Lisbon, Portugal: The startup city guide

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Lisbon, home to Web Summit’s world-renowned event, maintains a strong reputation as a tech hotspot. Discover why the Portuguese capital is the ideal place for startups to plant roots.

Lisbon is a resilient city that always bounces back from adversity. Just as the Portuguese population rebuilt the city following the devastating 1755 earthquake, the economy has undergone a hi-tech transformation since the 2007 recession.

Lisbon is unique in several ways. It combines innovation with heritage; talent with diversity; knowledge with opportunities. It’s a vibrant ecosystem and a beautiful city to live in. Lisbon is the perfect city to take a chance, to be bold and to be creative.

– Miguel Gaspar, Former City Councillor

Why is Lisbon a great place for startups?

At a government and entrepreneurial level, Portugal offers a range of startup support to continue developing and promoting innovation. In recent years, Portugal invested widely in its economy, which has led to an economic renaissance.

While Lisbon’s tech scene is still early-stage, it’s a growth area that is developing rapidly. Startups based in the Portuguese capital are worth a whopping €2.1 billion as of 2022 – a three-fold increase from half a decade ago.

It’s not hard to get your head around why.

A city with an international outlook, Lisbon is ranked as the 11th best city for digital nomads, while Portugal as a whole is ranked as the 10th best country in the world for expats.

Lisbon remains the spiritual capital of the tech scene.

– Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

English is widely spoken, and Portugal was ranked ninth in the world for non-native English language proficiency in 2023. The country also has a high ranking of graduates in STEM subjects, surpassing the European Union average.

And that’s not all. According to Startup Heatmap Europe, Lisbon also ranks fourth on the list of the best startup cities in Europe.

What are some of Lisbon’s top startups?

In technology, as in mythology, unicorns are rare. Despite the size of the community compared to others in Europe, several major unicorn companies have emerged from Lisbon’s tech scene in recent years.

OutSystems

Founded in Lisbon in 2001, OutSystems is one of the world’s first market-leading, low-code software development systems. It currently has a valuation of US$4.3 billion.

Talkdesk

Talkdesk, which has relocated to San Francisco, is a cloud-based customer contact centre and AI software provider with major clients such as IBM and Trivago. Founded in Lisbon in 2011, Talkdesk now has a valuation of more than US$10 billion.

Farfetch

Perhaps most well-known by consumers, online luxury fashion retail platform was founded by Porto native José Neves in 2007, and reported an expected valuation of US$4.9 billion for 2023.

Startups totalled €2.2 billion in sales and services in 2021. The Portuguese entrepreneurial ecosystem represented 1.1 percent of GDP nationally.

– Sapo

Here are some other exciting up-and-comers from the ‘white city’:

  • Barkyn is a subscription service for pet owners that combines food delivery with televet support. (HQ: Porto. Founded: 2017.)
  • Unbabel is an AI-powered language operations platform that uses machine learning and crowdsourcing to improve translations in customer service. (HQ: Lisbon and San Francisco. Founded: 2013.)
  • Zaask is an online marketplace for hiring local professionals, freelancers and micro-companies across a range of services. (HQ: Lisbon. Founded: 2012.)
  • Sensei is a computer vision and AI company leading the way in autonomous retail, by enabling stores of all sizes to be checkout-free. (HQ: Lisbon. Founded: 2017.)
  • Defined.ai offers AI companies a range of data solutions to improve machine learning and make AI smarter. (HQ: Seattle. Founded: 2015.)
  • Uniplaces is an online platform for booking student accommodation across Europe. (HQ: Lisbon. Founded: 2011.)
  • Sword Health is a clinical-grade digital solution for musculoskeletal pain. (HQ: New York. Founded: 2015.)

What support does the Portuguese government offer?

Lisbon is a city that is open and thriving for innovation.

