Portugal And Tech: Ignore Both At Your Peril

27th December, 2016 by
Portugal seems to sneak under the radar most of the time. It rarely features in international news except as being the good economic student paying back its debts to the EU. But don’t let that fool you. The Portuguese have always been spirited adventurers and so the new world that is digital was always an inevitable draw.

Lisbon, Portugal’s capital has been at the forefront of the startup scene for some time.

In fact, wherever you go in the country you will find enthusiastic entrepreneurs springing up. Portugal has an amazing engineering background and renewable energy is a forte. So therefore if you’d paid attention, Lisbon was not such a crazy place to host the Web Summit 2016 after it outgrew Dublin. In fact it’s seen the largest expansion in attendance this year and around 50,000 people attended which is almost double the numbers from last year.

Lisbon has the skills, curiosity and creativity to be amazing hosts.

They even had the conference venue to manage the crowd along with the tourism infrastructure to cope. If you want tech, then Lisbon can give you masses of it. They even plan to follow San Francisco’s lead with a portuguese twist. Check out beta-i.pt -an incubator, uniplaces.com an oline platform for student properties, codacy.com a code review tool; chic-by-choice.com a rental company for luxury fashion items; prodsmart.com providing analytics software to keep an eye o factory production. This just scratches the surface.

Of course, hosting such a coup as Web Summit is a great  dream for future prosperity. The Portuguese government has limped along since the bailouts from the EU. They have battled entrenched attitudes that are the legacy of years of dictatorship under Salazar. Did you know that film-making and some other creative activities were banned in Portugal during his long period of control? So amidst the older more rural population there appears to be a little less appetite for the entrepreneurial spirit. You can’t help being frustrated when you hear the answer to a suggestion which is usually ‘yes, but….’

The big cities like Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra are up for it.

The ‘MTV generation’ is all in and Web Summit 2016 saw startups jostling with big business. Why wouldn’t they, when startups disrupt traditional businesses and they need to watch their backs? We are talking tech and business and at 100TB many of our conversations are about just these topics.

Lisbon has been flexing its tech muscles for a few years now.shutterstock_447170233.jpg

There are quite a number of startups in the city. The decision by Factory, which is the Berlin co-worker startup campus, to settle in Portugal is significant. Everything about Lisbon is beginning to make sense.

So what was the main topic of frenetic conversation at the Web Summit?

Probably AI and robotics featured heavily along with a sprinkle of driverless car technology and a serving of chicken piri piri. When big organizations embark on an arms race (this is happening with regards to automotive tech) then the climate is right for some massive disruption to occur.

We want something massive and explosive from these events.

This may be why people like gathering together in conventions like Web Summit in the hope that something massive will come out of the heady and sometimes explosive digital mixture.  Ironically, the US election happened right in the middle of the convention and you might well pose the question that perhaps his victory can almost be partly laid at the door of tech. Why? So much of the old style industrial models have been blown apart by digital transformation. People have always lost jobs to automation but this is very different. Tech has possibly helped polarize views. Social media has enabled everyone to have a voice and a platform and those not involved simply feel disenfranchised as the world moves on apace leaving them behind. The egocentric, ‘I want it now’ mentality is returning delivery drivers and taxi drivers to working conditions not seen since the early twentieth century in Europe.

Now for the positive.

That’s the negative but we all know tech is actually creating opportunities we could never have imagined years ago. Digital democracy is already happening. Look at Greece’s new wikilaws and their ‘Agora of Ideas’ (agora meaning ‘now’ in Portuguese too). It’s clear that just about everything we do, everything we hold dear is going to change. Change is disruptive, uncomfortable and can promote revolution.

shutterstock_106063898.jpgBut the biggest revolution might well be in the way we all think.

We have to define how value will be proposed in digital spaces. Business frontiers are disappearing. Open innovation changes the model and business models are driven by data, customer experience, SaaS and new CRM capabilities. All this is happening without any apparent fundamental difference appearing between purely digital models and traditional ones.   Although in practice ‘pure’ digital is more devastatingly adaptive and agile than traditional models.

It is probably not outrageous to say that we may well be almost in the center of a perfect storm and it might not be crazy to anticipate another tech bubble going pop. After all, how many small businesses can other larger firms actually acquire? What’s the biggest, latest, most revolutionary idea you’ve heard of late? Exactly.

But if we really are still pushing boundaries and if we are about to prove once again that the world isn’t what we imagined it to be then the Portuguese might well be your best bet when trying to steer a ship towards the unknown new world.

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