The country’s scientific and technological progress is on a roll and won’t slow down. Five Portuguese cities are at the forefront of innovation and entrepreneurship, proving very fertile ground for start-ups and thinkers. A revolution is underway. Journey with us to the places where everything is happening, and where there’s more still to come.
1 – LISBOA
There are a thousand and one ideas bubbling in the Portuguese capital, which has now become a key European destination for start-ups and entrepreneurs.
Originally set up in 2011 with “an unusual DNA,” according to its president, Miguel Fontes, it was the product of Lisbon participatory budget – a partnership between the city council, the Small and Medium-sized Companies Support Institute and the Montepio Geral bank that the city’s residents voted for. As an “important company incubator, both in the capital and across the country,” the aim is to help entrepreneurs develop business ideas that focus on three particular areas: technology, trade and tourism. To benefit, they have to qualify as start-ups, which means being an innovative business with the capacity for internationalization, rapid growth potential and designed to capture investment. Currently, 100 companies are incubated in the two buildings in Lisbon’s Baixa area (50 virtually and 50 operating out of offices), paying “very low” rents. In four and a half years, about 200 have been supported and “of these, there’s a group of ten that have created over 1,000 jobs.” An example? “Uniplaces, which helps students find temporary accommodation. At the beginning, they had three workers, and now there are 150, as they break into new markets” (learn more about Uniplaces in our 24 Hours section). The vast majority of start-ups are technology-based, however, there are exceptions, such as Nata Lisboa, a custard tart franchise that started right here and has now extended its reach to Porto, Braga, Barcelona, Paris and Berlin. “We are very selective, even at the risk of someone telling us ‘you were the ones who didn’t want to record the Beatles’“ Miguel Fontes jokes. There are around 80 applications every two months. And of these, only four or five are incubated. In addition to cheap office space, Start-up Lisboa has a residence with 14 rooms to help entrepreneurs and a new space at the Humberto Delgado Airport, the Airport Business Centre, helping Lisbon be recognised as an “entrepreneurial ecosystem full of talented people”, sustaining activity and facilitating the implementation of new business ideas.
In Rua da Emenda, in the centre of Lisbon, Celso Martinho, founder of Sapo – the largest Portuguese internet portal – brought together a group of people with experience in information technology development and designers capable of turning an idea into a real business. Bright Pixel (BRPX), a “company building studio” set up in 2015 in partnership with Sonae Investment Management, offers a space for start-ups at any development stage. Some people turn up with just an idea, some come looking for the best way to turn ideas into prototypes and business, while others are trying to find the best way to start a business. The entrepreneurs chosen to be part of RPX have access to facilities, training, technology and legal support, in addition to being able to access the BRPX network of partners. Links with large companies, including important members of Sonae (one of Portugal’s most important economic groups), such as the Worten network of electrical shops, the Continente hypermarkets and NOS communications, allows BRPX to test products at a very early stage, thus “understanding market requirements and needs,” while avoiding design and strategy errors. During the incubation phase, BRPX can invest up to 250,000 euros, which can rise to 500,000 euros when setting up new companies, in exchange for a minority stake.
On average, the success rate of start-ups is no greater than 40%, something that discourages more traditional investors. However, as money is necessary for everything, Portugal Ventures, a public risk capital investor, puts money into new innovative companies, focussing on those that wish to “develop new technologies and new products, undertake proof-of-concept, market tests and sell internationally.” Celso Guedes de Carvalho, president of Portugal Ventures, says the platform invests around 30 million euros annually, whether in “new companies or consolidating investment in affiliated companies”, preferring to do it “in partnership with syndicated investment with other Portuguese and international shareholders.” Over the last three years, it has received over a thousand projects, 60 of which led to the creation of new start-ups. Since 2012, they have invested over €77 million euros in 81 ventures, of which 74 are still part of the company’s portfolio. Now Portugal Ventures is focussing on an international presence – it can be found in the USA, UK and Germany -, in order to improve and develop “business models and establish global networks of mentors, specialists, consultants, board members and investors.”
