After 28 years in exile, the Catalan president Josep Tarradellas returned to Catalonia on 23 October 1977, and in Sant Jaume square famously said: “Citizens of Catalonia, I'm back!” Yet, in the 21st century, you now have to be both here and there, and that is why the Catalan government has launched a new business initiative to conquer the world: Catalonia Exponential. "It is not about bringing Silicon Valley to Catalonia but about playing in the Silicon Valley league from Catalonia," says Marc Bonavia, new head of the California office of the government's business promotion agency, Acció, coinciding with the US visit of Catalan president, Quim Torra. Disruption is also about doing politics beyond borders.
The Californian office, which was opened in San Francisco in 1989, moved to Los Ángeles in 1991, and since 2010 has been in Silicon Valley, faces a change of paradigm. One of threats and opportunities. The Catalonia Exponential programme has been launched with the aim of applying the innovation and exponentiality of Silicon Valley to Catalan startups, SMEs and large firms. From here to there, and vice versa.
Bonavia: "Silicon Valley is above all a mentality and about conversations that bring innovation"
"But Silicon Valley is not only this place with a density of talent. Silicon Valley is above all a mentality and about conversations that bring innovation," Bonavia tells VIA Empresa. Conversations of risk, ethics and hope. Conversations of optimism, of thinking big, and of making an impact on the world.
Catalonia's exponential take-off
"We don't want to miss the international flight, but here there are a lot of people who still do not know it is already here," points out Àngels Chacón, the Minister of Enterprise and Knowledge, who is also in California. With the figures at hand, she insists that more than half of Catalan companies innovate and that Barcelona is among the top five entrepreneurial hubs in Europe, accounting for more than 1,300 startups and 13,000 jobs, among other achievements.
In fact, representing 18.7%, the United States tops the ranking of tech firms in Catalonia. "We are not only interested in generating synergies but also in learning more when it comes to attracting investment," says Chacón. So much so that Torra took advantage of his US trip to talk to companies in Silicon Valley, such as Monolithic Power Systems (MPS), SRI International and Scopely.
A Silicon Valley m’he reunit amb Monolithic Power Systems, que m’han presentat el seu M-car. La companyia especialitzada en solucions de semiconductors de potència té a Catalunya el seu centre d’innovació més gran d’Europa. Han expressat el seu interès en créixer més a Barcelona. pic.twitter.com/BWhEhGEsJH— Quim Torra i Pla (@QuimTorraiPla) 15 de enero de 2019
The new Catalonia Exponential fleet includes an itinerary of innovation (programme of stages and scalability), a tech antenna (personalised reports to get to know each sector), a disrupt tour (stays by companies and clusters in Silicon Valley) and a road to Silicon Valley (six-week immersive programme for eight startups that want to validate their model in California).
CEO of Acció, Joan Romero, points out that "the Catalan business fabric needs to be prepared to face the tsunami of the fourth industrial revolution." Acció's budget is around 70 million euros a year, and it has a network of at least 40 offices spread around the world.
Chacón: "We are not only interested in generating synergies but also in learning more about attracting investment"
Its main roles are attracting investment, levering innovation, promoting the policy of clusters, and the internationalisation of Catalan companies. Yet, it now also includes identifying, getting to know and bringing to Catalonia technologies like blockchain, 3D printing, biotechnology, Big Data, augmented and virtual reality, the IoT, and artificial intelligence.
According to Bonavia, "innovation cannot just be exponential but also has to be disruptive and create new markets." Catalan exponentiality begins in Silicon Valley, but all roads lead to Asia. Acció's offices in China, Japan, South Korea and Israel are also candidates to host Catalonia Exponential in the near future.
Netflix, Californian oil and Merlí
The new Californian oil is learning and the formula for success is clear: "Starting out global and exponential growth." As an example, Bonavia points out that Netflix was global from the first moment and has gone on to buy other products, such as the Casa de Papel or Merlí. "Short prototype cycles, obtaining feedback and pivoting are the DNA of successful startups that start out global and grow exponentially in Silicon Valley," he argues.
It is expected that around 150 companies of all shapes and sizes will every year pass through Acció's office in Silicon Valley. Although that will also require preparation beforehand in Barcelona. "Great things have been done with technology in Silicon Valley, but there is also a big debate about values, such as integrity or cooperation, and Catalonia has a lot to say about that," adds Bonavia.
Companies of Catalonia: We are now part of the conversation in Silicon Valley! And now we too will do disruptive innovation around the world.