Founders in Barcelona often say they lack the events and sense of community found in other startup cities across Europe. But that might soon change — next year, the Swedish nonprofit Norrsken Foundation is opening a new hub in the city that will home 800 entrepreneurs.
The nonprofit has been one of the pillars of Stockholm’s impact community, and it opened the first coworking space in Sweden solely for impact startups in 2017. Since then it has added an investment arm — Norrsken VC — and closed a €125m impact fund last year. It also exported the concept to Kigali in Rwanda.
Impact has become a popular startup segment in the last couple of years. In Sweden, it has taken off to such a degree that the country is now called the impact hub of Europe, with almost half of all investments in Swedish startups and scaleups going to companies with the aim of solving at least one of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
And with its new space in Barcelona, Norrsken is hoping to replicate that success on an even larger scale.
Getting the community involved
Its coworking space, which is set to open in the second half of next year, will be housed in a 10k sq m beachfront building in Barceloneta. It’ll be three times the size of the hub in Stockholm and just short of the size of the Guggenheim in Bilbao (at 11k sq m) and London’s Trafalgar Square (12k sq m).
It will host regular events and Norrsken is also planning to raise an impact VC fund, similar to those in Stockholm and Kigali.
To run it, Norrsken has been joined by entrepreneur and investor, Marc Jordana, a former partner of Antai Venture Builder (invested in Wallapop, Glovo and others) and former operator at Heura, one of the fastest-growing plant-based startups in Europe.
He says that, while Barcelona already has spaces like Pier01, run by startup association TechBarcelona, the Norrsken hub will provide a much better environment for collaboration and community.
“Pier01’s an iconic building, and I think a great example of how much a good hub can mean for an ecosystem. But at the end of the day it’s just separate floors with no interconnection between the companies,” he explains. “Like Norrsken achieved in Stockholm, this will be a real community. It’s a place where most of the space is flex, so there are no walls — everything is designed in a way to encourage people to interact. We’ll also have events to help create this community."
A long time coming
But a better sense of community and events are things that Barcelona has been crying out for, according to Jose Ojeda, cofounder of sustainable construction startup 011h. After spending more than 10 years in London’s entrepreneurial scene, as cofounder of online men’s styling service The Chapar, he was struck by the lack of community and events when he moved to Barcelona.
“It's still far from a developed ecosystem like London is, right. So that's the first thing that you see,” he says. “In London, events and community allow you to develop relationships in a very organic way. That is happening less here.”
Ojeda says this isn’t to do with a lack of desire to collaborate, but a result of Barcelona’s tech and startup sector being younger and less mature than London’s. He’s optimistic that Norrsken’s arrival will be a step in the right direction.
Jordana agrees that Barcelona comes up short when it comes to community and events for entrepreneurs, and says that he was thinking about launching a similar initiative before beginning work with Norrsken: “We thought that Barcelona was lacking this.”
Although focused on impact, Norrsken isn’t a charitable organisation. In the Norrsken Stockholm House, the pricetag on a hot-desking place is €600 a month (for non-impact startups) — which puts the coworking space above the cost of a Wework, for example. Impact startups pay around €400 a month.
Jordana says that the hub will also feature a “club” on the fourth floor, which will be open to founders and C-suite executives who are trying to be a “part of the solution” in terms of supporting or working on impact projects.
Norrsken’s new hub is a marker of how far Barcelona, and Iberia more widely, has come in recent years on innovation. It isn’t the only international heavyweight with its eyes on the region — in recent years Target Global and Antler have also expanded their Iberian presence, setting up offices in Barcelona and Lisbon respectively.
Spanish and Portuguese tech folk will be keen for outfits like Norrsken to replicate what they did for Stockholm’s tech scene — that is, to create a sense of community and shared purpose, as well as a reputation for impactful innovation — in Iberia. Let’s just hope the slightly Scandinavian prices doesn’t put too many founders off.