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Why Bilbao is the new trending hotspot for digital nomads and expats

Time for an exciting change of scene? A new location? Perhaps even a different way of working or creating personal wealth? Right then, so get a move on and take a look at why Bilbao could be just the place you need to check out! The Basque capital has rocketed up the rankings, becoming a mega-tending hotspot to live and do business in for all kinds of expats, but above all those digital nomads, start-up companies and innovative entrepreneurs with an eye on the future. Expats in Bilbao, this article is for you!

Basking in the future, now!

Okay, so what is it that’s become so attractive about living and working in Bilbao? Many people would agree that the regeneration of Bilbao began in earnest with opening of the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim museum, finished in 1997. But this architectural renaissance has continued, with the redesigning of a 1909 wine warehouse, Azkuna Zentroa, in 2010 by Philippe Starck, and perhaps the most ambitious project yet- Zorrozaure, a former peninsula transformed into an island full of new and innovative structures, officially opened in early October 2018. 

Business and expats in Bilbao

The island is now home to many thriving businesses and creative projects. One of the most well-know of these is Espacio Open, located in the former Artiach biscuit factory and home to Maker Faire Bilbao, an amazing way to interact with innovative entrepreneurs and startups using creative technology to invent new products, with refreshing approaches to services or problem solving. You’ll also find a FabLab, a great place to turn your ideas into new products and prototypes, by giving you access to advanced digital manufacturing technology. They even run a competition, which is jointly funded by the Creative Europe Programme and Distributed Design Market Platform – Getting into FabLab Bootcamp would give you free accommodation, travel to Bilbao, and, more importantly, mentoring sessions to help with business strategies and manufacture. And there’s certainly a lot of DIY spirit in the wonderfully eclectic market called Open your Ganbara, which fuses creative technologies with flea market mentality. It’s little wonder that it has been a UNESCO City of Design since 2014.

Bilbao startups

There is an absolute cornucopia of places offering services and spaces to help entrepreneurs and startups. Azkuna Zentroa, mentioned above, has Haritu, a digital culture and technology laboratory opening its doors to anybody wishing to try digital manufacturing, even running a number of different workshops on the theme. Then there’s the Camp Tecnológico, a place where kids can use and learn about tech in free workshops, including robotics. 

Digital technology and events

Even Bilbao Town Council is really surfing the wave of digital technology and there are a number of events and even competitions run by the city, such as the Digital Entrepreneurship awards, where 3 startups can win economic prizes of 2,000, 4,000 and 6,000 euros as well as training and assessment during the development of their project. The aim of this competition is to promote people coming to Bilbao to create businesses that generate employment and growth in the digital economy. Bilbao council has also had an alliance with Google since 2017 to promote the digitalization of the city through non-profit cooperation and in 2018 won the SAP Innovation Award for, of all things, their tax department! Other events of interest are You Week, in Bilborock a converted old church, where creators of digital content for YouTube get together to exchange knowledge and experience in events and workshops. Then there’s Global Game Jam, held in Azkuna Zentroa, an event for designers, developers and programmers and others involved in the video game industry.

Getting down to starting up

So, lets get down to business. Bilbao is a great place for digital nomads and expats who want to start their own company. Take Startup Week, organised by Techstars, a free to attend international event, lasting 5 days where you get to meet a diverse range of startups, entrepreneurs, corporations and investors. 

Bilbao council helps!

And yet more help from the council! This time the provincial council Bizkaia - Beaz is here to support new, innovative businesses with 7 or less employees. They’ll give out development grants to help set up and start your company, assist you with a business plan, and make technological transfer easier by collaborating with technology centres and universities. They help with investor and sponsorship searches, and even finding the right personnel to help your business grow. They also provide a mentoring network, with business mentors who help startups reach their full potential with advice on accelerating growth. This bring us to their Acceleration programmes, which they run with Cambridge Innovation Centre and Masschallange of Boston. These allow entrepreneurs to connect with markets and investors of an international network. Of course, apart from the spaces available for networking or meetings, you’ll need a place to work too! Here are just a few of the Beaz managed incubators for varying types of company.

BIC Bizkaia, promoted by the Basque government, provides spaces for startups specializing in bio-micro-nano technologies, advanced technologies and clean technologies. Spaces can initially be used for 9 months for entrepreneurs or up to 8 years for startups and you have access to tutoring and acceleration facilities. KBi Digital calls itself an advanced incubator for digital entrepreneurship projects. Its designed for startups working on the development of mobile applications, video production, video games, digital content production and internet-based business. Its open 24/7 and is only €50 per person per month, plus €35 per project, and that includes training, acceleration, when you can meet with a specialist to create a growth plan for your business, use of networks and installations! BBF Fintech is for startups based on new technology and/or financial sector orientated.  Design Kabi is a coworking space, facilitating interaction between entrepreneurs from different areas. They help with feasibility studies, and interestingly it’s home to the PlayStation Talents Games Camp Bilbao, set up by no less than Sony! 

Coworking spaces in Bilbao

And talking about coworking spaces, Nomad List, last time I looked had a list of the top 36 spaces, so there must be even more! This is great news for all you digital nomads, because apart from all the work that the masses of new startups are generating, there are an absolute plethora of digital, tech jobs posted on websites such as LinkedIn, with an ever-growing demand for freelances and digital nomads.

Ok, so how do I get there?

Bilbao is in a great location. It’s situated in the region of Vizacaya, in the autonomous region of the Basque country, in Northern Spain. This gives it the advantage of being well connected by road to other parts of Spain, and even France. In fact, Vizcaya has one of the best motorway networks in the whole country. Bilbao international airport is only 12 km from the city, with a cheap bus service costing a mere €1.45 and taking only 15 minutes or less to get to the city. Of course, there are also national and international bus and train stations. And being a city with a thriving port, there is even a ferry service, with crossings 3 times a week from Portsmouth, in England. 

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