Lis­bon dreams of Europe’s Sil­i­con Val­ley tag

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Lis­bon is bet­ting that host­ing the Web Sum­mit, Europe’s largest tech event, will spur the growth of star­tups and draw for­eign in­vestors, help­ing it com­pete with the con­ti­nent’s main in­no­va­tion hubs.

Por­tu­gal, strug­gling with a high debt and low growth, re­quested a three-year 78-bil­lion-euro ($85 bil­lion) in­ter­na­tional bailout in 2011 that im­posed higher taxes and steep spend­ing cuts.

While the cri­sis ham­mered the econ­omy, de­priv­ing it of state fund­ing and easy bank loans, it also drove change, push­ing peo­ple to come up with new ideas for busi­nesses-many of them tech star­tups. Dur­ing the first half of the year the num­ber of new com­pa­nies that were cre­ated was 3.3 times higher than the num­ber of firms that went un­der, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment fig­ures.

To fuel the ex­pan­sion of the startup sec­tor the gov­ern­ment lob­bied hard to bring the an­nual Web Sum­mit to Lis­bon. The tech expo has been held ev­ery year in Dublin since its launch in 2010.

Some 50,000 par­tic­i­pants and 15,000 com­pa­nies from around the world are ex­pected to at­tend the Novem­ber 8-10 event, nearly dou­ble the 27,500 peo­ple who at­tended last year. Lis­bon will host the an­nual event un­til at least 2018. Por­tu­gal’s sec­re­tary of state for in­dus­try, Joao Vas­con­ce­los, said he hoped host­ing the event will give rise to a new gen­er­a­tion of en­trepreneurs.

“A Web Sum­mit gen­er­a­tion, with a global men­tal­ity,” he told AFP. “We are a pe­riph­eral mar­ket, the dig­i­tal econ­omy is a unique op­por­tu­nity for Por­tu­gal,” added Vas­con­ce­los, the for­mer head of a Lis­bon startup in­cu­ba­tor.

‘Good en­vi­ron­ment’

Web Sum­mit chief ex­ec­u­tive Paddy Cos­grave said the strong gov­ern­ment sup­port given star­tups in Por­tu­gal was one of the rea­sons why he moved the event to Lis­bon. “They rec­og­nize the value of tech­nol­ogy and want to put Por­tu­gal on the map as a tech hub,” he said.

The Por­tuguese cap­i­tal is well placed to be­come a tech hub be­cause it has strong in­fra­struc­ture, a “vi­brant tech com­mu­nity”, cheap rents and an ed­u­cated work­force that is flu­ent in English, Cos­grave said. “These are all key fac­tors for mak­ing a good en­vi­ron­ment for star­tups,” he added.

The city has al­ready given rise to a num­ber of “bril­liant” new firms with strong growth po­ten­tial such as Co­dacy, which has de­vel­oped a soft­ware tool that au­to­mat­i­cally re­views com­puter code, said Cos­grave.

The com­pany, which em­ploys 16 peo­ple, won the Web Sum­mit Pitch com­pe­ti­tion in 2014. “The Web Sum­mit will place Lis­bon amid the Euro­pean startup cap­i­tals, along­side Lon­don and Berlin,” said Co­dacy co-founder Jaime Jorge, who of­ten trav­els to Sil­i­con Val­ley in Cal­i­for­nia, the heart of the tech uni­verse, to drum up busi­ness.

Co­dacy is one of 40 Por­tuguese star­tups that have raised at least $1 mil­lion each from in­vestors. Since 2010 they have raised a com­bined to­tal of more than $166 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to a Euro­pean Com­mis­sion re­port on Por­tuguese star­tups pub­lished last year.

While the fig­ures trail those of Bri­tain, Ger­many and France, the re­port said “the data tells you how re­cent and strong is the growth of the Por­tuguese startup ecosys­tem”.

‘Spring­board for star­tups’

Ri­cardo Mar­vao, co-founder of Beta-i, a non-profit that helps star­tups de­velop by pro­vid­ing of­fice space and free le­gal con­sul­tancy, said “2015 was a turn­ing point” for Lis­bon’s no­to­ri­ety as a startup cen­tre. “When a dozen Por­tuguese star­tups raised five to ten mil­lion Eu­ros each in just a few months, in­vestors started to show in­ter­est in what is hap­pen­ing here. With the Web Sum­mit, the hype around Lis­bon will rise,” he added.

For­eign­ers are be­hind many of Por­tu­gal’s new star­tups. Of the 220 firms that took part in the Lis­bon Chal­lenge, a three-month startup ac­cel­er­a­tion pro­gram or­ga­nized by Beta-i in 2013, roughly twothirds were founded by for­eign­ers who were drawn by the city’s low costs and mild weather.

Among them is Moneytis, an on­line com­para­tor of money trans­fer ser­vices founded in 2015 by two French­men. After eight months in Am­s­ter­dam they moved to Lis­bon be­cause they were look­ing for a “flour­ish­ing en­vi­ron­ment that is cheaper than Paris or Lon­don”, said Moneytis co­founder Christophe Las­suyt.

“Lis­bon has great chances in Europe. The city has al­ready proven it­self to be a good spring­board for star­tups and the Web Sum­mit will be a great op­por­tu­nity to meet ma­jor in­vestors and part­ners,” he added. — AFP

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