This year’s Web Summit kicked off with a bombastic claim from founder Paddy Cosgrave: that Portugal is ‘the California of Europe’.
Was it a dig at Ireland, the conference’s former home?
Unlikely – but the timing is interesting. Web Summit has just signed a deal to stay in Lisbon for the next decade, while attendees have questioned why there is no Irish delegation at this year’s event.
Web Summit launched in Dublin in 2009. Issues such as poor wifi connectivity, expensive hotels and a lack of government support reportedly led to its move to Lisbon.
Portuguese officials clearly see value in the conference. It’s estimated the 2016 and 2017 events provided a total £295m boost to the economy as the 70,000 attendees wined, dined and caught cabs around the city.
A few things still need work, though. The number of cash-only food trucks was incongruous with a future-tech-focused conference, and musician Imogen Heap was unable to perform with her high-tech instruments as scheduled. She blamed the internet connection.
The conference certainly applies a rose-tinted view on what it’s like to do business in Lisbon.
Portugal’s startup scene is exciting, but it’s still very much emerging. Tiago Venda Morgado, founder of plug socket-maker Egg Electronics, told us it was an uphill battle to raise a £920,000 Series A round in 2016. ‘Investors still see startups as very high risk,’ he said.
It’s a perception Portugal’s economics minister, Pedro Siza Vieira, says the government is very keen to change. In the past two years the government has launched initiatives such as a ‘startup voucher’, providing stipends to early-stage businesses, and even a public venture capital fund, Portugal Ventures.
Having the conference also helps – Siza Vieira told Courier he thinks automotive brands such as VW and BMW wouldn’t be investing in Portuguese startups if they hadn’t attended previous events in Lisbon.
Impressively, Libson was chosen above cities like Valencia and Paris which also bid to host Web Summit. Siza Vieira says those destinations likely had better financial proposals, but a city’s vibe is also important to make an event like this work. ‘We have nice weather in November and the Euro in Lisbon goes much further than [elsewhere]. [The organisers] perceived they could attract more participants to a destination that is sexy rather than established.’
On Wednesday, investors from DST Global, Defy.vc and Kleiner Perkins took to the stage to share what they’re on the look-out for in 2019. All three agreed on how startups should pitch themselves. Do: stay in the real-world. Focus on an actual problem and how the business can solve it. Don’t: talk in acronyms and jargon; investors will fall asleep.
Other things they are keen on:
Authentic founders. These are the people who really understand the problem they’re solving, having probably experienced it themselves. ‘They have an authentic sense of why something isn’t working, so they’re driven to solving problems,’ said Trae Vassallo at Defy.vc.
Under penetrated markets. It’s estimated that only 50% of the world’s population is online, and investors are keen to find businesses that focus on these emerging internet markets. ‘The other four billion people coming online will disrupt and change economies,’ Tom Stafford at DST Global pointed out.
Everything as a computing platform. It’s not just phones that can run apps. The investors said they are keen to see how people can use other platforms – such as home devices or cars – creatively for tech applications.
Will startups want to be backed by their favourite tech event? Paddy Cosgrave thinks so. On Monday, Web Summit announced it plans to launch a £38m seed venture fund called Amaranthine.
The fund’s key selling point will be how it uses the data collected over the years of running Web Summit to figure out where it might invest – connecting the dots between which types of startups investors like to meet at the event (and, therefore, the sectors they are most excited by).
Can the venture capital process be automated, or are humans necessary to pick out the best companies and make connections with founders that might otherwise go unnoticed by an algorithm?
At a time when individual VCs are actively trying to build their personal brands – take Jenny Gyllander of Backed VC, Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures or Arlan Hamilton, Backstage Capital’s founder – it’ll be interesting to see whether the data-crunching funds can beat those that rely on a human touch.
Courier caught up with Lisbon-based tinned fish brand Miss Can. We previously covered the business in 2016, when the three founders (Bárbara Cabral, Marta Fernandes and Tiago Ribeiro) had just opened their first petiscaria – a Portuguese snack bar.
Since then, they’ve introduced their own branded wine in partnership with producer Quinta do Monte d’Oiro, a range of merchandise and some new products such as tinned squid. Cabral and Fernandes also said they’re looking at opening a second restaurant in Lisbon (the northern city of Porto is also a contender – but logistically tricky).
What’s slowing them down, though, is rent. Since 2016, Fernandes reckons rents have at least doubled across the city, putting trendy (and once affordable) neighbourhoods like Marvilla out of reach.
A significant amount of construction work is going on in Lisbon. The Miss Can team have a front row seat to it; outside their office, several plots of land are currently being transformed into office blocks and apartments.