial spirit; nearly a third of all participants in the activities of boosting entrepreneurship are immigrants, despite making up only 18% of the overall population.

Barcelona Activa was able to respond quickly with programs and an advice centre that could harness this new source of entrepreneurial energy and investment. Training and employment activities that had been established to reach young people and women, as well as the traditionally business-minded, were adapted to meet the needs of new immigrants. Being ready made it easy.

Glories Entrepreneurship Centre

Since its creation in 1986, Barcelona Activa has established a reputation as a pioneer in providing support to entrepreneurs, innovation and professional improvement both nationally and internationally.

20 years later, Barcelona Activa operates 30 programmes for entrepreneurship and has become one of the main motors for employment and innovation in the city of Barcelona, annually coaching upwards of 1000 business projects, resulting in the consolidation and establishment of  more than 300 recently created businesses.  Each year more than 40,000 participants pass through its Glories Entrepreneurship Centre, for business plan coaching,  training activities for entrepreneurs, to use the resource centre’s e-resources, or for networking and marketing activities.

Barcelona’s Glories Entrepreneurship Centre is organised depending on the purpose of the visitor – business start-up, training and orientation rooms, classrooms, auditorium and offices.  Since 2004, all city residents can go to this centre free of charge and make their business dreams into reality. The Centre contains all the tools necessary to start a business, including professional advisors ready to help iron out the details throughout the different phases of the project.


In 2009, Barcelona Activa’s contribution to the city and wider community was recognized by the OECD as the “gold” standard:

Barcelona’s…innovative and highly effective approach to economic development has been a constant source of learning and inspiration for cities and regions throughout the LEED Programme
Sergio Arzeni — Director, Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs and Local Development, OECD

Many who have benefited from the services at Activa have gone to set up successful small businesses which address gaps in the market, such as production of Argentinean food specialities, importing Peruvian vegetables or clothing from China.

Overall, the Entrepreneurship Centre sees a business creation rate of 60%, and a business survival rate of 91% in the first year. The model has been recognized as best practice by the Habitat Programme of the UN, and the best local project of support for entrepreneurship by Eurocities. Its model has been shared in other cities, such as Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Bilbao, Rome and Andorra. Special program offshoots include ODAME, for Enterprising Women.

Making it Work for You:

  • Don't re-invent the wheel. Evaluate past strengths, analyze success factors and integrate your learnings into new program development
  • Investing in long-term strategic planning means you will ready to move forward when opportunity comes
  • Avoid parallel services and service silos. Duplication doubles costs and reduces outcomes.
  • Share your success and let others learn from your experience. Brag about it!
  • Wide investment in human capital will bring long-term economic and social rewards.