Skip to main content

This year, the 15ª edición BIO-Europe Spring® event was scheduled to be held in Barcelona for the fourth time but, unfortunately, it had to move online due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, Catalonia had a strong presence, making up 65% of the Spanish delegation, with 49 companies out of 1,400 participating in the congress in total.

The event, which ended on March 25, featured collaboration from Biocat and CataloniaBio & HealthTech and ACCIÓ as the Platinum Sponsor, enabling professionals from the BioRegion to participate under advantageous conditions, which encouraged their participation. 

In this sense, the lecture program featured one session that sought to bring visibility to the potential of startups in the ecosystem, as one of Europe’s main innovation hubs in health. Biocat CEO Jordi Naval presented data from BioRegion of Catalonia Life Sciences and Healthcare Outlook 2020 - Challenges Ahead, including the record investment startups raised in 2020. After that, participants heard from representatives of the companies involved in the largest operations: Ona Therapuetics, Neuroelectrics and Koa Health. 

Secrets of the BioRegion’s success, according to startups

Judit Anido, general manager of CataloniaBio & HealthTech, moderated the event, which examined the strength of investment in Catalonia and the reasons the BioRegion has become one of the most important innovation hubs in Europe, despite the pandemic. 

The representatives of the three startups valued very highly the qualities present in the BioRegion, and specifically in the city of Barcelona, that attract international talent and its dynamic business fabric in the life sciences and healthcare, which all three agreed can be summarized in three main strengths:

  • First, the area has solid footing in scientific research and a rich ecosystem of universities, research centers and hospitals that produce top-notch scientific research. 
  • Second, that there is a local industry of business, venture capital and experienced investment funds. 
  • Third, and no less important, is the strong entrepreneurial spirit that is common throughout Catalonia.



When he was speaking, Stephen Dunne, Chief Digital Therapeutics Officer at Koa Health, noted how they have always used local talent from the beginning. “The network of universities in Barcelona was key in our first phase of research, as well as in commercialization. You don’t have to go to the United Kingdom or the United States to find good engineers or designers. We have the talent right here on our doorstep,” he noted. 

Valerie Vanhooren, CEO and co-founder of Ona Therapeutics, shared this opinion. During her speech, she highlighted the quality of the research centers here in the city. “They are exceptional and investors are increasingly aware of this,” she recognized. Because the BioRegion is ranked fifth among European cities in venture capital attracted to invest in innovation and startups, behind only London, Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin, in the latest State of European Tech report. 

This is what has pushed the life sciences and healthcare ecosystem in Catalonia to exponential growth in recent years. A fact that has been witnessed by Ana Maiques, CEO and co-founder of Neuroelectrics Cambridge, who moved to Boston six years ago after setting up the company in Barcelona. “There is a new generation of health entrepreneurs in Barcelona that are nourishing the ecosystem and that is fantastic,” she said. “The city has a strong ecosystem, both in research and in technology.” 

Exceptional indicators

And it is these qualities of the BioRegion that made 2020 a record year in terms of investment. Biocat CEO Jordi Naval took advantage of the event to share the results reflected in the updated version of BioRegion of Catalonia Life Sciences and Healthcare Outlook 2020 - Challenges Ahead.
According to this report, last year they raised €226 million in investment, more than ever, doubling in just two years the €112 million in 2018. 

In terms of the data, Joan Martí, director of Cluster Management at ACCIÓ who closed the panel discussion, noted that Catalonia produces 1% of global science and is home to 9,000 multinational corporations. “For two years in a row (2020 and 2021), the Financial Times has named Catalonia the best location in Southern Europe for foreign investment,” he noted.

Sign up for our newsletters

Stay up-to-date on the latest news, events and trends in the BioRegion.