Rajnish Kumar, Jenni Samuels, Juanjo Mostazo, Iván Ordóñez, Stephanie Marchesseau, Cristóbal Alonso, Omar Pera and Fernando Domínguez, on the terrace of the Malaga Palacio hotel. Marilú Báez
Malaga's technology brain gain

Malaga's technology brain gain

They come from New York, San Francisco, London or Mumbai. The city is a magnet for high-level tech professionals who value quality of life, good connections and an international atmosphere

Nuria Triguero


Friday, 21 June 2024, 13:58

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Their punctuality gives them away: they are 'guiris' - foreigners - or they have lived abroad enough years to lose that typical tendency locals have of arriving ten minutes late. All eight of them arrive a few minutes before the photo session in Malaga. They would pass for tourists, but they are residents in their own right.

We have brought together some of Malaga's latest technological experts who have recently made the city their home: high-level business people, investors and professionals who have swapped New York, San Francisco, Tallinn, London, Mumbai and Paris for the capital city of the Costa del Sol. They are part of a global movement (triggered by the pandemic and remote working) of people who are privileged enough to be able to choose where they live and work. They are VIP migrants who flee from the big capitals in search of cities that are smaller, but which still have vitality.

Malaga has emerged as a favourite destination for these professionals, as is reflected in numerous surveys.

The city's weak points in their eyes: the poor command of English and the insufficient connection with Marbella

The reasons that brought them to the city vary: some, such as Iván Ordóñez, are here to fulfill a professional mission: in his case, to launch the investment bank GP Bullhound's technological hub in Malaga. Others have come for personal reasons, such as the couple formed by Fernando Domínguez and Jenni Samuels, Juanjo Mostazo or Rajnish Kumar.

They continue doing their work just as they did where they used to live, but they now live in a city that, for their taste, is the perfect size and has a series of qualities (beach, climate, gastronomy, cosmopolitanism, strong airport, international schools) that have made it their chosen place in the world.

And for the third group, which includes Omar Pera and Stephanie Marchesseau, their professional and personal reasons are intertwined: they have the job they want in the place they want to live in.

Some of these new residents have a common profile: they are Spanish people who have lived abroad for many years and have decided it is time to return home. And they choose Malaga, despite not being from here, because they want to remain close to a stimulating technological ecosystem. The airport also weighs heavily: Fernando Domínguez says that in his case, the direct flight to New York tipped the balance.

Having children often triggers theose kinds of life changes. Many mention that the pandemic made them put quality of life and family above everything else. But the key to it all is the global change of mindset that has led many professionals to leave the office.

What is life like for this group of high-net-worth expats and returnees? The majority live in affluent neighbourhoods in the east of the city, such as La Malagueta or Pedregalejo.

They take their children to international schools, travel a lot and maintain a busy social life. Could we say that they live in a bubble? No more than locals from a higher socioeconomic strata.

These new residents usually arrive with curiosity and a desire to meet people. In fact, some have become important examples in the local tech and entrepreneurial community. It is true that for the newly arrived foreigners, the language barrier has its challenges; in fact, the locals' low level of English is something that shocks them a lot.

The truth is that almost all of these new residents are in their honeymoon phase with the city, so it is difficult for them to give a critical opinion. The language issue is one of the few negative points, although they are also surprised by the poor connection with Marbella. And there is one issue that generates mixed opinions: the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

There are those who define it as "effervescent" (such as Omar Pera, Fernando Domínguez or Rajnish Kumar). But others, such as Cristóbal Alonso, note a lack of startups and initiative.

Jenni Samuels Digital marketing expert

"Many people are leaving the big cities"

Jenni Samuels is American and has her own fractional marketing company. She previously worked at Airbnb and Google and is in a couple with Fernando Domínguez. Both moved from San Francisco just over a year ago. "We were looking at New York, Barcelona, Madrid, Buenos Aires... In the end, Malaga won". She felt "from the first day that there is a growing energy for innovation". "Many tech people are swapping very big cities for places like Malaga."

Fernando Domínguez VP of Sandbox AQ

"Malaga has that momentum where things happen"

Fernando Domínguez is vice president of Sandbox AQ, a Silicon Valley company that combines quantum technology and AI. After half a lifetime abroad, Domínguez decided to return to Spain. He chose Malaga because of its direct flights to New York and also because of its technology ecosystem. "Malaga has that momentum where things happen. The accumulation of talent is certainly going to give rise to new companies and projects."

Rajnish Kumar Co-founder of Ixigo

"I did a study of cities in Spain to choose where to move to"

Ixigo is the Indian a leading travel app. In the wake of the pandemic, its co-founder realised he could work from anywhere in the world. Since his wife is Spanish, the destination was clear. But the city was yet to be determined. "I did a comparative study of all the cities in Spain. As I'm sensitive to the cold, I discarded the northern ones. Malaga stood out for its climate and airport. I was also interested in the entrepreneurial ecosystem."

Stephanie Marchesseau Global Head of R&D, Medida

"The only thing I would change is to have a warmer sea"

Stephanie Marchesseau is global head of R&D at Medida, a company that specialises in digital marketing at Malaga Tech Park. When she accepted the position, just over two years ago, she was living in Madrid. "I worked remotely and came from time to time. I realised that I liked Malaga much better." She is in her honeymoon phase with the city: "I'm here to stay because Malaga has everything I can put on a list of priorities. The only thing I'd change is that it had a warmer sea".

Juanjo Mostazo Co-founder and tech investor of Homa and Bidmotion

"Malaga reminds me of Barcelona ten years ago"

Originally from Cadiz, Mostazo was co-founder and tech director of startups Bidmotion and Homa. He has focused on the investment angle for several years and has become one of the most active business angels in Spain. He has lived in Barcelona, Paris, Berlin, Dresden... And for about a year, in Malaga, whose "effervescent" atmosphere reminds him of Barcelona ten years ago. Now, he needs new generations of startups to "reproduce".

Iván Ordóñez CTO of GP Bullhound

"I've come to open the GP Bullhound technological hub"

Iván Ordóñez is from Ecuador, but he moved to the US for university, where he took two degrees: maths and computer science. After working there for a few years, he moved to London, where he lived for 17 years. Since the start, he has focused his career on the financial sector. In 2022 he was hired by investment bank GP Bullhound as head of technology. "Part of the plan was to open a technological hub in Malaga and I came to launch it. We opened last October."

Omar Pera VP of Freepik's AI innovation team

"I fell in love with the city in three days"

Omar Pera has swapped New York for Malaga, and Meta for Freepik, the company that has taken the helm on AI-based innovation. "I came one Wednesday to visit and on Friday I was already signing for a flat," he says. "Did I fall in love? With the city itself, the climate, the people, the international atmosphere. And the technological ecosystem surprised me a lot. I come from New York and I wasn't expecting such a vibrant entrepreneurial community here in Malaga," he says.

Cristóbal Alonso CEO of Startup Wise Guys

"We've found fewer startups than we were expecting"

Cristóbal Alonso is the co-founder and CEO of Startup Wise Guys, one of Europe's most active investment funds in seed stage companies. This company, originally Estonian, landed in Malaga in 2022, opening an acceleration programme at the Polo Digital. That was when Alonso himself moved. "We chose Malaga because it looked like something interesting was happening. But really we've found fewer startups than we thought. There's a lot of talent, but we need to nurture it."

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