Simon and I were in Lisbon last week for a few days – always a real privilege. I’d been invited to speak at Tech Media Europe (TME) on behalf of the UKTI Global Entrepreneur Programme and Simon and I were both representing Unthinkable at a seminar hosted by the British Embassy and Beta-i at Startup Lisboa.
At TME I spoke on a panel chaired by Yann Manchamp of Mutual Benefits. The crux of the panel discussion was an exploration of how corporations and venture capital can work together to improve innovation in the EU. The other speakers were Stephane Goubau from Intel Capital, Joao Gunther Amaral, Innovation Director at Sonae, the large Portugese retailer, Luis Manuel from the Innovation arm of Portuguese electricity firm EDP, and Hugo Silva from Caixa Capital.
Some conclusions drawn were that similar tech trends are observable across several sectors – especially around big data and customer understanding. Sonae are even developing relevant digital content to engage with their retail customers. Something we at Unthinkable refer to as the “Amazonisation of everything”. There was also a consensus that right now the smart money is investing in entrepreneurial ventures rather than outright acquisition, not least to keep innovation from withering on the corporate vine.
Most of the rest of the day was made up of pitching sessions. Several of these happened simultaneously so I didn’t see all of the pitches, but I particularly liked 360Cities.net. They have the world’s largest collection of professional, geotagged panoramic photos which are used by Google Earth, Nokia Maps and Bing Maps. I was also a judge in one of the afternoon sessions and was particularly taken with the energy and enthusiasm of Laurent Blanchard, CEO of Yooneed.com. Launched 3 months ago, it’s essentially a marketplace for outsourcing small jobs with 7,500 members +50K uniques a month on their website already. Very much in the vein of TaskRabbit in US and Sooqini in UK. Building trust will be crucial for their business I think - TaskRabbit does background checks on all their members.
The next evening we were speaking at Startup Lisboa (SUL). A fabulous incubator space right in the centre of Lisbon.
We were given a tour of SUL by its Director Joao Vasconcelos. It covers six floors of an immaculately renovated former bank and currently houses thirty start up companies. The range of business we saw was wide – impressively so, including: golf course mapping app Hole 19, online medical bookings from Consultaclick, Uniplaces, who help students find accommodation, streaming music service MusicBox and Pumpkin, a service which helps parents find childcare.
SUL is funded by the EU and Portuguese Government. Companies are awarded places there through a competitive process and pay a small fee for a six month stay, after which they can renew if their project has achieved the milestones set for it. Companies from all over Europe can – and have – applied, and we met a couple of Brits on our little tour as well as several other foreigners. It’s not difficult to see why: Lisbon is one of the most attractive and affordable cities in Europe. Talent is plentiful and you can lead a good life (I lost count of the time the beach was mentioned!) while bootstrapping a business.
After our tour, Simon and I gave our talk. We were warned beforehand that Portuguese audiences can be pretty reserved and quiet but this was far from our experience. The Startup Lisboa crowd were enthusiastic and enquiring. The session quickly turned into a lively conversation between us and the ferociously bright and impressively multi-lingual technologists and business people. Exhausting but great fun.
The theme was a series of personal observations about tech trends and opportunities in media, drawing on some specific Unthinkable client work. We'll post our slide deck from the talk in our next post - it might not mean much if you weren't there - that's our kind of slide deck! - but hopefully will be useful to those who were.
It’s no secret that Portugal’s economic outlook is shaky at best right now, but meeting these young companies gave us hope that entrepreneurship will play a significant role in the country’s economic recovery.
Thanks to Renata Ramalhosa and Emilia Baptista from the British Embassy for inviting us over and being such gracious hosts. We hope to be back again soon.