In the last year the unemployment rate in Portugal fell to less than 10 per cent, with 46 per cent of new jobs coming from start-ups younger than five years old. With a government-supported entrepreneurship ecosystem, Portugal is a top destination to create, test, fail fast and try again. We look at Portugal’s entrepreneurs capturing the spirit of explorer Vasco da Gama.
It used to be a well-kept secret that Portugal is one of Europe’s up and coming places to be for entrepreneurs, start-ups and investors, but no longer. Its capital, Lisbon, is being compared to how Berlin was 10 years ago for ambience and suitability for start-ups.
The 2008 global recession was a major disaster for Portugal, but unlike nearby countries, the Portuguese did something different, they realised that entrepreneurship help them out of the financial crisis.
Government at a national and city level has been active in making Portugal and in particular the capital, Lisbon, a haven for entrepreneurs. Official incentives include reduced taxes for start-ups and reductions in red tape, tied together in an overall strategy ‘Startup Portugal’. In 2015, Lisbon was chosen as a winner of the European Entrepreneurial Region and last year, at Web Summit, Europe’s largest technology conference, Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa launched a €200 million fund to co-invest alongside venture capitalists in local start-ups and foreign companies that relocate to Portugal.
Clara Armand-Delille is a Lisbon-based entrepreneur who relocated from London to set up her two businesses, strategic communications and PR consultancy ThirdEyeMedia and Clara Yoga and Fitness.
"In recent years, Portugal and Lisbon in particular have significantly simplified the process of opening a business, incentivising people to become entrepreneurs, and attracting many aspiring entrepreneurs from across Europe. The Portuguese government worked hand in hand with Lisbon’s start-up community to make it even easier to setup, grow and scale a business out of Lisbon. Overall, Lisbon makes it easier to take risk here because the cost of risk taking, and of failing if one does, is much lower than in other cities."
What makes Portugal so special? Armand-Delille attributes several reasons; "The cost of living is much cheaper that in most other capitals in Western Europe. Combined with that - Portugal’s education system is exceptional - making for a fantastic pool of local talent at competitive prices and fluent in English."
Of course there is a downside; Armand-Delille notes that "prices are increasing rapidly, and though it’s still cheaper in the past five years prices and the overall cost of living have gone up drastically. Real estate prices in the city centre increased 50 per cent from 2014 to 2015 and again from 2015 to 2016. Rents have more than doubled as well, putting massive pressure on locals, but also making the city less attractive than it was a few years ago." So maybe the time for action is now.
In the spirit of its seafaring ancestors, Portuguese start-ups launch with an eye on international expansion, with an inbuilt desire for collaboration across continents.
The 'Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program' is a platform for education, research and innovation that brings together Portuguese universities, research institutions and companies, and America’s Carnegie Mellon University. In the past 10 years over 120 companies have been involved with the programme and several new, successful ICT start-ups have been created, including PPL, Portugal’s first crowdfunding platform.
Yoann Nesme, Paulo Silva Pereira, Pedro Domingos were full-time students on the programme and Pedro Oliveira was a professor of the programme. Nesme explains: "We were very interested by crowdsourcing and decided to bring crowdfunding to Portugal, inexistent at the time in the country. Our company has managed to survive thanks to another line of business: we help companies set up their crowdfunding portals."
The success of Portugal’s new wave of entrepreneurs is probably not much of a surprise given Portugal’s history of discovery and adventure; Nesme says "we were immersed in an entrepreneurial spirit and we had basically not much to lose. It was the right time to experiment."