– Fernando Medina, Former Mayor of Lisbon

The Portuguese and Lisbon governments have invested a lot of energy and resources into developing Portugal’s industry. As such, they operate several different initiatives aimed at attracting and developing new enterprises:

  • Startup Lisboa is an incubator founded in 2012 by the Municipality of Lisbon, bank Montepio and IAPMEI (Portuguese Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation). It’s a nonprofit organisation set up to support early-stage enterprises.
  • Invest Lisboa is a strategic partnership between Lisbon City Council and the Portuguese Chamber of Commerce, founded in 2009 to attract investment, companies and talent to the city.
  • Startup Portugal is a public-private think tank that links governments, entrepreneurs, incubators and accelerators via an information hub.
  • 200M is a state-sponsored investment fund, managed by Banco Português de Fomento, that co-invests in high-growth Portugal-based startups.
  • Non-habitual tax residency is a Portuguese tax scheme for expats working in key industries, including tech. Under this scheme, foreign workers are taxed at a flat 20 percent, and not taxed at all on income from outside Portugal. This tax scheme, which has been an important initiative for attracting investment and boosting the Portuguese economy, is planned to end at the beginning of 2024.

What funding is available for startups?

The ecosystem is maturing, with scaleups relying less on non-dilutive funding and having access to funding rounds beyond Series A.

– Building Global Innovators report, 2020

While foreign investment still accounts for the bulk of funding available for startups in Lisbon, there is an ever-growing list of domestic VCs and incubators.​​

Incubators

  • Beta-i was founded in Lisbon during the 2009 financial crisis. It focuses on connecting startups with investors and government institutions through its accelerator programme.
  • Bright Pixel was founded in 2016. With a team of experienced web and telecommunications experts, the incubator offers a development model to mitigate some early-stage risks for startups.
  • BGI (Building Global Innovators) is a collaboration of Portugal’s 12 leading science and engineering universities, working to build connections between deep-tech startups, corporations and investors.
  • Tec Labs is the University of Lisbon’s innovation centre. It provides assistance with R&D and incubation for startups.
  • Fábrica de Startups offers incubation and acceleration for startups. It assists entrepreneurs in identifying business ideas, designing business models, finding customers and launching their companies.
  • Demium is an international talent investor, providing mentoring and business advice for startups. Its partner fund offers a €100,000 pre-seed investment with up to €500,000 in follow-on investments.
  • EDP Starter has partnered with Microsoft, Amazon and EY. It provides expert-led mentoring and training to help enterprises connect with key industry partners.
  • Maze X is an impact accelerator with a three-month sprint methodology work programme to help ambitious startups take off successfully.


VCs

  • Portugal Ventures has invested €201.8 million since 2012. The VC aims to give Portuguese startups a global presence.
  • Indico Capital Partners’ current portfolio has raised more than €1.7 billion from global investors since 2018. The fund invests in SaaS, marketplaces, AI, IoT, fintech, cybersecurity and digital companies from pre-seed to Series A.
  • Faber Ventures is an early-stage VC that focuses on the intersection of science and technology, driving digital transformation and climate action.
  • Armilar Venture Partners is an independent VC fund, managing more than €260 million in assets across a range of deep tech sectors.
  • Bynd Capital is an early-stage VC founded in 2010 with a particular focus on seed and early-stage startups that have an Iberian connection.
  • Semapa Next focuses on Series A to late-stage investment, building long-term partnerships with startups.
  • EDP Ventures is the VC arm of Energias de Portugal, investing in early-stage startups in the energy sector.
  • Shilling Capital Partners works on a profit-sharing model. Each founder the fund invests in receives a stake in the fund to foster a sense of community among startups.

What’s next for Lisbon?

Lead by example. Do exactly what you want to do, not what others choose to do.

– Daniela Braga, Founder, Defined.ai

Investment and innovation continue to grow in Lisbon thanks to the city’s global outlook and ability to attract talent.

Hub Criativo do Beato, on the site of the Manutenção Militar factories in Lisbon’s Beato neighbourhood, is the city’s new pole of innovation and creativity. This joint venture between Lisbon City Council and Startups Lisboa is one of Europe’s largest creative and entrepreneurial hubs – and the home of the new Web Summit Lisbon office.

Web Summit will continue to call Lisbon home until 2028, bringing some of the world’s leading entrepreneurs, experts and investors together in the city for the foreseeable future.

Not only is Lisbon home to a thriving startup scene, but it’s also a beautiful place to live. With delicious food, bustling nightlife, stunning vacation spots and easy-going people, it provides opportunities inside and outside of the office.

As a startup grows, Lisbon can be somewhere for founders, entrepreneurs, investors and employees to put down roots.

If you’re a Lisbon-based startup, check out our Web Summit startups programme. We are back in Lisbon this November for another inspiring tech event – get your ticket today.

Main Image Credit: Web Summit

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