Having an idea is not much use if it doesn’t reach the market, preferably making a lot of noise, getting the attention of thousands of people while doing so. André Marquet believes that there are good ideas in Portugal, but a “productization mentality” is necessary to create “unique products and superlative customer experiences.” In 2015, he launched Productized, a not-for-profit organization that encourages community development hardware start-ups. This year, it organized a boot camp that brought together over 100 inventors in five days of mentoring and development. It supports entrepreneurs with laboratories and special equipment for prototypes, and is currently preparing to bring together “the world’s best specialists in the areas of product design and service experience” in Lisbon. The second edition of the Productized Conference, which will be held between 19th and 21st October, is designed for “more mature start-ups, with a few years’ experience in the market and which are already developing their products.” “We need a lot of this, culturally we have never invested much in creating technological products with global appeal,” says André.
The Portuguese start-up ecosystem is not exclusive to Lisbon; however, it’s in the capital we find one of the most important facilitators of this new world. Beta-i, which is an organization designed to educate new generations of entrepreneurs, was set up in late 2009 to help the Portuguese find a way out of the financial crisis. “The first thing we tried to do was inspire people. We were in the midst of this crisis, and if people couldn’t find employment, they could create their own”, says Ricardo Marvão, founder of the association. To do so, they invested in developing an entrepreneurial network and created special conditions for start-ups with global ambition, offering incubation space with services and products focussed on that exact goal. In six years, it has received 2,700 applications and helped over 430 start-ups. Beta-i is also responsible for some of the most important events held in Portugal, such as the Lisbon Investment Summit and Silicon Valley Comes to Lisbon. In late September, it published the Start-up Guide, which aims to be a snapshot of the Portuguese entrepreneurial ecosystem.
2 – PORTO
Portugal’s second city boasts a revolutionary university and science and technology park linked to the business world.
Universidade do Porto
The innovative Pluma gas bottle sold at Galp petrol stations, the non-alcoholic and flavoured beers of Unicer and the photovoltaic cells developed in partnership with Efacec (whose patent was sold to an Australian company for five million euros) are just some examples of real world applications coming out of the University of Porto: 14 colleges, a business school, nine research units, 49 innovation centres and 183 active patents. Pro-rector for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Carlos Melo Brito highlights the university’s international recognition and extensive scientific production, “having taken the role of the biggest producer of science in Portugal for many years.” The university transfers knowledge to the business community in three areas: the protection and commercialization of intellectual property rights; the promotion of spin-offs and start-ups from the scientific community; and joint projects with economic organisations and professionals, as well as providing value-added services. Brito states that “the results are really positive”, highlighting the crucial role of bodies, such as UPTEC, UPIN – Universidade do Porto Inovação (University of Porto Innovation), different interface institutes and dozens of research centres. The pro-rector adds that the institution has created “a veritable innovation ecosystem” that is part of the university’s mission, “contributing to the economy’s competitiveness and, consequently, to a richer, more developed country with fewer social inequalities.”
Since 2007, the University of Porto’s Science and Technology Park (UPTEC) has been dedicated to boosting the economic and social value of generated knowledge. Divided into thematic areas – technology, creativity biotechnology and the sea – it uses a cluster and resources-sharing strategy with start-ups, innovation centres and anchor projects, connecting to a broad and extensive network of national and international partners. It has supported the development of over 370 business projects, in areas as varied as nanoscience, nanotechnology, new materials, production, energy, health, food, biotechnology, information and communication technologies, digital media, architecture, interactive marketing and content production. In parallel, UPTEC set up a direct link with Porto city council through the ScaleUp Porto programme, in order to encourage the growth of companies with international potential, with the local authority saying that it “seeks to create a living laboratory”. Those in charge conclude that “the city gives priority to measures that consolidate this ecosystem of innovation, the creation of national and international networks, synergies and the reduction of fragmentation.” The city council has also created a competition – Desafios Porto – in which entrepreneurs and companies get the chance to propose innovative solutions for the city. This year’s winning start-ups include Healthy Road, which involves a biometric analysis system that can prevent road accidents that are caused by distraction and drowsiness, Omniflow, which transforms wind and solar energy into electric current, and siosLIFE, which optimizes interaction technologies designed for senior citizens.
3 – BRAGA
Medical technology, digital health, nanoscience: the vanguard of the academic world applied to the entire world.
