Talent, Good Quality of Life in Lisbon Luring Foreign Startups: Miguel Fontes

The rich talent pool and the high quality of life in Lisbon are attracting more foreign companies to the Portuguese capital, says the CEO of Startup Lisboa, a leading startup incubator that is determined to walk the path of “relevance”.

“Talent in our days is the most
valuable asset for any kind of company. It doesn’t matter if it’s a global
company, a multi-national company, or a startup. Everybody needs to find
the right talent, and we have talented people here,” Miguel Fontes told
Via News in an exclusive interview when asked why Lisbon is becoming a more popular
business destination.

Startup Lisboa, which is celebrating its eighth anniversary of establishment this month, has so far supported around 400 startups and entrepreneurs from over 40 countries through offering various incubation and acceleration programs, setting up strategic partnerships, facilitating access to investment and funding, and providing accommodation and workspace. It has received 4,500 applications from inside and outside the country since 2012.

According to Startup Lisboa’s website, 75 percent of the participants decided to move or launch their company to Lisbon after taking part in Launch in Lisbon—a soft landing program meant to help foreign entrepreneurs and investors set up their business in Lisbon. Also, 100 percent of the participants said they recommend Launch in Lisbon.

75 percent of the participants decided to move or launch their company to Lisbon after taking part in Launch in Lisbon, Startup Lisboa’s soft landing program. (Photo credit: Startup Lisboa)

Miguel says Portugal has skilled local
professionals who have been graduated from prestigious universities in the
country that offer courses in different fields such as engineering,
management, and design. “Talent is for sure the key driver nowadays.”

Besides being home to a diverse range of local specialists, the country can attract talent from abroad to Lisbon, he added.


In Miguel’s view, one of the major advantages of Portugal in general and Lisbon, in particular, is the “very good quality of life” that it offers. “I’m not saying it because I’m a local. That’s what I hear from everyone.”

He maintains that these two factors make it
easier for companies to persuade professionals from countries such as the United
States, Germany, and Sweden to come to live in Lisbon, which contributes to the
growth of the business ecosystem in the city.

Lessons Learned

On the lessons learned by Startup Lisboa over
the past eight years, Miguel said one of the most important things that they
have realized is the importance of building a “community” and an
environment conducive to sharing and collaboration.

So what needs to be promoted is that ideas should be shared, he commented. “You need to learn from the person that is sitting next to you. You can learn from the success that he or she has achieved and also from their failures.”

Startup Lisboa’s CEO says they do not want to
paint a too-rosy picture of the entrepreneurial world and create the impression
that all startups are “always great” and “always succeed”.

“We now know this very well that sometimes it doesn’t happen like this and they need to come back and restart and pivot their projects and that’s okay.”

He calls this realization one of the “greatest lessons” drawn from experience. “Success is not about doing the right thing the first time. It’s about trying to succeed. It’s about attitude. It’s about the will to create an impact on society.”

That is why Startup Lisboa is working toward
fostering an environment where failure is not looked down upon and aspirant
entrepreneurs are encouraged to try new paths to implement their ideas without feeling
any pressure, he added.

“Success is not about doing the right thing the first time. It’s about trying to succeed. It’s about attitude.”

Miguel Fontes, CEO of Startup Lisboa

Hub Criativo do Beato Project

On Startup Lisboa’s plans for 2020 and
beyond, Miguel said they are involved in different projects and one of their challenges
now is prioritizing which ideas should be put into practice first.

“We, as any other organization, try to complete our plans, but we are always receiving so many requests from outside. So it’s really hard to manage all these plans at the same time,” he noted, adding that some proposals are so great that they are impossible to resist.

“This is part of our journey. We must be
agile and flexible,” said Miguel, who believes that there is no need for excessive
planning as the reality always “puts you on the right path”.  

One significant initiative that Startup
Lisboa is currently managing is the Hub Criativo do Beato project, which is
expected to dramatically change the dynamics of the startup ecosystem in Lisbon
for the better.

Hub Criativo do Beato, an innovation center for creative and technological companies, is taking shape on the Tagus riverside in eastern Lisbon in an old army factory complex.

As part of the project, over 20 buildings spread over 35,000 m² are being renovated in the heart of the Beato neighborhood to create a mixed-use facility, which will be shared by startups, freelancers, scale-ups, large companies, and the surrounding community for work, leisure, and cultural activities.

Hub Criativo do Beato, which is being constructed on the Tagus riverside in eastern Lisbon, will host Portuguese and foreign entrepreneurs. (Photo credit: Startup Lisboa)

According to the website of Hub
Criativo do Beato, the development is expected to host over 3,000 people. In
June 2016, the City Council invited Startup Lisboa to design the project
concept and model and undertake coordination, curating, and space management responsibilities.

Miguel says their project
will add real value to the city as it will bring together the best innovators
from Portugal and abroad. “It’s a huge project that we are completely
focused on… It’s one of our priorities.”

Pursuit of Relevance

Asked where he sees Startup Lisboa in five years, Miguel said, “It’s always difficult to predict the future, but I’d say, probably, we’ll be even more relevant in the ecosystem.”

In his opinion, the reason is that they are
connecting “so many dots” with the help of other players in the
startup scene in Lisbon.

For example, he said he was recently invited
to take part in an event for the launch of a new MBA program in the city.

“For the first time, an MBA [program] decided
to invite Startup Lisboa to be part of a program related to entrepreneurship… That
means that we’re doing something well because when we see people from an
academic background and environment come to us and invite us to do this, it
means that people are aware of and recognize the work that we are doing

So Startup Lisboa will be even more active in
different fields without losing its main role, Miguel said, adding that
supporting startups is a great way to help Portugal become more competitive,
more innovative, and more economically prosperous.


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