Arganzuela: the Madrid district whose startup ecosystem deserves to be put on the map

6 min read
05 Dec 2018

hile you might have heard that Spain is set to beat Japan for its high life expectancy, chances are you’ve never heard of Madrid’s district of Arganzuela. Marte Martin, a local in Arganzuela who runs a venture agency in the Spanish capital, writes that the place he calls home is naturally growing into a global hub for startups.

Madrid Río park. Photo: @cavilesphoto

On the southern outskirts of the center of Madrid lies Arganzuela, one of the Spanish capital’s 21 districts which also happens to be the city’s fastest-growing district. Arganzuela’s history, which roots back to the Reconquista period in the 8th century AD, is very much associated with the evolution of the old city of Madrid.

The region represented the frontier between the Christian Kingdoms in the north and the Islamic Caliphate of Cordoba in the south. A magnificent fortress once stood where the Royal Palace stands today, overlooking what would for centuries become the pastures of Arganzuela.

During the 18th century, the first inhabitants of Arganzuela – immigrants from other parts of the Iberian Peninsula – started to settle in the area. Construction became the first main employment source, and in the 1850s the railway arrived. In just a few years, Arganzuela went from being the poorest part of town to the city’s industrial hub.

Almost two centuries later, Arganzuela is swiftly transforming into a startup hub. In the past few years, entrepreneurial talent from across the globe, an essential element of any ecosystem, has been streaming in.

Jobs are being created and people have been steadily moving into the different ‘barrios’ (wards) of the district in search of more space, lower rents, and a taste of Arganzuela’s unique quality of life.

It’s moreover become a hub in the city for venture investors to meet, and where entrepreneurs and corporations can co-exist to test products and exchange innovative developments.

Growth in many areas

While in other metropolises across the globe, innovative centers have been created with the help of local government initiatives, Madrid has a different story. What’s interesting is that it’s becoming a hub for startups in a natural way, and at the center of the action is Arganzuela.

Spain is already home to several well-known tech companies, such as Cabify, Glovo, CornerJob, SportAHome, TypeForm, Fon and LingoKids. Now, the country’s capital is home to a rising number of accelerators, incubators, coworking spaces and investment opportunities.

New ventures are being created, and companies like Amazon, Google, Daimler AG, Repsol and Ericsson are moving in. There are also unofficial talks of Netflix looking for office space in the district.

Thanks, in part, to Madrid’s newly stimulated economic growth, the district has seen many new startups setting up in the area. Parclick, ShuttleCloud, 24Symbols, Localistico and Triporate are just a few of the city’s first-generation startups to establish their headquarters in Arganzuela.

It can be argued that with the arrival of coworking spaces like WeWork and Spaces in Madrid in 2017 came a shift towards an entrepreneurial culture. It wasn’t an accident that Spaces chose to base its first two locations in Arganzuela. Along with a handful of other locations across the globe, the district is also home to a Google Campus (now known as Google for Startups).

Perreault Bridge. Photo: @cavilesphoto

Matadero is a huge space which houses theatres, expo halls, a modern art museum, a coworking space, an accelerator, Telefonica’s eSports Center, various startups and much more. It is located in Arganzuela and is now known as Madrid’s main creative hub.

Educational programs in entrepreneurship are also popping up in the district and spreading across the city. KeepCoding and IronHack, Madrid’s best-known coding schools, are both located in Arganzuela.

Though Madrid lacks the financial might of London, Berlin or New York, its emergence as a city of opportunity, drive to promote startups, status as a gateway to Latin America and high quality of life make it a melting pot for talent, taste, and tenacity.

Madrid has also shown its commitment  to making life easier for early-stage companies. The various administrative systems which entrepreneurs and businesses have often complained about are being modernized and more and more administrative processes are going online.

The city also offers guidance for entrepreneurs and startups in terms of permits, applications and licenses, as well as free educational courses if you are based in the capital.

Organizations like Madrid Emprende provide a link between businesses and the different administrations, making the process of setting up a business more seamless than in the past.

Not to mention expats interested in setting up shop here can do so with relative ease, thanks to the introduction in 2013 of a law which allows for entrepreneurship visas.

Life in Madrid

It’s no surprise that innovative and creative types are turning their attention to Madrid as a potential place to set up shop.

The cost of living in Spain is 40 to 50 percent lower than in other entrepreneurial cities like Copenhagen, London or New York. With recent investment into public amenities and the government implementing a number of initiatives to support the city’s sustainable development,  the quality of life in Madrid is at an all-time high.

In summer this year, Monocle’s Quality of Life survey named Madrid the seventh most liveable city in the world, behind Munich, Tokyo, Vienna, Zurich, Copenhagen and Berlin.

Additionally, Madrid was named the third most expat-friendly place in the world by InterNations’ 2017 Expat Insider ranking. It was also found to be the number one city in the world for its friendliness toward the LGBT community, a ranking last year by apartment rentals search-engine, Nestpick, revealed.

Efforts are geared towards making sure that Madrileños enjoy clean air, clean water and a selection of open, green spaces. Located on the banks of the river Manzanares in the heart of Arganzuela lies a park called Madrid Río which exemplifies the city’s character of enthusiasm and sobriety.

The park, which offers nearly 10 km of running paths along the river, has won multiple urban design prizes, including the prestigious Veronica Rudge Green Prize. An additional 8 km of cycling paths are currently under construction to connect the northwest side of the city to the east side. Indeed, 2018 may just be the greenest year ever in Madrid’s history.

Life in Arganzuela

Arganzuela mixes the old with the modern and the industrial with the residential. It is the part of Madrid where creativity and an array of industries collide. This varied mix is reflected in the architecture of the district.

You can expect to see industrial buildings in the Neo-Mudéjar style (e.g. Atocha train station and Google Campus) and in the Rationalism style (e.g. The Fruit Market and Parque Sur Building). You’ll also be able to find warehouses dispersed between residential neighborhoods.

Locals welcome the startup culture in their neighborhood, arguably due to the district’s industrial history. Since creative industries have long called the area home, Arganzuela has more access to high-quality talent.

Whereas Spaniards have been known to say their country is different from the rest of Europe or the world, it can be argued that Arganzuela is different from Spain.

As ideas and creativity become the main source of competitive advantage in the 21st century, Arganzuela represents a new kind of innovation hub which is less the result of government policies, and more the consequence of many stakeholders building a sustainable entrepreneurship ecosystem together.

Main photo of Segovia Bridge in Madrid Río park by @cavilesphoto