Malaga, a solid innovative destination for entrepreneurs

Google and Ericsson are some of the international companies that have found a place to settle and grow in Malaga. Local talent, institutional support and open collaboration between the public and private sectors are key to the success of a region that has been completely transformed in just three decades

Almost one and a half million tourists travelled through Malaga in 2019, their record year after a decade of growth. Great food, climate and beaches are some of the reasons, to which we can add a varied cultural offering and a city that appeals due to its Mediterranean harbour and its history, which goes back to the Phoenicians.

But Malaga is not just an international tourist destination. It’s also a region that, since the 1990s, has been working to give its people the necessary tools so that talent and ideas would not have to leave in search of other destinations. Madrid, Catalonia and the Basque Country lead the way in terms of entrepreneurship in Spain, but the Andalusian city has managed to earn a place on the list after thirty years working in the field of innovation.

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Google, which will invest $650 million in its new European cybersecurity centre planned for 2023 in the city, and Ericsson with its 5G technology research team, are examples of the fact that Malaga is no longer just a place for tourists, but also an entrepreneurial destination for international giants and other companies. With public-private policies and initiatives laying the foundations, the city has become a veritable technological hub in the innovation landscape both within and outside of Spain.

A change of mentality that came about 30 years ago

As Spain’s sixth most populous city with almost 568,000 inhabitants, Malaga sits between a large and medium-sized city that knows how to exploit the virtues of both. Enrique Nadales, Director of the Municipal Institute for Training and Employment at Malaga City Council, explains;

“Our city is a privileged place to live and work, with both its location and its climate being advantageous. Home-grown talent struggles to leave and talent from outside, once here, wants to stay”. The need was rather to change the mentality of people who, for cultural and historical reasons, had been focused on other types of professional activities.

We committed to making the city and the wider region a place for innovation, we had to teach young people that being an entrepreneur was a way of earning a living

“We began in the 1990s, when we decided to commit to making the city and the wider region a place for innovation, and that was hard because it was a cultural issue, we had to teach young people that being an entrepreneur was a way of earning a living”, Nadales recalls. In the director’s words, this transformative effort took time, coordination and dedication, but “it was worth it”, and the current scene is proof of that.

The secret of success – adapting to change

In Malaga there’s a place called Málaga TechPark that brings together almost all business activity, talent and related initiatives. It is currently home to more than 600 companies and some 20,000 workers. Today, after more than 25 years, this centre is the great business hub of the region and generates 20% of the city’s GDP.

Felipe Romera, Director of Málaga TechPark, believes that the merit comes from the fact that “we’ve taken risks over the years to adapt to change” and to navigate the various crises that have arisen in recent times. “We started out as a centre for electronics, then the Internet came along and we made an effort to provide the best possible connection. Later, with the crisis in the construction industry, we focused on delivering productivity and innovation services to businesses. Now with the advent of digital technologies, we’ve reinvented ourselves again”, muses Romera.

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Adapting to the times and the needs of the market also means that the number of companies fluctuates during the year, but the overall total tends to be stable. “If we count companies and startups, every year around 200 are active, with 100 coming onto the scene and 100 going. Among these, the startups are most prone to movement due to their nature and the opportunities of each moment”, explains the director.

TV contests and Silicon Valley ideas

The two major players helping to make innovation and entrepreneurship in Malaga tick – the local authority and the technology hub – are responsible for the most innovative, striking initiatives currently happening on Andalusia soil.

The first, developed by the City Council, are TV contests that involve the participation of the region’s young people. The director says “we have one called ‘El premio junior’ (The junior prize), which is like the talent show ‘Operación Triunfo’ for entrepreneurs, where they present their ideas and a professional panel of judges chooses the best, and ‘SOS Empresas’ (SOS Companies) that is along similar lines to Alberto Chicote’s ‘Kitchen nightmare’ programme, where companies that are struggling are given the support of specialists to help them get back on their feet”.

We took an idea from Silicon Valley that involves helping entrepreneurs, inspiring them with a project that is close to true market conditions

The second noteworthy initiative is the Limón Verde (Lime) strategy, a new scheme from Málaga TechPark to provide backing to startups at a time when funding is not as forthcoming as it was in the past.

“We took an idea from Silicon Valley that involves helping entrepreneurs, inspiring them with a project that is close to true market conditions. Large companies with a presence in the park provide real projects that they have a need for, so that university students and startups can try to bring them to fruition”, Felipe Romera explains.

Limón Verde’s ultimate goal, according to the TechPark’s director, is to allow those just starting out to receive ideas that have a true market value, so that they don’t get lost wading through options that are often not financially viable.

The fruits of all the effort: a generation of entrepreneurs

As well as numbers and businesses, all this effort translates into people. Manuel Agustín Heredia, founder and executive director of BeSoccer, represents a generation of local talent that hasn’t wanted to leave the city and has been putting Malaga on the business map for more than a decade.

“In Malaga we have access to a large talent pool, good connections thanks to the airport and the AVE and the cost of living is cheaper than in the big capitals too, so it’s financially worthwhile to stay. Besides all this, it’s my homeland, and I know that if I took my business out I wouldn’t be as rooted or as committed to the project,” Manuel says.

We are a generation of entrepreneurs who have managed to turn our ideas into successful businesses here

Founded in Malaga in 2008, BeSoccer now has a staff of 160, and is a leading digital platform in sports information globally. It has over 35 million unique users per month, and is forecasting a turnover of €10 million for this year.

“We are a generation of entrepreneurs who have managed to turn our ideas into successful businesses here. VirusTotal, a cybersecurity company that Google acquired because of its potential, Up To Down, a leading mobile app download site in Europe and BeSoccer are examples of this”, claims the executive director.

Turning Malaga into a destination for tourists and entrepreneurs has been the result of many actors working together – the City Council, business organisations, universities and institutes, plus the efforts of the entrepreneurs themselves. This confluence of synergies means that Malaga in 2021 is one of the most interesting and appealing places to undertake entrepreneurial activities.

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