Blended model to support entrepreneurship & SMEs

The Problem

The City of Barcelona showed a pioneering political will in 1986 to create Barcelona Activa, a Local Development Agency to promote entrepreneurship and job creation as means for economic development and social inclusion.

In 1986 Barcelona had a high rate of unemployment, up to 21%, industrial employment accounted for 41% of total employment, and people employed in the service sector only accounted for 52% of total employment. In this context, the mission of Barcelona Activa was to foster the transformation of the economic model of Barcelona and its workforce to move from more mature industrial economic sectors to those of the knowledge economy through entrepreneurship, business growth, innovation, human capital, professional opportunities & quality employment.

Barcelona Activa started implementing entrepreneurship support services through a personalised and decentralised service offered from the city districts. The service was based on a personalised one-to-one model of entrepreneurship coaching. After some years, in 2003, the entrepreneurship rate in Catalonia was of 7.68%, higher than the Spanish and most European countries rates, but lower than the 11% - 12% rates of countries with strong entrepreneurial traditions as the USA or Australia.

With the described model of delivery support services to entrepreneurs, Barcelona Activa managed to coach, yearly, a relatively low amount of entrepreneurs (11,323) and business projects (1,350), achieving a relatively low business creation rate of 45% (592 new companies that created 1,340 jobs).

This system had as main handicaps:

- A certain slowness, as each expert had to coach a large number of projects, so timeslots from one interview to the next could be of up to 15 days.
- The system was almost totally based in personalised coaching performed on site by coaches and offered little room for the user’s personal autonomy and initiative.
- Expert coaches had to dedicate part of their time to administrative tasks (comprehensive user & business projects follow up paperwork)
- On line resources and contents, played a residual role in the model, so the service implied than users had to go to the service centres many times to get the project coached and assessed.
- Lack of specific programmes to support projects in strategic economic sectors

To improve the service quality and optimise resources, Barcelona Activa launched a new action plan in 2004 that introduced a new concept: an innovative blended model based offering universal support to entrepreneurs, identified as the city’s main drivers for employment and innovation. This model combines on line contents, executive training for entrepreneurs and expert coaching in innovation environments to achieve a high critical mass, results and impact while ensuring cost efficiency.

Using this new blended model the Glòries Entrepreneurship Centre coaches yearly a higher amount of entrepreneurs (33,897) and business projects (2,490), with a much higher business creation rate of 69% (1,700 new companies that create 3,200 jobs).

To perform this new service, using the new blended model, from January 2004, the municipal service was centralised in a new facility, the Glòries Entrepreneurship Centre, installed in a refurbished industrial warehouse.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
The initiative deploys a new system of massive attention and while improving service quality, by applying an innovative blended model of services (on line + on site) offering three types of services: (1) on line entrepreneurship contents and tools, (2) training in entrepreneurship basics and (3) expert coaching in innovation environments fostering business cooperation. The model has as main advantages its flexibility, the promotion of user’s autonomy and the cost effectiveness.

(1) Firstly, the model provides digital entrepreneurship tools and contents integrated in the web portal (available in English, Spanish and Catalan). The portal features digital tools to produce a swot analysis of business ideas (Test Idea), to autonomously produce a business plan (On line Business Plan), for the self-assessment and improvement of entrepreneurial skills (the Keys to enterprise), and for the development of a growth strategy for microbusinesses (Strategic Growth Plan). Some other features of the webportal include on line guides on financing and legal statuses & procedures, a financial calculator, and relevant information related to the entrepreneurial process, permanently updated by the inner team under different formats: in-depth reports, articles and useful links. Yearly the tool On line Business Plan has some 4,000 new registered users.

Thus, by using IT tools, the model promotes the autonomy of the entrepreneurs and the combination of the IT tools with elements (2) and (3) has allowed reaching a more added value contribution from the staff, as they can focus their advice on more complex issues of the entrepreneurship process.

(2) Secondly, the model provides short-format training activities in entrepreneurship basics, a programme of group training activities to acquire knowledge or entrepreneurial skills. This programme offers 45 2-hour knowledge “capsules” taught by experts. The contents of the capsules refer to key issues to start up (funding, legal procedures..). The high frequency of their programming allow user to create their personal itinerary. Each month more than 1,300 participants attend the training activities.

