20TH ANNIVERSARY: CIBERNARIUM

Spain 2020 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Félix Ortega, CEO of Barcelona Activa, on online training, the medtech sector, and SMEs.

How has Barcelona Activa evolved since it was founded in 1986?

Barcelona Activa was originally established as an agency to develop employment policies after the crisis in the 1980s. At that time, Spain was a newly-formed democracy, so everything had to be built. Unemployment was high across the country, but our political leaders of then had a vision to make Barcelona a global city, so they knew we had to create and attract economic activity. In a simple way, our role has evolved over the last 30 years, from helping people find employment to helping them find quality jobs.

What do you do for the youth of Barcelona?

Spain has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in Europe. This is why we offer a number of trainings and courses, especially to develop their digital skills. Barcelona is known as an innovation hub and companies come here to seek digital talent, however we do not only focus on young people but also on older people. In November 2019, we celebrated 20 years of the Cibernàrium, a large academy that provides training for all the sectors, from basic digital technologies, to the more specialized ones.

What are the different groups of people you train?

We work in the basic education system, helping children learn the basic competences in different areas. Beyond that, people of all ages from many sectors come to us for continuous education and training. Digital transformation is cross-cutting, so all sectors of the economy must become digital, even the traditional ones. At Barcelona Activa, we develop capacities of a diverse group of people. We work with small- and medium-sized enterprises. We also provide online training for individuals. In a parallel effort, we are trying to leverage major events such as Mobile World Capital Barcelona and bring them closer to the general public. A couple of years ago, we offered some tours to the commercial sector to come to the Mobile World Congress and to look for solutions they could adopt.

How do you foster innovation for the biotech and medtech sector?

There has been a strategic focus from the Catalonian government and even the Spanish government to develop research centers. To enhance this sector, we must develop new strategies to incentivize universities, companies, and the public sector to work together. We want to collaborate with all the public and private initiatives. For example, we give support to the Pasqual Maragall Foundation or the ICFO, both centers for different types of research. Even the zoo itself is developing a new plan to become a research center. But we are more focused on software and hardware start-ups and companies; so it makes more sense for us this way of promoting biotech and medtech.

What initiatives are in place for companies and start-ups?

We work with the Barcelona Tech City or the Canòdrom or Barcelona Global or the 22@ network associations, especially to develop those actions related to the strategic sectors. To make things easier for professionals that come from startups, we have incubators and twelve facilities. Some of these are Glòries, Almogàvers, Technology Park, and Mediatic. We also have spinoffs from some universities and research centers. Additionally, we can also provide SMEs help with grants, support programs or landing facilities.

Why do you think is it useful to have all the companies in one place?

Around 80% of the projects that originated in our incubators are still running, which is a very high rate. I believe clustering allows firms to access high-quality services and networks, and create synergies.

Do you have partnerships with other agencies?

We have collaboration partnerships with Fukuoka from Japan and Kigali from Rwanda. The latter developed the Smart Africa program. We also partner with programs for entrepreneurs with hubs or other cities around the world. And of course with the Barcelona metropolitan area agency.

What other programs do you offer beyond the training courses?

I have been visiting all Barcelona Activa's facilities and incubators and learning a lot from what they are doing. We have a lot of programs, so it is hard to pick just a couple. We have a leadership program called LIDERA for women. Another one is STEAM program, which is an excellent educational program for boosting vocations in children and women. All of our programs have two missions and one is being inclusive.

What are some of your main challenges?

First, trying to make projects accessible to all kinds of people and not to leave anyone behind. In a parallel effort, a challenge is bringing projects closer to all areas of Barcelona. Another challenge is thinking and planning in the long-term toward our 2030 agenda and beyond. Since we are a public entity, there is a tendency to think in electoral terms, meaning the next four years. We need to have a strategic idea of what we want to do for the city. Our third main challenge is how to make Barcelona Activa sustainable in terms of size, workload, and selection of the appropriate projects. Our mission is to align our strategic objectives and political objectives with people's wills and needs and contribute to the development of the city.