February 13, 2020

MWC might be off — but there’s a guerrilla event in the works

Mobile World Conference was cancelled last night due to coronavirus causing travel fears, but Barcelona's startup ecosystem won’t take no for an answer.

Tim Smith

2 min read

Barcelona’s startup ecosystem hinges on Mobile World Congress (MWC) and the accompanying 4YFN (4 Years From Now). Last year more than 100,000 people attended the event with investors and founders flying in from more than 200 countries and the event is thought to generate around €400m in revenue.

So when the largest mobile conference in the world was cancelled yesterday, it didn’t take long before big players in the city started plotting.

By 11am this morning, heavyweight angel investor Carlos Blanco had announced on Twitter he had been offered cash to start planning a new event, in place of MWC / 4YFN, on the same dates.


So what’s the plan, and should Europe’s entrepreneurs still be heading to Barcelona for the end of the month?

Blanco told Sifted there will be an event of similar magnitude to MWC happening between February 24-26th, with many of the city’s key players onboard, coordinated by the non-profit organisation Barcelona Tech City. 

Blanco says he already has the support of Barcelona City Hall, IESE business school, CaixaBank, Banco Sabadell, venture capital funds, accelerators, incubators and hundreds of entrepreneurs.

It’s still undecided whether startups who’ve paid to exhibit at MWC / 4YFN will be able to have a presence for free.

“The event will be non-profit,” says Blanco. “We’re not exactly sure how it will work, but we would like everyone who had a stand at 4YFN to participate.”

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The biggest sticking point at the moment is a venue, with negotiations currently underway with Barcelona Fira (the site of MWC). 

“It's something that we are spontaneously doing among several members of the Barcelona startup ecosystem,” says Blanco. “We might need to hold the event in a more distributed way — using spaces from Pier01, Caixabank and Sabadell, Telefónica, IESE, Esade, Foment Treball, Círculo Empresarios. Everyone is supporting.”

The news will come as a relief to the many startups looking forward to MWC / 4YFN as an opportunity to get exposure and meet potential investors.

Adriana Freitas is a partner at tech-focussed investment company Muster Ventures, and has helped compile a list of side events at MWC / 4YFN for the past six years, via innovation hub Barcinno. She says that momentum is gathering behind Blanco’s replacement plan.

“People are trying to restructure the event. All the local side events organised by the startup ecosystem are confirming, [and] we’re still waiting for the events from the city authorities.”


The cancellation is doubtless a huge blow for Barcelona, but Blanco says the response speaks volumes about the city: “Spontaneous movements are what make an ecosystem great. We've all joined together in the space of one hour to push this idea forward.”

So while the details of this new, guerrilla tech event in Barcelona are still to be ironed out, Barcelona’s startup community seems to be very clear that the show must go on.

Tim Smith

Tim Smith is a senior reporter at Sifted. He covers deeptech and all things taboo, and produces Startup Europe — The Sifted Podcast . Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn