In the 90s, Bilbao had an urban makeover. The Spanish Basque country’s economic capital is now trying something else: it’s looking to improve entrepreneurial competitiveness to meet the challenges of the digital economy.
How is it doing this?
It has created the BETA 2 in Zorrotzaurre, an old industrial zone under rehabilitation which is often referred to as the Manhattan of Bilbao. Beta 2 is a cyber-factory there. The building is the physical manifestation of a European project called AS Fabrik, which aims to promote the inter-connectivity of start-ups, the training of specialists and improving production.
Several companies have already benefited from Beta 2. Fernando Presa Frias' company, Nexmachina, is one of them. It specialises in sensors and wireless technology, its strong point is the Internet of Things. Nexmachina is currently on a small premises, but the startup will move to BETA 2 in the spring.
Fernando says moving to Zorrotzaurre "is going to allow us to be in a new ecosystem linked to Industry 4.0. It will allow us to collaborate and connect with students from the University of Mondragón, with other companies similar to ours and it’ll allow us to hold joint ventures with companies that specialise in technology for industry".
Funding and goals
AS FABRIK has an overall budget of €5.8 million euros, 80% comes from the European Union's cohesion policy. The other 20% comes from the Bilbao City Council (4%) and the rest comes from contributions from other project partners, such as the University of Mondragon, IDOM and GAIA.
One of the pillars of the project is to train professionals in advanced services for industry, in areas such as mechatronics and data analytics. Theoretical and practical training goes together to help respond to industrial and societal challenges in a multi-disciplinary way.
Jon Altuna Iraola is the Vice-Rector of the University of Mondragón. He describes AS Fabrik as the "university laboratory for the future" because "there are global challenges and they are complex ones, like climate change, migration, new economic powers and digitalization, so to respond to the complexity these, it’ll be necessary to integrate knowledge from different knowledge bases".
But what is Bilbao hoping to achieve with this makeover?
Asier Abaunza Robles is a councillor for Urban Planning at the Bilbao City council. He says that "the Zorrotzaurre project and thus the AS Fabrik project, aim to generate new employment opportunities in the area and to attract young people to the city".
They are trying to reverse the ageing population trend that a lot of other European cities are also experiencing now.