Global Innovators Preview: How Spain’s Contractors are Leaning In On Infrastructure Innovation

Spain is home to some of the world’s leading engineering and construction companies, overseeing billions of dollars of design, construction, and concessions activities around the globe, including across the United States.  Increasingly, as they deepen their focus on innovation, they are also engaging more proactively with the industry’s startup, investor, and innovation-minded industry ecosystem around the world. This October, we had the opportunity to meet with heads of innovation from three of those firms, along with other key leaders in Spain’s burgeoning construction innovation ecosystem.

Here is a recap on some of the people we met and some of the things we learned:

Ferrovial’s Ciro Acedo Boria, head of open innovation ecosystem served as a liason between BuiltWorlds and Ferrovial on this visit. This 7.5 billion euro global company develops and operates assets like toll roads, airports, solar and wind power plants, as well as water desalination and wastewater plants, and more. The scope of their innovation efforts includes a long-lasting partnership with MIT, a recent partnership with Georgia Tech for research on advances in infrastructure to a special partnership with NTT Data, Microsoft and Salesforce to develop more sustainable and smarter infrastructure or the development of a new generation of airports concept for smaller crafts (eVTOLs) they refer to as vertiports. In terms of construction work, Ferrovial joins the ranks of companies around the world piloting robotics, in particular, for staking job sites, progress monitoring technologies and CO2 reduction solutions, among many other technologies coming from startups.

On our visit, we had the opportunity to meet Arantxa Quintana, Director of Innovation, Sacyr. Sacyr is a 4.5 billion euro company with operations in concessions, engineering, and construction in more than 20 countries on four continents.  In the United States, their work spans from power and water utility systems at the University of Idaho to new Roads in Lubbock County, Texas.  Water is one major focus area for Sacyr, and we learned about how the firm is pioneering the use of underwater drones being pioneered by Spanish startup, Nido Robotics. In partnership with the University of Alicante, these drones can be used to help drive more efficient inspection of underwater infrastructure – and also to monitor the health of underwater environmental conditions.

For more on the Buildings and Infrastructure World’s Global Leaders, visit our 2022 Global Innovators 50 List.

With a turnover of 11 billion euro last year, Acciona is another major Spanish engineering and construction company. With particular prowess in the energy sector, Acciona’s 2022 report cited “capacity under construction as of 31 December 2022 stood at 2.2 GW, including the MacIntyre wind farm in Australia (912 MW under construction) and nearly 1.3 GW of solar PV generation in the US (Fort Bend, High Point, Union and Red Tailed Hawk).” On our visit, we had the opportunity to meet Javier Gonzalez Baez, Open Innovation Manager at Acciona, Innovation. I’mnovation is an open innovation platform fostering collaboration with startups, partners, and intraepreneurship with a particular focus on renewable energy and infrastructure. One of the initiatives undertaken by Acciona’s I’mnovation program, in collaboration with startups, include the prediction of TBM’s forward speed and detection of geological risks.

Further Insight: Strategics Are Helping Madrid Become a Global European Center For Venture

Beyond the major construction company, Spain is now home to an increasing number of global players in construction’s innovation ecosystem. There are plenty of other AEC groups operating globally while being based in Madrid. For example, we found team members from  Cemex Ventures , Zacua Ventures, and CRH Ventures all based in the city. Both Cemex Ventures and Zacua Ventures were listed among our Top 50 Most Active BuiltWorlds Venture Investors in 2023, helping Madrid also notch a place as a global center for venture investment in the sector.

It paints a picture of of a region that has already become a major center for building and infrastructure engineering and construction and one that is now also proactively engaging the world in open innovation initiatives and the support of a vibrant ecosystem of new solutions poised to drive significant productivity, sustainability, health & safety, and quality improvements for the industry, globally.