(3)Thirdly, a one-to-one technical coaching service of high added value, provided by a team of technical experts. This service is designed to provide information, contacts, networking and to solve doubts and requires no previous appointment.

The service’s wide gateway is a daily group welcome session open to any entrepreneur wanting to start a business in Barcelona (250 sessions yearly with more than 9,000 attendees).
This universal approach is complemented by high value added tailor-made programmes designed to support specifically target groups with special needs as female, junior, senior or economically deprived entrepreneurs and the creation and growth of companies in highly innovative and strategic economic sectors such as digital technologies & internet, creative industries, clean technologies or biotech & life sciences.

The complementarities of the universal approach with the tailor made programmes for strategic sectors and specific target groups, allow access to the critical mass of entrepreneurs in the city and, at the same time, support the groups that need more intensive coaching, improving access and promoting equity and also encourages the local economic sectors with more potential.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The blended model was proposed and designed by the City of Barcelona through Barcelona Activa, the Local Development Agency of the City of Barcelona. The agency's mission is to foster the transformation of Barcelona in terms of entrepreneurship, business growth, innovation, human capital and quality employment.

The centralisation of the service in a single facility and the strong involvement of the Barcelona City Council, through Barcelona Activa in this city initiative, have allowed the involvement of all the relevant stakeholders to ensure that more added value was brought to the service. This approach has allowed a high degree of complementarity and has managed to avoid duplication of services between different entities, while reaching a higher critical mass of entrepreneurs and SMEs. This stakeholder involvement has been developed in many fields related to the service performance:

In the field of the coaching to fund business projects, Barcelona Activa has signed bilateral agreements with some of the main local financial institutions that operate in Catalonia (Microbank, Caixabank, Catalunya Caixa, Banc Sabadell, BBVA, Banca Cívica) the main Catalan Business Angels Association (BANC), and is part of the INICIA scheme promoted by the Government of Catalonia that provides subsidised loans to business projects certified as feasible by expert institutions as Barcelona Activa.

In the area of support to the creation of companies in strategic economic sectors (tailor-made programmes for sectors), Barcelona Activa has the support of leading companies and institutions in these sectors such as Microsoft (Digital & Internet Sector), Gamesa (clean tech), Mediapro, Barcelona Design Centre, and the Catalan Institute of Cultural Industries (Creative Industries Sector).

In the area of support for the internationalization of SMEs, Barcelona Activa actively collaborates with the Chamber of Commerce of Barcelona in the organization of Business Bridges for Barcelona tech SMEs in California, China, Brazil, Scandinavia, United Kingdom or Mexico. Also with the Catalan Agency of business internationalization of the Government of Catalonia for the opening of international markets for local SMEs and agreements have been signed with leading business incubators in the ICT sector in Silicon Valley for the landing of Barcelona ICT companies in California.

In the area of the improvement of the business strategy of SMEs, Barcelona Activa has signed agreements with leading Barcelona-based business schools as ESADE and IESE, which resulted in the creation of a digital tool for designing a growth strategy (Strategic Growth Plan, co-designed with IESE Business School).

In the field of business cooperation Barcelona Activa actively collaborates with local SMEs associations as PIMEC (Association of Catalan SMEs), among others, and promotes its own Web 2.0 network for SMES and entrepreneurs with more than 1,500 member companies.

The service has also benefited from the funding by all the levels of public administration apart from the City Council: the Government of Catalonia, the Spanish Government and the Structural Funds of the European Union, funding that has made possible to perform the service free of cost for the users.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
Having in mind the lessons learnt by the handicaps of the old model, the new blended model was based in the following strategies to improve the service:

- A centralisation of the resources in a single but more powerful facility, with better IT fitted self-use spaces and coaching, training and networking areas open in a wider timetable, in short more resources for the entrepreneurs open to be used in a far more flexible and open manner.
- A concentration, rationalisation and optimization of the tasks of the human resources, from a staff of 28 business creation coaches in the old model the team was reduced to 7 coaches, managing to coach a higher number of business projects than with the old model, with more agility and service quality.
- The promotion of the on line dimension of the service, launching a webportal with useful tools and contents of entrepreneurship support that played a key role to promote the users’ autonomy in the process to turn their business idea into a feasible business projects.
- The openness of the model to all stakeholders involved in supporting entrepreneurship and SMEs, both at local and at international level, acting as a platform and thus, becoming a real city project. In fact, after some years, due also to this openness strategy, the model has become a national and international reference in the field of entrepreneurship support by transferring methodologies and tools to other cities all around the world (see section “Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?”).

