As Saleha Riaz reports, 2016 is the fifth year for Barcelona as Mobile World Capital, a period which has seen the GSMA, the Catalan government and Fira de Barcelona work together on numerous projects covering mHealth, mEducation, Smart Living, 4YFN and, most recently, mVenturesBCN.
The newest initiative from Mobile World Capital is mVenturesBCN, which has a mission to attract international acceleration programmes to the region and encourage startup tech companies from universities and research centres.
Mobile World Capital Barcelona’s new CEO, Aleix Valls, who also heads mVenturesBCN, thinks it could be one of the programme’s greatest achievements.
“We want Barcelona to gain critical mass with better quality of projects. Our aim is to help 110 projects in the next three years in the digital space,” through mVentures, he told Mobile World Live.
Meanwhile, Constanti Serrallonga, general manager of Fira de Barcelona, feels “without a doubt, the hosting of the Mobile World Congress” has made the biggest difference to the city from “the point of view of the immediate social and economic impact, the repercussions in the media and the role of Barcelona as Mobile World Capital.”
However, he believes Mobile World Congress “should not make us forget the importance of other initiatives developed by the Mobile World Capital Barcelona, especially in the fields of health, education, industry, citizen services and the economy.”
What’s more, he pointed out that one quarter of Spanish technology start-ups were created in Barcelona, with 60 per cent of them operating internationally.
“This is great news which will undoubtedly be reinforced by the creation of mVenturesBCN, he added.
“This dovetails perfectly with the role of Fira de Barcelona as a driving force behind economic activity, a bastion of enterprise and opportunity in support of the industrial sector, and a generator of social and community value at the service of the city as a whole,” he said.
He also trumpeted the creation of the IoT Solutions Congress and the growing influence of the Smart City Expo World Congress, which has become an international benchmark for smart cities and this year, in addition to Barcelona, is also being held in the Mexican city of Puebla and in Kyoto, Japan.
Setting up Barcelona as the Mobile World Capital hasn’t been without its challenges. Valls explained that while Mobile World Capital “was a clear asset” to be leveraged, it was tricky to find a balance between the public and private sector and “identify our natural space between the two”, not least because this is the first time there has been an initiative of this sort.”
While it was good to have the support of public institutions, he described the process as “building a house from the roof instead of the basement” because “you have a big board and commitment of relevant industries” to begin with and then have to create the actual programme.
Valls explained that “it’s good to become inclusive and engage people. New ideas and new concepts come under the umbrella and that’s good.” However, it means “you risk becoming diluted.”
Having only recently been appointed as CEO, his plan is to focus on certain priorities, which include the digital empowerment of new generations, the digital transformation of industries and the acceleration of digital innovation while continuing to invest in current initiatives, such as 4YFN, a business platform for the startup community.
“The next year has to be the year of the digital transformation. We must position this project as a lighthouse for companies who are facing a big digital transformation but don’t know how to start,” he said.
He wants Barcelona to be the city they visit for inspiration. “In the coming years, we really need to position Barcelona as a reference place for public and private companies on how to leverage on the digital transformation opportunity and where they can find partners, because sometimes one needs other actors in the value chain” he said.
Barcelona has been awarded the Mobile World Capital until the end of 2023. So what does Valls hope to see by the end of this period?
“I hope mobile tech still exists, it’s changing so fast!” he commented. “Artificial Intelligence will be a hot topic, and IoT may cause a revolution. It’s difficult to say what the future holds but what I would like is for Barcelona to be recognised as a digital hub,” he added.
He wants to see more people choosing professional careers in the digital sector, and wants to see investment and the number of startups increase significantly if not double.
However, what he doesn’t want is for Barcelona to be labelled a “European Silicon Valley.”
“We need to find our own way and our own DNA,” he said.
He is also very interested in Mobile Connect and Mobile Identity. MWCB’s Smart Living programme works closely with GSMA’s Mobile Connect and Mobile Identity initiatives. The programme is working with the Finish Government and GSMA to implement a mobile identity solution at a country level.”
He said the programme wants to become better aligned with the GSMA’s Vision 2020 and “take advantage of that and bring it to Barcelona as a place to pilot and deploy some of those solutions”.
Case study: mSchools puts mEducation at the top of the class
Mobile World Capital Barcelona’s new CEO, Aleix Valls, describes the mSchools initiative as one “that supports teachers and tells students that becoming a computer science engineer can be fun and also look at how to get girls motivated and excited about a career in the tech space”.
Albert Forn, Director of the mSchools Programme, explains that the need for an mSchools initiative was identified because of a high dropout rate in Catalan schools – it was around 27 per cent until recently. This was coupled with a high youth unemployment rate and the need to help students become aware of a possible career in the ICT sector.
Forn said while tech universities are “languishing in terms of demand,” there is high demand in tech related jobs, leaving a gap to be filled.
The programme’s initiatives, such as App Education, embedded in the Catalan High School curriculum for secondary education and vocational training, is accessible to all 4,000 schools in the Catalan region.
App Education teaches students not just coding but business modelling, project-based learning, marketing, collaborative teamwork and communication.
“The kids set up their own company and work to develop one app for a full year,” said Forn. It is courses like these that help the programme achieve its aim: “Improve the education system and improve the outcome of the students who go through the system.”
Forn said growth has been phenomenal, with 18,000 students in total having participated in the course this year, which started in 2013 with 600 pupils, and around 25,000 who have participated overall this year in the programme’s initiatives.
The mSchools programme carries out regular surveys and has found that around 90 per cent of teachers and 87 per cent of students are satisfied with it.
He is particularly proud of the fact that over 40 per cent of participants are girls, as he is keen to encourage women to join the industry.
A recent survey also revealed that 30 per cent of students who had gone through the App Education course had decided to take up a tech career when going to high school or college.
He attributes this to letting “kids define what they want to be taught and explore and allow them to do what they are motivated by”. This, combined with industry expert mentors App Education, challenges and inspires student’s entrepreneurial spirit. mSchools community of experts connect the classroom to a world of opportunity.
As for teachers, he said that they are keen to modernise their ways of teaching, but often don’t have the time or opportunity. An “exploratory” initiative called Edu_Hack hopes to change that.
It will bring together 500 teachers to collaboratively create materials for the digital classroom for any age and subject. Together they will come up with ways in which they can improve their teaching methods, with a particular focus on technology.
Forn said the co-creation methodology the teachers follow has been made almost from scratch and hopes around 100 project ideas and prototypes will come out of the event.
In the future, mSchools wants to focus on IoT, 3D printing and robotics as well as training to support teachers with a new way of teaching and learning.
He also said there are regions outside Catalonia that are very eager to take up the mSchools programme and he wants to try to cater to this demand in the future.