I spent the past few days in the beautiful city of Lisbon, Portugal, to attend the annual Switch Conference and gain some insights into the Portuguese startup ecosystem (and to enjoy several local seafood dishes and pastries).
Honestly, the reason I accepted the invitation in the first place was to find out if Portugal even had a startup ecosystem – I was annoyed at myself that I didn’t know a single Portuguese tech startup as the European editor of a blog that passionately covers tech startups worldwide.
The answer is: no, there’s no real startup ecosystem in Portugal and big, vibrant cities like Lisbon or Porto will never, ever become European digital innovation hubs such as Berlin, Tel Aviv, London or Stockholm.
And that is despite the fact that there’s a bridge in Portugal called the Ponte de 25 Abril that looks exactly like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco (seriously, just look at the picture accompanying this post).
The good news is that it doesn’t really matter.
Like in most countries and cities around the world, when you look for them you will always find people that just can’t resist the entrepreneurial bug inside them, that build companies even if the circumstances are far less than ideal.
Portugal is a relatively small, financially troubled country where entrepreneurship isn’t actively encouraged or even decently supported. In that kind of environment, it’s always a pleasure to run into people who kickstart, promote, celebrate and finance ambitious digital ventures all the same.
There’s Talkdesk, a voice platform for businesses that is backed by Dave McClure’s 500 Startups. There’s Seedrs, a crowdfunding platform for startups that runs its operations from Lisbon. There’s Muchbeta, a nicely named Web applications company that is building a nifty news aggregation app for the iPad called Niiiws.
And I met the people behind fascinating, fledgling tech companies like Tuizzi, which is like a Booking.com for outdoor advertising, ‘digital shoebox’ and memory platform Limetree, mobile application maker Hole19 (which is building a ‘caddy in your pocket’ app targeting golfers worldwide), social shopping startup Wishareit, socially responsible social network Inpakt, meethub and Livesketching.com, among others.
And I came back home feeling confident about Portugal’s startup talent and its ability to build great companies even under difficult circumstances, and curious about how the many people I’ve met will fare over the next few years.
And in case you’re wondering, the seafood and pastry were indeed amazing.