Thus, the new model ensures a high quality service delivery with a creative solution aimed at meeting the needs of entrepreneurs, through a cost-free comprehensive support service that coaches entrepreneurs from the business idea to the creation of the company, through a feasible business project. The project provides entrepreneurs with an emblematic space in which users can build autonomously their own business projects, with easy access to all necessary information and coaching to produce business plans, get assessment of their feasibility and get assistance for the start up procedures.

The new centre provided an increase in the efficiency of the service from the previous model of more personalized and traditional coaching for entrepreneurs, through a blended model which combined on-line tools with training activities and personalized coaching. This blended model took advantage from the increasing access to new technologies and achieved the challenge of offering high quality coaching to a growing critical mass of entrepreneurs, while investing less financial and human resources. Nowadays, the global economic crisis makes this one, a challenge of vital importance in the development of the city of Barcelona and its society, where unemployment has reached 16%.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
The implementation of the new model, which started in January 2004 completed the following steps:

1. December 2003: closure / change of use of the previous 7 district service centres to concentrate the entrepreneurship support service in a single, bigger and better fitted: Glòries Entrepreneurship Centre, located in 22@, Barcelona’s Innovation District.

2. January 2004: rationalisation of the coaching team from seven teams with a total of 28 coaches to a single team of 7 coaches, a service director and a manager of the centre plus 2 administrative clerks. This new team saw increased their capacity to coach a far higher number of entrepreneurs and business projects with more agility and better service quality due to the key role of the online dimension of the service and the support of the comprehensive executive training programme in entrepreneurship basics.

3. Period 2004-2005:
- reorganization of the training activities programme, to become a useful tool for the coaching service, widening the offer of training offered and the flexibility of timetable to get it. - - Launch of a new unified database (GAT) for a comprehensive and systematized follow-up of users and business projects accessible by all the team.
- Improvement of the amount and features of the digital tools and contents available at the webportal (from 1 to 4 digital tools, available from 1 to 3 languages), using the funding of European projects that enabled the access to the tools by other European and Latin American cities, thus multiplying their impact overseas.
- Design of tailor made programmes for economic sectors & for specific target groups with special needs.

4. 2008: refurbishing of the Glòries Entrepreneurship Centre to make it more user-friendly, (new networking, socialising, funding, legal incorporation and pre-incubation areas for entrepreneurs, full availability of WIFI access, enlargement of the number of coaching, training and self-use spaces IT fitted spaces). The refurbishing took place to reshape the spaces of the centre to meet the demands and suggestions of the users expressed in the quality satisfaction questionnaires that assess the user’s level of satisfaction regarding every resource, programme, tool or activity offered by the centre.

5. 2009: launch of an initiative to attract foreign entrepreneurial talent (“Do it in Barcelona” Programme), which implied the full availability of the services, training activities, digital tools and resources in foreign languages (English, Chinese, Arabic depending on the tool) and guides and other materials to make easier the access of foreign entrepreneurs to the local resources.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
The new model shifted from a personalised one-to-one service to a massive attention system, so the main challenge to face was how to ensure the maintenance of an optimal service quality. To reach this objective the following major adjustments were introduced in the service:

a) Change of the users mindset: entrepreneurs were used to have a service centre located at their own district and a very personalized advice. Firstly it was necessary to raise awareness among Barcelona’s entrepreneurs that the new entrepreneurship support service would be centralised more powerful facility and implementing a new model based on line and on site resources with strong advantages.
Barcelona Activa promoted marketing campaigns in the local media informing about the new centre and the network of citizen attention offices of the Barcelona City Council at the boroughs and the municipal helpline 010 acts as prescribers of the service. The change was also possible because the city of Barcelona already enjoyed a comprehensive and reliable network of public transport.

b) Optimisation / higher efficiency of the coaching staff work: with the IT tools and an integrated group training activities programme of the new model, coaching staff could concentrate in higher added value functions as coaching & assessing feasibility of business projects, teaching training activities, creating and editing web portal contents. Also it was set up the system for users to be registered at the website to attend the sessions (service single gateway), thus the process to integrate their personal data & business project details in the centre’s database would be completed by them with no administrative paperwork to be dealt with by the coaches.

