Fuelling Innovation and Talent: Barcelona’s Journey as a Cybersecurity Hub in Southern Europe

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Author Bio:

By Dr. Christian Schläger, Co-founder & CEO of Build38, provider of Mobile App protection solutions that combine AI and the strongest app shielding technology.

 

Over the past decade, Spain’s cybersecurity sector has grown significantly. Fuelled by an increase in government initiatives, strong tech talent, and rising demand for cybersecurity services globally, the value of the Spanish cybersecurity market reached nearly €2 billion in 2022, an increase of 14.7% over the previous year and 30% compared to just two years ago.

According to the ITU’s most recent Global Security Index, Spain ranks fourth in the world for nations most committed to cybersecurity, surpassed only by Estonia in the EU. With an ever-growing international talent pool and deepening government support, Barcelona, in particular, has begun to stand out as a hotspot for cybersecurity startups and innovation. Here’s a look at how Spain’s second-largest city is putting together all the necessary elements to accelerate the country’s position as a global leader in cybersecurity.

Spain’s rise in the cybersecurity sector 

 

Spain’s strategic geographic location has undoubtedly played a role in the success of its technology sector. Positioned at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and the Americas, Spain is not only a key gateway to Spanish-speaking Latin America but an ideal location for any company looking to expand globally.

One of the first major milestones in Spain’s cybersecurity history took place in 2012, when the cybersecurity company VirusTotal was acquired by Google. This was also an important moment for the city of Malaga, where VirusTotal was originally founded in 2004 by Bernardo Quintero.

Since then, Malaga has rapidly evolved into a hub for international technology companies, many of which operate in the cybersecurity industry. More than 600 companies have set up offices in the Malaga Tech Park, and in 2018, Google announced its plans to open a third European Security Engineering Center (GSEC) in Malaga (due to open in 2023), another achievement for both the city and countrywide efforts to further position Spain as a cybersecurity hub. Google has also launched a Cybersecurity Growth Academy to support cybersecurity startups and provide them with access to leading experts at GSEC in Málaga.

Government support of cybersecurity innovation has also played an important role in the growth of the sector. In 2013, Spain approved its first National Cybersecurity Strategy, updated in 2019 in an effort to create a modern cybersecurity framework inclusive of all relevant actors in the digital ecosystem and to encourage ongoing public-private collaboration. In 2019, the government also launched INCIBE Emprende, a program designed to incubate cybersecurity companies, with €191 million in available funding. Another €137 million was also set aside to invest in innovative small and medium-sized cybersecurity enterprises (SMEs).

New cybersecurity education and training programs are also launching constantly across Spain, helping to further promote the development of the sector. The University of Malaga recently announced the country’s first degree in Cybersecurity and Artificial Intelligence, to be taught during the 2023-2024 academic year. The Technical University of Catalonia has also introduced a Master’s Degree in Cybersecurity Management. Meanwhile, training programs like itrainsec, founded by Dasha Díaz in Barcelona, focus on providing cybersecurity training to businesses, as Spain ranks third for countries with the most cyberattacks on companies.

24,000 cybersecurity experts are needed to fill the talent gap in Spain alone.

However, there is still a massive shortage of cybersecurity talent. An estimated 24,000 cybersecurity experts are needed to fill the talent gap in Spain alone. And while many cities across Spain have been successful at attracting international tech talent, thanks to affordable living costs and startup-friendly environments, Barcelona is in a particularly strong position to attract even more cybersecurity talent to Spain and help close this gap.

Tackling the cybersecurity talent shortage

 

Barcelona is home to over 2,000 startups, and has the largest amount of office space occupied by tech companies of any European city. The Catalan capital is considered the third-favorite European city to launch a startup, behind Berlin and London. In a 2021 BCG report, Barcelona ranked sixth globally for the number of startups and ninth for attracting talent.

Over the past two years, Barcelona has seen a renewed increase in the arrival of international talent, and at higher rates than in previous years. In 2021, the city attracted 4,737 digital professionals from other cities, 16% more than in 2019. Today, one out of every five people living in the city is foreign, according to census data, and Barcelona’s foreign residents are, on average, more highly-educated, with over 40% having a higher education qualification. A new startup law and digital nomad visa have also helped encourage entrepreneurs to relocate to Spain and set up their businesses. Though these initiatives just launched recently, if successful, they could have a major impact on Spain’s talent pool for many years to come.

According to the Catalonia Trade & Investment website, more than 65 cybersecurity startups are based in Barcelona. A recent cybersecurity report by ACCIÓ-Catalonia Trade & Investment also revealed more than 400 companies across the region dedicated to the sector.

The Catalan government considers cyber threat prevention a top priority, and has dedicated resources to boosting the security sector. Attracting talent is also one of the four strategic pillars of the Catalan Cybersecurity Agency, and the city continues to show its commitment to building the infrastructure and resources necessary for innovative firms to thrive. Organisations such as the Digital Catalonia Alliance and the annual Barcelona Cybersecurity Congress (BCC) are also helping power and promote awareness of the local cybersecurity ecosystem.

Paving the way for the next generation of cybersecurity in Spain

 

With success stories like VirusTotal (acquired by Google), AlienVault (acquired by AT&T), and Devo (Spain’s only cybersecurity unicorn), Spain has already made a name for itself on the global cybersecurity stage. As geopolitical tensions rise and new technologies like IoT and generative AI continue to create a whole new set of cyber risks, the country is more than ready to welcome the next generation of cybersecurity entrepreneurs and businesses tackling these threats. Although Spain’s cybersecurity sector still has many challenges to overcome, particularly in the areas of talent, education, and diversity, cybersecurity initiatives are gaining more support, helping to solidify the country’s leadership position in both the European and global cybersecurity ecosystem.

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