Joao Mendes Borga
Portugal’s startup and scaleup community is experiencing a unique moment. On one hand, there’s for the first time a true and integrated policy for entrepreneurship focused on developing the ecosystem, in financing it and internationalizing it. On the other hand, Portugal is host to the Web Summit and Venture Summit, two of the biggest entrepreneurial and venture capital events in the world. Despite the data in this report being a sample, it accomplishes a true representation of what is happening within scaleups nationally. The success of our scaleups can be attributed to many factors, however central to it, is without a doubt the fact that we now have the most qualified workforce, and group of entrepreneurs the country ever had, contextual factors, such as the international community acknowledging the quality and reliability of its services and innovation ability has, in our opinion, contributed to a rise in the foreign capital invested and; attracting more successful startups to our community.
Developing and financing the startup and scaleup ecosystem in Portugal has been a non-stop job. Over the last four years, there’s been a considerable effort in supporting early seed and seed stage projects with public initiatives such as Startup Voucher and Incubation Voucher (these programs have supported more than 500 startups). Only more recently, a framework was created to support scaleups with co-financing from BA’s and VC’s (summing over €250M ), in addition to the €200M Tech funds, developed by IFD in cooperation with some other key partners — and we need to bear in mind these funds and projects are competing directly with huge international players, with more money, better, more widespread portfolios, and an incomparable will to take risks. Therefore, it’s important that successful national investors and entrepreneurs with financing ability invest and co-invest in their peers leveraging and learning from the international operators.
Since the internal market sums up to around 10 million consumers, most Portuguese startups that actually scale have from the first day an objective of exporting and growing globally, and most of them see the greatest potential in dematerialized, easily transactional services and goods. Internationalization is, thus, important for Portugal’s ecosystem not only for its exporting potential, but also for the promotion of the country and its startup potential, attracting foreign startups who recognize the country’s booming market. To this we must add the fact that there are now startups taking advantage of the credibility created by scaleups and unicorns made in Portugal, using their work as a platform to open new markets.
If during the crisis years there was a brain drain of qualified professional, since 2016 we’ve been witnessing a new trend, with more and a more highly qualified workforce returning to the country alongside professionals from other nationalities now being an important part of our scaleups. With a well-rounded and properly prepared workforce and engineering and management universities ranking highly globally, the human resources now available at a reasonable cost are a real vantage point, mainly when compared with other European partners. Furthermore, we have a Tech Visa program designed to attract better and more professionals, allowing certified enterprises an easier way to obtain working visas for non-Schengen residents.
In summary this report uses a sample of some of our best entrepreneurs work to showcase a positive reality that is really made of lots of people and innovative companies with great potential, that can actually become work leaders in their verticals. With such success comes a series of new challenges, though, that can’t be ignored. Keeping these companies in Portugal, attracting more series B financing, and retaining highly qualified workforce are some of those in which Startup Portugal, BGI and other stakeholders are already tackling. Together we’re working to make Portugal the best country in Europe to develop a scaleup.