Spain: launching big data startups

Written by Gabriel Rey, Embassy of Switzerland in Spain

Spain suffered a harsh economic crisis the past few years, resulting in less public investment in cutting-edge technologies. Thus, innovations related to Big Data had to come from the private sector and individual initiatives, although a few cases were supported by the central or regional government.

Now, macroeconomic indicators show the Spanish economy is on the road to recovery. Nevertheless, the high rate of unemployment, in particular among young people, could seriously jeopardize the genuine value of the macroeconomic progress. Part of a solution could be increasing the creation of companies in sectors that have a high potential to generate quality jobs. Big Data is, with no doubt, one such sector. Those are the reasons why I choose to present Incubio here, a Barcelona-based company whose aim is to transform ideas based on the use of Big Data into concrete entrepreneurial projects.

Barcelona

Barcelona’s technology district 22@Barcelona, Picture by 22atbarcelona

As Pablo Casado, Chief Technical Officer of Incubio, said “Big Data is there, but what to do with it? There are huge markets that remain unexplored, and we are still lacking data analysts to help get this work done. As specialists in this sector, we are trying to close this gap by choosing startups and teams that are pioneering ahead.”[1] Subsequently, I will present three startups incubated at Incubio based on original ideas using the latest technologies, which are currently hiring and growing.

Incubio was founded in 2011 by Andrés Manso and co-founded by Simon Lee, actual general director, joined by a group of highly qualified young scientists from the most prestigious technology institutions in the US (Carnegie, MIT) and Spain, with the purpose of helping young entrepreneurs with ideas to use Big Data to launch their business. According to Dataconomy, Incubio is one of the Top 3 Big Data startup incubators in the world.

In order to create a stimulating ecosystem for innovation in Big Data, it´s necessary to go much further than simply advise startups. Indeed, once an idea is selected, a shareholder agreement is signed between Incubio and the entrepreneur. So, the future company becomes a part of Incubio’s ecosystem. Once a startup joins Incubio, they will receive a wide array of services, from shared office space, assistance in the search for financing, marketing, technical, design and legal support, and more. The more startups are launched, the more the ecosystem grows, and so does the network. This aim of creating an ecosystem is supported by Incubio’s own Big Data platform, Yield. It has been designed to facilitate access to Big Data for students, scholars and startups. It also contributes to the ecosystem by sharing the data provided by the startups to the entire network. The people who come to Incubio often are young graduates, with an average age of 26-27 years. For most of them, creating a company is their first professional experience! To illustrate the quality of their ideas, I have chosen to briefly present three startups: Tekstum, Quizlyse and Signaturit.

Tekstum, founded by Marc Santandreu and Marc Martinez, had the original idea to take advantage of Big Data to provide information on how readers feel when reading particular books. To that end, Tekstum uses the Natural Language Processing technologies. The area includes aspects such as Sentiment Analysis, Emotion Mining, Concept Extraction and Social Consumer Relation Marketing. What I found interesting is the idea to apply cutting-edge technologies where it was perhaps not expected, in the cultural sector of publishing.

Quizlyse, founded by Diego Torres, uses Big Data to automatically transform any content into interactive social quiz games in real-time, for example the content of a website. The idea rides on the popularity of quiz games and the originality of the application lays in its automatization, and thereby needs absolutely no maintenance. A quiz game can be a fantastic tool to engage and communicate with entertaining means.

It is interesting to see among the clients of Quizlyse, which are for example some leading Spanish sports magazines, the Mexican politician Jaime Rodriguez. This popular figure, called “El Bronco”, recently appeared in media around the world for winning the regional elections of the Mexican state of Nuevo León without pertaining to any political party. This example demonstrates the very broad potential clients Quizlyse can help, due to its role in enhancing marketing and communication. Indeed, I think a quiz can be an excellent tool for politicians to transmit their campaign messages and reach a public they would not have attained if it was not through a social game. Quizlyse also demonstrates how a simple concept, the quiz, can be exploited with the help of Big Data to offer a tool possessing a wide range of uses, such as in the education sector where the technology is also being used.

Signaturit, founded by Juan Zamora, claims to be the first e-signature solution to comply with the EU requirements for “advanced electronic signatures” managed through any email client. There, the remarkable effort lies not in the idea but rather in the identification of a weakness in the market of e-signature. We all have thought, or at least heard someone complaining about a technology and, often with reason, “finally it was more complicated and took more time than with the old-fashioned method”.

Signaturit emphasizes the simplicity and rapidity of its use. Indeed, Signaturit doesn’t need you to download any application. All you need to do is enter your normal email account, attach the file you want signed, and add “signatur.it” to the end of the email address of whoever you want to sign the document and wait for them to sign it.  Beside the efforts to make it intuitive, what appears impressive is the range of technological tools ensuring full legality and validity. Signaturit captures more data than just the email address where the document has been sent or the geolocation at the moment of the signature. It uses the biometric technology of the signature by analyzing points in it, the speed, acceleration and even the pressure made on the screen at the moment of signing. All this data is time stamped and encrypted, preventing any modification of the data captured. By doing so, it is able to assure that the data attributed to the signature has only been captured at the exact moment of signing. Additional levels of authentication can be added, such as voice or photos. Signaturit launched in Incubio and now operates independently after going through the acceleration process by the startup accelerator Startupbootcamp Amsterdam.

These three startups briefly presented here illustrate the creativity, good identification of market niches and the knowledge of cutting-edge technologies by young Spanish graduates. The example of Incubio and the startups it incubates shows that Big Data is not only for banks, insurances or public administrations but also a wonderful opportunity for small companies and young talented people to take their future in their own hands.

Canodrom

Canodrom Creative Industries Research Park, Barcelona’s ancient canódromo de la Meridiana. Picture by Canòdrom,

 

To conclude, I think the common will of the central government, the Catalan government, the municipality of Barcelona and the Spanish telecom operator Telefonica to make this city an international hub for cutting-edge mobile technologies certainly allured Incubio’s founder and other highly qualified Spanish brains to return.

Indeed, Barcelona has been chosen by the world association of communication industry, GSMA, which gathers nearly 800 operators with more than 250 companies to host the Mobile World Congress, one of the major leading international events in mobile technologies, and thus big data based products. Many events for startups, such as 4YFN, Startup Weekend, and more are organized in Barcelona during the year. The technology district, 22@Barcelona, is constantly expanding, providing great spaces for tech companies. All of this is in line with keeping the Mobile World Congress in the city, by maintaining Barcelona´s advantages against other cities eager to pay much more to acquire such a prestigious event. Thus, Incubio’s ecosystem benefits from being within Barcelona’s bigger technological ecosystem.

The success of Barcelona as a tech city is a beautiful example of collaboration between the central government, the regional government and the municipality and between the public-private sectors. Additionally, as Big Data technologies can be applied to almost any sector, such collaboration can benefit everyone.

[1] Reported from my interview with Pablo Casado

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