Agencies, incubators and various bodies bridging the gap between research results and the world of work. This is the idea behind InvestBraga, the economic wing of the city of Braga, which, according to director Carlos Oliveira, “acts in synergy with the University of Minho [based in the city], research centres, entrepreneurs, scale-ups and major companies to promote the global ambition of start-ups based here.” Start-upBraga, which was launched by InvestBraga, assists entrepreneurs at various stages; that said, according to Tiago Gomes Sequeira, the focus is on “aspects of the digital economy, medical technology, digital health and nanotechnology.” Start-upBraga creates partnerships to generate added value, such as the collaboration with the Escola de Ciências da Saúde (Health Sciences College) and the Centro Clínico Académico, as well as Braga hospital. “It’s fundamental to provide knowledge, mentoring, services and specialized places for start-ups that are part of the community.” Start-up Braga has produced two medicine-related projects: Peekmed with surgery-oriented software, and Performetric, which created a tool that measures mental fatigue in real time.
Universidade do Minho
Located between Braga and Guimarães, the University of Minho (UMinho) has invested heavily in scientific courses and projects that have achieved considerable international recognition. According to the Dean, Fernando Alexandre, UMinho “has been recognised in various research areas, such as nanoscience, nanotechnologies, materials and new production technologies, information and communication technologies, food, agriculture, fisheries, and biotechnology”. There are various projects funded by the European Commission and several domestic and international partnerships, such as joint programmes with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Texas in Austin and Harvard Medical School programme. In 2015, it recorded 47 new patent applications and was the Portuguese university with the highest registered number in the European Patent Office. Over the past decade, the UMinho has originated over 40 spin-offs, representing sales of over six million euros. The UMinho’s Liftoff – Gabinete do Empreendedor da Associação Académica can help the 30-plus research centres linked to different knowledge areas create the social, economic and cultural conditions to facilitate, support and boost continuous qualification of entrepreneurship.
Between 7th and 11th May, 2016, for a full 107 hours, all of Portugal’s electricity was supplied via renewable energy from solar, water and wind energy. One of the companies that contributed to these zero greenhouse gas emissions days was Ventominho – Renewable Energy, which is part of the Empreendimentos Eólicos do Vale do Minho (EEVM) wind energy initiatives, which inaugurated the largest wind park in Europe in 2008. EEVM is involved wind potential projects, including four wind farms. By the end of 2015, they produced electricity from renewable sources which was the equivalent of the annual consumption of 560 thousand inhabitants and 293,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year. In addition to the expansion of two wind farms (an additional investment of 32 million euros), EEVM has developed a technological cluster related to wind power in Portugal involving universities, R&D centres, engineering offices and industrial units.
4 – AVEIRO
Over 300 R&D projects, including new forms of lighting, cooperation in the fight against cancer and DNA tags. A campus that produces spin-offs ‘til the cows come home.
Universidade de Aveiro
The University of Aveiro (UA) is one of the country’s most dynamic and innovative centres. Set up in 1973, it operates in a number of areas, but it’s particularly well known for the excellence of its research. Alongside various Portuguese and international companies and bodies, it is involved in various projects and programmes and provides important research, development and innovation services. 2015 was a prolific year for UA: of 316 R&D and technology transfer projects, 80 have been funded by international and European programmes (27 by the 7th Framework Programme, 13 by Horizon 2020 and 17 by Erasmus+). It is currently involved in 29 Horizon 2020 projects, coordinating three and the sole beneficiary in others. The UA research units operate in a wide variety of areas: environment and sea; ceramic and composite materials; nanostructures and nanofabrication, nanomodelling; telecommunications, electronics and telematics engineering; mechanical technology and automation; geoengineering; health; natural product organic chemistry; mathematics and applications; and many other areas in the humanities and arts – all working in a multidisciplinary fashion.
I3N & nu-RISE
Amongst the different innovative technologies, the University of Aveiro’s assistant dean for research, José Fernando Mendes, highlights a radiation dosimeter developed at the institution’s physics department via I3N – Instituto de Nanoestruturas, Nanomodelação e Nanofabricação (Institute of Nanostructures, Nanomodelling and Nanofabrication). The project’s mission is to “make radiotherapy treatments more efficient in the fight against cancer, revolutionizing the form and quality of how these are monitored.” The research team coordinator, João Veloso, adds that “the role of the dosimeter is particularly important because it allows the direct measurement of dosage and the ability to control how it is given to the patient.” This technology has given rise to a spin-off company, nu-RISE, the result of the university’s company incubator (which took part in Stanford University’s 7th Global Annual Entrepreneurship Summit in Silicon Valley) and has gained recognition from various bodies and picked up a number of awards for innovation. The dosimeter is currently being certified for prostate brachytherapy, one of the main forms of treatment for prostate cancer.
