Barcelona: An Incubator for New Ideas
29 July 2014
While many would primarily associate Barcelona’s creativity with Antoni Gaudi, the celebrated Spanish architect, the city’s prowess in the field of design goes well beyond that. It has long nurtured many creative sectors, notably street fashion, addictive mobile games, futuristic furniture, interior design and architecture.
Leading position in creativity
Known for its non-conformist character and enterprising spirit, last October Barcelona was ranked as the fourth most creative city in the world, trailing only San Francisco, London and New York. The findings came in a survey by the Barcelona Design Centre (Barcelona Centre de Disseny or BCD).
Barcelona’s design excellence has earned the city not only international recognition, but also helped it to successfully weather the global economic downturn. As the capital of Catalonia, one of the richest and most industrialised regions in southern Europe, Barcelona had an unemployment rate of 18% in 2013, a figure significantly lower than the region’s average of 23% and the national average of 26% .
A number of popular Spanish consumer brands, such as Mango, Desigual and Roca (bathroom solutions), originate from Barcelona and its immediate environs. The city is also proving a magnet for international innovation leaders from several different business streams, including Hewlett-Packard (HP), Nissan and King.com (the creator of Candy Crush, the popular smartphone game).
MANGO is a famous multinational brand that designs, manufactures and markets women’s and men’s clothing and accessories, It currently has a total of 2,415 stores in 107 countries worldwide
Desigual ended 2013 with a network of 405 retail shops, 11,000 multi-brand shops and 2,500 shop-in-shops in department stores
Launched in 1917 as a maker of cast iron radiators for domestic heating use, Roca is today a worldwide force in developing bathroom solutions, boasting a commercial network over 135 countries
Technology innovation clusters
HP’s world centre for the 3D-printing business, Nissan’s production and rollout of its new electric taxis (e-NV200) and King.com’s development centre are just a few recent examples that prove Barcelona’s appeal for high-tech companies worldwide. The city’s status as the Mobile World Capital for 2012 to 2018 further confirms its role as a global point of reference for cutting-edge mobile technology.
As the Mobile World Capital, Barcelona is the host city of the Mobile World Congress, an annual industry-defining event. The Congress consists of a global industry conference for mobile operators, device manufacturers, technology providers, vendors and content owners, as well as the world’s largest exhibition for the mobile industry. This sees it function as a preeminent marketing platform for new and important industry initiatives, such as mobile apps, mobile cloud, mobile money and other applications of near field communication (NFC) technology. In 2014, the event attracted more than 1,800 exhibitors and commanded a total exhibition and business meeting space of 98,000 square metres (net). The event had 85,000 attendees, including 46,000 business leaders.
Aside from the yearly exhibition and conference, Mobile World Capital Barcelona also encompasses different business facilitation initiatives. Examples here include “Barcelona Mobile Soft Landing” which assists innovative companies and startups to develop or expand their mobile business in and through Barcelona. A second such initiative is the “Mobile World Centre”, a joint public-private venture with Telefónica (the country’s largest telecommunications company) that offers a year-round platform for showcasing mobile innovation.
Barcelona Mobile Soft Landing is located in the Media-TIC Building in the 22@ district, a symbol of business and economic growth of Barcelona
Source: Barcelona City Council
|Located in downtown Barcelona, the Mobile World Centre is a year-round showroom designed to demonstrate how mobile technology is enhancing and changing people’s lives|
Partnership opportunities for Hong Kong
Both Barcelona’s fashion and technology clusters have great utility for those Hong Kong companies that excel in design and innovation, but lack a solid and reliable platform to promote their products in the European market. Aside from the various fashion fairs and tech conferences held in the city throughout the year, the annual Barcelona Design Week - organised by the Barcelona Design Centre (BCD) since 2006 - is an unmissable opportunity for Hong Kong companies to exchange knowledge and experiences relating to the world of design and innovation. Previous installments have attracted more than 200 globally-acknowledged experts and some 15,000 visitors. Typically, all attendees have the opportunity to share their insights and innovations across a range of topics high on the agenda of the global creative community.
That said, the Hong Kong-Spain partnership opportunity is becoming increasingly bilateral. Isabel Roig, Director General of BCD, says 10-12 years ago, only a small number of designers were willing to go abroad to promote their products or ideas. That thinking has changed completely in the wake of the European financial crisis. Today, even designers aged in their 50s and above are aggressively looking overseas for opportunities.
With regard to Hong Kong, Roig says that only two companies joined BCD’s promotional activities in the city in 2006, with that number increasing to 12 in 2010 when the European market slumped and the Asian market started to become particularly important. As a result, Hong Kong’s role as the regional trendsetter and risk manager for Spanish designers and companies has increasingly become appreciated.
At the same time, there has emerged a greater interest in the expertise of Hong Kong companies. This is particularly with regard to their design and manufacturing capabilities and their experience in helping global designers and innovators translate their creativity into commercial reality. All of these attributes are of particular interest to those Spanish companies looking for reliable partners to outsource manufacturing while seeking fresh export opportunities in new markets, especially in Asia.
 The actual unemployment rates should be significantly lower if the sizeable informal/underground economy is taken into account. Meanwhile the high unemployment rate can provide a “certainty premium” that would allow businesses to expand fast when the economy rebounds.
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