Miguel Fontes Talks Startup Shop with the IPBN

Startup Lisboa is creating the right kind of community for startups, and now it's going big.

Moderated by Aoife Healey, Chair of the IPBN Board, the conversation with Executive Director of Startup Lisboa Miguel Fontes kicked off the IPBN's Hiring and Investing in Portugal Event with a general introduction to the tech sector in Portugal and Fontes’ role at Startup Lisboa. Fontes described Startup Lisboa as an incubator of startups born almost 10 years ago in downtown Lisbon, by the “will of the citizens,” as the idea of creating the incubator was selected and voted by the citizens of Lisbon as a non-profit organization that began with two original members: the IAPMEI Institution and Montepio Geral, a private bank here in Portugal.

Now, members include Católica University’s Entrepreneurship Center and Delta Cafés among others, providing a diverse range of specialties to assist the incubator in providing a wide network of mentors with various expertise as well as its network of strategic partners like Microsoft and Google (for tech) as well as several legal firms meant to help startups navigate the ins and outs of the legal system as it applies to their projects. Startup Lisboa also helps with promotion and marketing and can set startups up with fundraising opportunities through venture capitalists and business angels. 

Startup Lisboa believes in curating, even with the almost 100 projects coming from all over the world across different sectors, with different models. Fontes noted Startup Lisboa’s value as being able to “create the right environment where [startups] feel confident to share and learn from each other because time is the most valuable resource…being part of a community helps a lot.” Fontes also mentioned that international companies are deciding to be incubated here to gain access to Portugal’s tech talent. “We have the right dimension to test and validate when you are trying to create a new service for a global market…if you achieve your success here, maybe you can do it in other markets…We have a good infrastructure, a very open society…and people feel welcome when they come.” 

To that end, Startup Lisboa has created a program called Launch in Lisbon, a 3-day program built to provide a soft landing platform for participants, especially those outside the Schengen Zone. The next edition will be the 16-18 of June to which Fontes welcomed all who are interested to register on Startup Lisboa’s website.

Fontes told the IPBN that when the Web Summit came to Portugal in 2016, it brought with it a lot of international attention to Portugal, bringing VCs, specialized media, entrepreneurs, and more, so that has helped Startup Lisboa grow, so competition nowadays can be fierce. On that note, Fontes said the selection process of the startups they choose for incubation is more or less agnostic. Fontes cited the tourism and retail sectors as being two of the main types of startups they are working with, but he went on to mention fintech-house startups, machine learning, AI, e-markets, and other impact projects, some aided by the Santa Casa de Misericórdia, one of Portugal's oldest and most renowned community organizations.

If selected, startups can expect a virtual incubation period of five years, according to Fontes, and he added, “The majority of them are in virtual incubation, and there are a few [physical incubation projects] here at our main headquarters [where] they cannot stay more than three years." Fontes mentioned that at that point, usually the startups have either died because of their innovative approach to a risk activity, or they outgrow the space quickly in the number of people they welcome onto their staff.

The Hub Creativo Beato (HCB) is Startup Lisboa's first foray into real-estate, in a manner of speaking. The 18-building hub is a whopping 35K m2 and is located between the old town and the very modern Expo center. This project was meant to boost Lisbon's international clout as a hub of technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Startup Lisboa was invited to design the model for the operation, and they developed the concept, master plan, and the promotion of the space. The investment in the infrastructure of the project (electricity, connectivity, etc) was done by the city of Lisbon, and inside, partners from various industries have been invited to invest in its completion. The first building will open its doors before the end of the year featuring 10Km2 of space that has been allotted to Mercedes Benz, and where Startup Lisboa will have its second location.

When asked about how the project will accommodate the myriad people it was originally intended for after the pandemic, Fontes mentioned that, “since the beginning when we developed the master plan, we tried to develop much more than just a working space…hosting a lot of different activities…but of course, after the pandemic situation, we thought…perhaps the companies wouldn’t want these type of facilities…but companies are reconsidering the…big open spaces with lots of people working together...those companies are looking for a different kind of work with hybrid versus physical work in the office, and they need space for that to create the right kind of atmosphere…they are creating their spaces toward this new era.”

The master plan for HCB took into account the promotion of sustainability and soft mobility, good practices in the building’s renovation, and more as a top priority. Fontes says that the new generation of entrepreneurs are focused on similar goals toward a green future, so he is optimistic, as he mentions many are trying to solve old problems with new frameworks. 

From the concept stage to marketability, Fontes mentions that all Universities and institutions are aware of the need to be innovative, as it is mandatory for them to create the right environment for burgeoning entrepreneurs. “One of the innovative reasons why we were born was because it was the first incubation in Lisbon that wasn’t related to the academic work…more focused on business than knowledge…it will, of course, be impossible to have the vitality of our ecosystem without universities...and it’s mandatory to maintain relationships with these if you want to keep doing good work in the city.”

Fontes fielded a variety of questions from attendees regarding funding, logistics, and more, all of which can be seen in the video of the conversation above. 

Executive Partners