Madrid is renowned for its art museums, restaurants, plazas and extensive history, but perhaps not so much for its startup ecosystem. That’s all changing, however, thanks to initiatives laid out to encourage new businesses.
After the financial crisis of 2008, Spain took over half a decade to get back on its feet, but is now thriving once again. Last year at the South Summit – Europe’s biggest startup conference, hosted in Madrid – Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez announced that the government would be introducing plans to help startups in the hope of attracting foreign talent and investors. This includes tax incentives, an increased number of accelerators throughout the country, and a special visa that allows international entrepreneurs into Spain with just a business plan and proof of living funds.
These systems are also appealing to homegrown talent, providing the many graduates from Madrid’s 12 universities and even more specialised industry schools the opportunity to get into business locally. Though still relatively small in comparison with London and Berlin, Madrid’s position as a rapidly growing startup hub is positive.
Five years ago startups based in the capital received €60m in investment, a figure that upped to €342m in 2018, according to the Digital Startup Ecosystem 2019 overview by Mobile World Capital Barcelona. In 2015 Google set up one of only seven Google Campuses in the world in Madrid, as part of their Google for Startups programme. According to the latest Global Financial Centres Index, the Spanish capital is the most competitive financial centre in southern Europe, making it a top global ecosystem for fintech. And, in 2018, Uber-rival startup Cabify became Spain’s first unicorn.
We haven’t even touched on the culture yet. As if all the above incentives weren’t enough to persuade you towards a startup life in Madrid, there are also lifestyle choices to consider, such as boating on Retiro Park lake, standing at the epicentre of all Spanish roads (Puerta del Sol) and, well, shopping at the world’s largest Zara – whatever tickles your fancy.
There are numerous art museums, including the visual beauty that is Caixa Forum. This modern cultural centre was built in an old power station and has an exterior wall covered entirely in greenery, known as the Vertical Garden. Also worth a visit is Sobrino de Botín: opened in 1725 by the Mr and Mrs Botín, it is the oldest restaurant in the world to have remained in continuous operation – it’s even in the Guinness Book of Records. And, to give it even more cultural weight, nineteenth-century Spanish painter Francisco de Goya worked there as waiter and Hemmingway name checks their signature dish, cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig) in his novel The Sun Also Rises.
Madrid’s mix of people, facilities and government-enabled resources has, no doubt, helped Spain claim the title of most improved digital economy in the EU, as dubbed by the European Commission. But it’s also set the capital on its way to becoming a leading startup hub.