The deputy mayor’s ambitious plan to turn Madrid into a startup innovation hub

4 min read
02 Jul 2019

rior to the May 26th mayoral elections in Madrid, Startup Guide contributor and local venture associate Marte Martin interviewed Begoña Villacís, one of the candidates. The lawyer and now deputy mayor of Madrid spoke with Marte about her entrepreneurial vision for the city, including her proposals to promote a sustainable and growing ecosystem.

Begoña Villacís and Marte Martin. Photo: Javier Gámez (Arganzuela district spokesperson, Citizens Party)

While Madrid is frequently recognized as one of most liveable cities in the world, the city lacks the entrepreneurial vision necessary to support the development of an ecosystem for the long-term.

But now, with Begoña Villacís (Citizens Party) being sworn in as deputy mayor on June 15th in the government of mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida (People’s Party), maybe that will change, as she’s set to oversee topics such as economics, innovation and entrepreneurship. 

Madrid's former mayor, Manuela Carmena (Más Madrid), will be remembered for her frugality, cutting a significant chunk of the city’s debt, aiming to reduce air pollution, helping to curb rising rental prices and perhaps most importantly, for promoting and supporting entrepreneurship throughout Spain.

Shortly before the May 26th mayoral elections in the Spanish capital, Begoña sat down to chat with me and touched on her most significant electoral proposals, from committing to the creation of Madrid’s very own innovation hub to making the creative industries a priority.

Transforming a former fish market into an innovation hub

Much to my surprise, Begoña seemed very familiar with global entrepreneurial ecosystems; she spoke in detail about cities like Boulder, Buenos Aires, London and Shenzhen. She also mentioned she was impressed by how far cities such as Lisbon, Barcelona and Paris have come in terms of promoting entrepreneurship.

Inspired by the innovation hubs created in Lisbon and Paris (Hub Criativo Beato and Station F, respectively), Begoña promoted the creation of an innovation center – currently an unused 20,000 m² building owned by the city.

It’s time to take advantage of the synergies being created in Arganzuela.

“One of our flagship proposals is to take advantage of the Mercado de Toledo,” she said. The Mercado de Toledo is a former fish market in Madrid located on the periphery of the innovative and creative district of Arganzuela

“It will be a technology and knowledge center which will house coworking and networking spaces,” she said, adding that “it’s time to take advantage of the synergies being created in Arganzuela.”

According to Begoña, the hub would also house a new innovation agency, Madrid Innovation and Entrepreneurship Agency, whose main mandate is to ease all administrative tasks that entrepreneurs and small businesses face. She said the hub would also promote initiatives around sustainability, the environment, safety and the general wellbeing of citizens.

Mercado de Toledo. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Improving Madrid’s ease of doing business

Begoña added that her team will overhaul the existing administrative system and work with all regional and national administrations to ease the process of setting up a business, helping to position it among the top places in the ‘Doing business’ ranking.

Among other aspects of her entrepreneurial proposals, Begoña said that she supports the creation of training programs aimed at unemployed youth, those who aspire to become entrepreneurs, as well as those participating in small and medium businesses. 

She added: “We will simplify the application process of public contracts to increase the pool of potential suppliers and providers, and to optimize the use of public resources.”

“Startups are being created in Arganzuela in spite of a lack of support from city hall,” Begoña said, questioning that “if startups have very interesting proposals which enrich our networks of innovation, why can’t city hall do the same?”

“We are one of Europe’s capitals but we’ve invested the least in innovation and the creative industries during the last four years,” she said.

Empowering creative industries

Matadero, one of Madrid’s main centers for the creative industries, will moreover get a new lease on life under Begoña’s watch. 

“We need to bring people back to Matadero after years and years of declining activity and a declining number of visitors,” she said, adding that Matadero should be at the forefront of culture not only in Madrid, but across Spain.

“We will continue to support the institutions which are already housed in Matadero, and at the same time, we will guarantee a constant flow of new activities which will enrich its cultural legacy,” she said.

Big data, mobility and industry

The new administration also aims to create a noteworthy footprint in the city with its big data and smart mobility services. Begoña’s electoral program emphasizes Madrid’s big data capabilities, stating that it should be available to citizens and businesses.

“The investment will provide Madrid with a more modern and technological identity, and ultimately, create value-adding services for its citizens,” her program states. 

Smart mobility, and electric mobility more specifically, will be another area of focus for the new administration. The aim is to install 100 new charging stations in streets and in city-owned parking areas. As well, the creation of new financing schemes to promote the installation of charging spots in private homes and parking areas is in the cards. 

Also under Begoña’s watch is the aim to grow the city’s industrial sector. A plan for new urban infrastructure will be developed and coordinated throughout all administrations and districts with the objective of “revitalizing industrial zones, the development of tech and innovation-based companies, and ultimately, create more smart solutions for the city.”

To find out more about Madrid’s startup ecosystem, see Marte’s articles about the Spanish capital’s buzzing startup hub, the Arganzuela district, and why Madrid is the ideal place to launch a company.

Main photo of Matadero by Unsplash/Vinicius Amano