c) Administrative simplification: a new telematic fast track for the incorporation of companies so the centre becomes a one-stop-shop to incorporate private limited companies in 48 hours, using an extranet of DG SMEs of the Spanish Ministry of Industry. (from January 2008 to November 2011 700 Public Limited Companies have been incorporated in the centre using this fast track service)

d) Integration of the coaching for funding in the premises of the Centre: thanks to the signature of bilateral agreements with the main banking institutions, entrepreneurs no longer have to go to the bank to ask for funding, but the banks representatives interview them on a weekly basis at the centre’s “Funding space”. The centre is also part of INICIA (subsidized funding scheme for entrepreneurs of the Government of Catalonia).

e) Prioritisation of the cooperation with stakeholders: so the centre becomes a platform to promote partnerships among several operators (financial institutions, SME associations & networks, academic + R&D institutions, cluster developers…) are involved in providing services for the entrepreneurs and their start ups.

f) Promotion of the cooperation among entrepreneurs: with the goal of creating environments that encourage and make it easier for entrepreneurs to build relationships, part of the Centre is designed to enable open-format activities to be held or which require interaction among participants.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
Budget of the Centre: 3,500,000 Euros for the period 2004-2010

These financial resources have allowed the centre to coach from January 2004 until November 2011, 181,295 entrepreneurs and 12,665 business projects, with an estimate of 8,000 new businesses created.

Human Resources of the centre:, 7 coaches, a service director and a manager of the centre plus 2 administrative clerks, plus 4 officers in charge of the tailor made programmes.

Spaces and technical resources of the Centre:

Self-use space: self-use space where entrepreneurs have access to 25 co-working stations fitted with PCs, chairs, tables and printers. The self-consultation space includes 5 coaching areas where the business creation coaches solve the entrepreneurs’ queries. The whole centre and its outside pedestrian plaza have free wifi access.

Entrepreneurship hall: multipurpose room equipped with the latest translation and image technologies and seating 100 people. Used for a wide range of events: speeches, roundtable meetings, company presentations and working lunches. The group Welcome Sessions of the Centre are held in the Entrepreneurship Hall.

Training rooms: the centre has 4 multipurpose rooms that seat up to 25 people, ideal for training and for holding group activities. Each room is well-equipped with a computer, a beamer, screen and flip chart for the delivery of training activities. The rooms are also equipped with 25 lightweight chairs with built-in folding table, allowing easy changes in distribution according to the session features and needs. The Centre also has a IT room where practical economic-financial plan training sessions are held.

Networking and business contacts - notice board: with the goal of creating environments that encourage and make it easier for entrepreneurs to build relationships, part of the Centre have been designed to enable open-format activities to be held or which require interaction among participants. This area is fitted with furniture and equipment to facilitate cooperation, learning and also create a favourable environment for doing business. Entrepreneurs can also use a notice board where, with the assistance of the advisers, they can post business-related offers and requests. These might include: search for partners or investors, products and services for launching their business, premises available, etc.

Financing support area: the Centre has a financing support area so that entrepreneurs working on feasible business ideas projects can have interviews with representatives from financial institutions with whom cooperation agreements have been signed.

Reception: the reception is shared with the Glòries Business Incubator (that occupies the first, second and third floors of the building). The entrepreneurship support model aims to minimise the use of reception areas. The reception is used solely as a channel to provide information about the different areas of the building and as a channel for accrediting participants in the activities, where such accreditation is an administrative requirement. The aim is for entrepreneurs to access the centre with maximum freedom, autonomy and minimal control.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
The initiative is at the top of the political agenda and enjoys full institutional support by the Barcelona City Council. The promotion of entrepreneurship is a key tool of the municipal strategy of the city to promote economic development and employment especially vital in these recession times.
The Glòries Entrepreneurship Centre receives funding from the Barcelona City Council that Barcelona Activa manages to almost triplicate by raising funds from other sources, mainly: the Government of Catalonia (through a multi-annual agreement with the Catalan Employment Service), the Government of Spain (through projects funded by the Ministries of Industry and Science & Innovation) and from Structural Funds from the European Union Regional Policy financial instruments. Also contributions from private stakeholders for the development of specific programmes are provided.
The multicultural sustainability of the project is ensured by the fact that many of the resources of the model are available in several languages: the web platform for entrepreneurs and its tools are fully available in English, Spanish & Catalan (the Test idea tool is also available in Chinese & Arabic). The coaching service is available in English, Spanish & Catalan. There are welcome sessions in English each 15 days and training sessions in English in the framework of the “Do it in Barcelona” scheme.
The originality, effectiveness and impact of model, resources and tools have generated an interest by Spanish and foreign institutions, for its transferability, which has been completed in the following environments throughout the world:

