This entry is an excerpt from the Nesta's "Digital Entrepreneurship: An ‘Idea Bank’ for Local Policymakers" (2016), with updates to the original information since the publication of the report. Along other types of policy instruments, Nesta explored city-level efforts to leverage urban innovation districts in entrepreneurship policy.*


The 22@ District plays host to universities, research and training centers, startups and cutting-edge technology companies alike.  

With the stated goal of urban, economic and social refurbishment, the Poblenou industrial area of southeast Barcelona has been repurposed into the 22@ Innovation District. This region, which housed mostly decrepit and abandoned factories, was redesignated by a special city ordinance to host residential, commercial and also public properties.

In this sense, it’s a compact city in and of itself, with research, training and tech transfer facilities, alongside subsidised housing plots and green areas. The onsite facilities are diverse and bring together talent concentration in universities which offer especially topical programmes and courses, a clustering of innovative companies in the media, ICT, MedTech, energy and design fields, and a number of technology centres (like the Energy Research Institute of Catalonia and the Barcelona Media Innovation and Digital Technology Centres).

There are also the expected networking events, venues and roster of services available to companies looking to be located in the 22@ Innovation District. A specific strategic move made by 22@ is to host a LANDING Programme which make it easy for foreign tech business to access the Spanish Innovation system via an international incubator programme. In terms of overall success of the 22@ Innovation District, as per their website (2014), they host over 7,000 companies, of which nearly half (47.5 per cent) are new startups.


2014 data:

Since 2000, more than 3,500 businesses have moved to the innovation district and, with the almost 100,000 employees working there, Poble Nou has witnessed a nearly 25% increase in residents.


About urban innovation districts (excerpt from Nesta's ‘Idea Bank’ for Local Policymakers):

Innovation districts may sound somewhat similar to science parks, or else conjure up images of the corporate campuses that dot suburban areas across global metropolises. However, the concept is rather different, and intended to describe vibrant, accessible, mixed-use urban areas where established innovative companies mingle with startups, incubators and accelerators.

The idea is that innovation districts are focused more on knowledge-intensive, open innovation and interactions between people – and hence develop in urban areas rather than the relative sterility of out-of-town science parks.

Whilst some areas have developed organically, others have been consciously created by local authorities through a combination of planning policy, collaboration with knowledge industries and incentives for key anchor tenants.