Another innovative technology developed at the Aveiro campus and operated by a spin-off, DNA Trustag is a DNA code for brands, based on the creation of unique molecular codes that are easy to produce and impossible to forge. These non-toxic labels can be applied to various surfaces and inserted into any product (using ink or varnish), from a work of art to an item of clothing or a mobile phone. According to researchers from the Department of Biology and Environmental and Marine Studies Centre, Francisco Coelho and Newton Gomes, when checking the authenticity of the product, all that is necessary is “to collect a DNA sample from the products and send it to the laboratory for analysis”.
Rute André and the respective team at CICECO – Instituto de Materiais de Aveiro obtained better quality white light, a better level of colour temperature and reproduction, stability and constant brightness via the creation of a new LED (light emitting device), using a material made up of particles of nanometric dimensions containing an organic part (based on carboxylic acids) and an inorganic part (made up of an aluminium-based mineral). These new LEDs use a material that “is produced with cheap, non-toxic raw materials that can be easily found naturally in minerals, such as bauxite, which is desirable from both an industrial and environmental perspective”. In the near future, it is expected to be used in the lighting industry and vehicles, homes and street lighting.
5 – COIMBRA
The oldest university in Portugal, and well-respected internationally, Coimbra boasts a powerful incubator and a unique bio-technological park.
Instituto Pedro Nunes
Created by the University of Coimbra in 1991, the Instituto Pedro Nunes (IPN) promotes innovation and technology transfer, establishing links between the scientific and technological environment and the productive sector. The IPN has six of its own research and technological development laboratories, which offer the business community multidisciplinary support to create innovative products and processes, via technological development, sources of funding, support for intellectual property rights and access to international markets. Iceclay (clay aerogels), Turncoat (temperature sensors for tools), CogniWin (software to assist senior workers), InovWine (vineyard management), MOVE (driverless, electric rail vehicle) and Soul-FI / Fiware (distribution of large-scale and low cost web applications and services) were key to increasing innovation and competitiveness in partner companies. Another aspect is the IPN incubator, whose companies enjoy conditions that facilitate access to the scientific and technological system and an environment that helps develop knowledge in quality management, marketing and contact with domestic and international markets.
The Aceleradora de Empresas (company accelerator), which was launched in 2014, is a business support infrastructure that works in partnership with the incubator, responding to the specific needs of companies at a more advanced state of development. With an annual turnover of €120 million euros in 2015, 240 companies have already been supported and 2,000 highly skilled jobs created. Active Aerogels, CoolFarm, doDOC, Feedzai (find out more on this in our Portuguese Overseas section), Friday, iClio, Perceive3d and Take The Wind are just some of the accelerated and incubated companies. The IPN incubator is also recognized as one of the best at an international level and is in the top 25 of the University Business Incubation Index 2015. Among other awards, it came first and second in 2010 and 2008, respectively, in the international competition, Best Science Based Incubator.
The mission of the first and only science and technology park dedicated to biotechnology in Portugal is to combine sources of knowledge and technology with the ability to develop global products and services. University professor and founder of Biocant, Carlos Faro, explains what started as a project of Cantanhede town council, in partnership with the University of Coimbra and the University of Aveiro, has become an “innovative ecosystem that, over 11 years, has attracted talent and young, extraordinarily dynamic people. Today, it’s a national benchmark in the field of biotechnology.” 40% of Portuguese companies in the area are based in five buildings in Biocant Park, where development and research are the main business. On site, there is a mechanism to transform technology created in research centres and universities into a multi-faceted business project, “from staff training and development to the whole process of technology and time to market”. In addition to the creation of laboratories, Biocant Ventures was also set up as an important tool to fund projects at an early stage, in partnership with a venture capital company from Porto, Beta Capital. Despite the assumption of high risk, this is what “made Biocant different”. Crioestaminal was the first company to set up in the park and is still one of its standard bearers, offering the cryopreservation of umbilical cord blood cells. CEV – Consumo em Verde is “the only major success in Portuguese biotechnology” and produces a natural, environmentally friendly fungicide made from lupine beans and used in agriculture. The project is currently marketed in the United States and approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
by Augusto Freitas de Sousa (Minho), Hermínia Saraiva (Lisboa), Manuel Simões (Aveiro, Coimbra) e Patrícia Brito (Lisboa)
web design & development 262media.com