• Cape Town (South Africa): technical assistance to a pool of institutions led by the City of Cape Town for the concept building and implementation of a scheme to support entrepreneurship in Cape Town.

• Bogota (Colombia): technical assistance for the concept building and creation of the entrepreneurship support Centre "Bogotá Emprende," promoted by Bogotá City Council and the Chamber of Commerce of Bogotá.

• Medellin (Colombia): technical assistance for the concept building and creation of the Entrepreneurship Park, promoted by the University of Antioquia and the City of Medellin

• Quito (Ecuador): technical assistance for the concept building and creation of the Knowledge Factory (Centre for Entrepreneurship and digital training) promoted by CONQUITO (Quito Local Development Agency).

• Monterrey (Mexico): technical assistance to the Monterrey Institute of Technology for the concept & content building of a virtual business incubator. (Project funded by the Inter-American Development Bank)

• Brazil: technical assistance for the concept building and implementation of methodologies and tools to support entrepreneurship for ANPROTEC, the Brazilian Network of business incubators and technology parks, with the support of SEBRAE.

Also Rome (Italy), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Santiago de Chile, among others, they were key partners in the production of the digital tools to support entrepreneurship in the framework of European Cooperation projects.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
Through this blended model, Barcelona Activa has coached 33,847 entrepreneurs and 2,490 business projects in 2010, (with a 69% business creation rate), resulting in the creation of 1,700 new companies and an estimate of 3,200 new jobs in 2010. The newly created companies raise a yearly average of 4.7 Milion Euros of funding. Since January 2004 until December 2010, the blended model has coached 147,024 entrepreneurs and 10,410 business projects, of which 7,900 new businesses have been created.

The lessons learnt could be summarized with these key elements for the success of the model: (1) a holistic approach: it generates a referring mechanism through other entities or services and collaborates with multiple agents and platforms, (2) its ability to attract a high critical mass, (3) the provision of services through the entire entrepreneurial value chain, (4) the quick response to the entrepreneurial needs (client-oriented through a professionalized service and a standardized process), (5) the constant monitoring of the service’s results and impact to allow the constant improvement of the service, and (6) its ability to turn the centre into a platform of cooperation promoting partnerships between entities and to raise awareness about the centre as a key city project.

Thus, the new model of services introduced by Barcelona Activa from 2004 increases efficiency, provides a high quality service delivery, incorporates the citizen’s feedback through the quality satisfaction questionnaires, improves access through the different channels to access the resources (on site / on line dimension) and promotes equity (ie: female entrepreneurship programmes), promotes partnerships with all the local /regional / national/ European relevant actors as it is also a cooperation platform for stakeholders, has meant a total transformation of the way in which the Barcelona local administration supports entrepreneurship, and introduces a new paradigm / concept with the blended model.

Barcelona Activa has seen as its model to support entrepreneurship and the growth of SMEs was recognised as at national and international reference, having been identified as good practices by international institutions like the Habitat Program of the United Nations, the World Bank, the OECD, Eurocities, (the network of major European cities) or the European Commission. Particularly, the Entrepreneurship Centre and its blended model, was awarded by the 2011 Grand Jury’s Prize of the European Enterprise Awards promoted by the European Commission. Link to the video-candidature:

Contact Information

Institution Type:   Organization Performing Outsourced Public Service Functions  
Contact Person:   Elena Del Rey Santamaría
Title:   Ms.  
Telephone/ Fax:   +34 93 401 95 83
Institution's / Project's Website:
Address:   Carrer Llacuna, 162-164
Postal Code:   08018
City:   Barcelona
State/Province:   Catalonia
Country:   Spain

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