Despite a tough year for the global economy, Spanish tech remained strong in 2022. New unicorns were minted, the country launched more cutting-edge startups than ever before and big funding rounds went to exciting young companies all over the country.
But that doesn’t mean Spain will escape the harsh economic headwinds that lie ahead in 2023. Funding will be harder to secure than in previous years, companies that have grown fast may need to lay off staff and startups will need to show a clearer path to profitability than they have in the past.
So what is in store for Spain’s up-and-coming tech sector? Sifted asked founders, investors, government and non-profits to give their predictions for the year ahead.
Here’s what they had to say.
Javier Suarez — cofounder, Oliva: “Expectations are at least three times higher”
2023 will be a rough year for startups in Spain and beyond. Aside from early-stage deals, there has been an incredible decline in capital raised for Series A and above compared with previous years. Valuations have dropped significantly and VC expectations are at least three times higher. In short, sustainable unit economics and solid growth are the name of the game now.
And unfortunately, these tough times will continue until public markets start to show signs of stability. Depending on how long this takes, we might see a big wave of dead startups solving “nice-to-have” problems versus “core” problems.
But even though it may sound like doomsday and we all hate to see startups die, at the end of the day the majority of capital should be funnelled towards companies solving real problems at scale with sustainable models. The world needs it.
On a positive note, there is a massive amount of dry powder that needs to be deployed and the very best will continue to get funded. My advice to all founders: put your energy into becoming best-in-class and funding will fly your way.
Carina Szpilka — general partner, K Fund: “A game with new rules”
Despite a frozen 2022, 2023 will see a recovery in investment activity. There’s a lot of capital to be put to work and Spain has many good projects and great potential to continue being an exporter of technology. This is particularly true in sectors like artificial intelligence, data science and climate tech.
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However, we can already see a very important change in criteria when it comes to choosing investment targets. It’s no longer only exponential growth that's required, but also a clear path to profitability and a proven ESG strategy.
In short, we will be playing a game with new rules, but technology will continue to be the key to solving the major problems we face as a society in 2023 so there will be solid investment appetite.
Oriol Juncosa — managing partner, Encomenda VC: “A rise in the circular economy”
In 2023 technology produced by startups will create significant productivity growth across all sectors for the benefit of companies, employees and consumers.
For instance, AI will increasingly be applied by companies to solve massive real-life problems in sectors like finance, health, HR and climate, thanks to the launch of ChatGPT and other easily accessible models.
As the easy money cools down, we will see an increase in the usage of circular economy models (recycling, leasing and repairing) and automation technologies with a significant positive impact on the environment.
Finally, there will be a transition of blockchain experts from the “crypto winter” to start tackling transparency, traceability, decentralisation and efficiency issues in sectors like finance, health, supply chain management and media with blockchain technologies.
Enrique Linares — cofounder, LetGo: "An era of generation-defining startups"
In the same way that Idealista and eDreams — two of the most successful Spanish startups — or Uber and Airbnb in the US came out of recessions, 2023 will bring some of the great successes in the coming years.
We will see an increasing number of new founders coming from top positions in successful startups. They will bring relevant expertise, knowledge and a great network that will maximise the probabilities of success.
Founders will focus on building solid and highly efficient startups that can withstand a recession. Achieving early founder and product-market fit, solid revenue models and cash efficiency will be paramount.
These will probably lead, as happened in prior crises, to the birth of generation-defining startups and great investments, fuelling new growth into the Spanish ecosystem.
Marta-Gaia Zanchi — managing partner, Nina Capital: "Spain’s building teams at a fraction of the cost"
Next year, both companies and VC firms will come back to market in an unforgiving environment. I expect a tough fundraising time for entrepreneurs and fund managers alike through mid-year. Crossover LPs [those who don’t only invest in VC funds] may retreat from the sector for some time, and over-allocated LPs asked to re-up [reinvest in a VC fund] at levels above 2023 budgets may rethink their commitments or skip follow-on funds entirely.
For emerging managers starting brand new funds, it'll be especially hard to launch — established managers with early-stage strategies will be in a privileged position to raise new funds.
It’s not all bad news though, and Spain may prove to be the place to be for startups. We’ve seen little or none of the fundraising exuberance that took place in the US, the UK and some western European countries in 2021. Prudent valuations coupled with the ability to build strong technical teams at a fraction of the cost of these other countries make local companies better able to make it through the year, and sustain their growth.
Helena Torras — managing partner, Paocapital: “Spain has an enviable position”
There was already a slowdown on decision making and reduced tickets and valuations in late 2022, and 2023 will not be different. Moreover, investors will have to take care of their overexposed portfolio, limiting new investments to only exceptional opportunities. 2023 will be a year of polarisation: it will be summer for the outstanding startups that have efficient growth, extraordinary metrics and the best talent — and it will be winter for all the rest.
With investors getting more selective and looking for efficient growth, I want to bring some optimism. The best vintage years of venture capital are the ones in tough moments, such as 2010. 2023 has all the ingredients to support some of the most successful startups in the coming years and Spain has an enviable position with its growing and consolidated entrepreneurial culture and a great combination of talent, corporations, startups, funds and public support.
Being specific, sustainability projects will have a good outlook in the years to come as more investors are putting an eye on them.
Aquilino Peña — managing partner, Kibo Ventures: “Less noise, reduced cost base and laser-focused companies”
Overall in Spain, investors have continued to be active. 2022 has been a funny year, with some investors passing on deals that would have been done a year ago. However the balance remains positive, with new unicorns added to the list, such as Factorial, and some good exits.
2022 has also been the year of the long-awaited "startup law" with some important (albeit somewhat conservative) regulations on visas, stock options, business angels and carried interest tax treatment.
We look at 2023 with unchanged belief in the power of tech to change society for the better, while creating very large opportunities to bring value for our investors. Less noise, reduced cost base and laser-focused companies will produce a great vintage of founders. And on the regulation front, the industry will focus on the changing limits for pension funds to invest in alternative assets (comisiones in cascada) which will unlock pools of capital to the venture asset class. We believe these are all good ingredients to keep a positive outlook despite international gloomy sentiment.
Mar Galtés — journalist and corporate development director at Tech Barcelona: “The growing importance of a human touch in tech”
At Tech Barcelona we believe that the industries that make sense to foster most are the ones that have an impact and transform the way people live and work and interact in cities, like health and wellness, mobility, retail and fintech.
Positive impact is becoming the new black in the tech industry — companies can no longer avoid having an ethical and sustainability purpose.
We’ll also start to see the growing importance of a human touch in developing technology, such as the ethics debates that are surrounding artificial intelligence. Europe, and specifically Barcelona, can play a role as a leader in this transformation and revolution as we build new technologies.
Laura Urquizu — CEO, Red Points: “We’ll see a spike in cybercrime”
All economic indicators make us think that the macroeconomic environment won’t get better in the short term. It will stabilise at best. This, together with difficult-to-access venture funding, will pose a significant challenge for emerging digital companies. There will be a natural discrimination between the ones that can become solid businesses and the ones that cannot operate without capital injections.
However, these times also create great opportunities for those startups that leverage innovation and flawless execution to stand out and actually become a must-have for their clients.
Another trend that comes with economic uncertainty and recession, and that I observe very closely due to the space Red Points operates in, is cybercrime continuing to spike. As buyers are more sensitive to price, scammers use fake offers to add confusion into the marketplace and steal purchases away from legit companies, which can become a really serious threat to businesses' online sales.
Francisco Polo — high commissioner, Spain Entrepreneurial Nation (government body): “One of the most attractive destinations for entrepreneurs”
Spain will become one of the most attractive destinations for innovative entrepreneurship.
With the approval of the Startups Act in December 2022, Spain has completed a new regulatory framework that is going to revolutionise the entrepreneurial sector.
First of all, we are going to revolutionise the attraction of talent with the best stock options scheme in Europe, extended three-year visas for entrepreneurs, investors, professionals and their families and a new visa for digital nomads.
We are also going to revolutionise the attraction of investment to the country, with measures to reduce bureaucracy for international investors, a new regulation for funds and new tax deductions for business angels.
And all of this accompanied by a revolution in the public sector, which is now by the side of entrepreneurs. In Spain it will be possible to launch a startup with only one euro of capital in just six hours.
Thanks to all of this, in 2023 Spain will become one of the most attractive destinations for professionals, investors, entrepreneurs and innovators from all over the world.