Six years of Startup Lisboa by Ana Santiago

Life is full of decisive moments, those in which a slight change of direction — going or not going to an event, meeting that person or not — can change the course of our existence forever. 

One of the most decisive moments in my life was accepting an invitation to join the Startup Lisboa team. Fate may have placed me on the path of certain people, but it was free will which led me to say yes.

At the beginning of 2013, the word entrepreneur hadn’t yet pierced our social media, and the little public opinion there was had a tone somewhere between hysteria and contempt. We never dreamed that Web Summit could ever happen in Lisbon, that would be like winning the Eurovision — impossible. 

And quite frankly, despite being an internet addict and a happy customer of several startups already, I was working in the public sector (comms and culture), and really had no idea what a startup really was. 

But fate wanted me to work in a place where entrepreneurship was never really spoken of as if it were the salvation of the motherland. I wouldn't have lasted long at Startup Lisboa if I was surrounded by the kind of people who say to the unemployed in this country: "If you don't have a job, it’s because you're not an entrepreneur".

Here, we believe that not everyone was born to be an entrepreneur and that people aren't more or less for that. We also believe that helping companies develop means helping to create more jobs and more wealth and development in the country.

And please don't tell us that it was the economic crisis that made us see the light. The crisis wasn’t good for anything. It’s not because of the crisis that there are more companies, entrepreneurs and news articles in the international press praising us. 

The crisis sucks. 

The crisis destroyed families. 

The crisis destroyed morale. 

The crisis meant many of us lost everything. And when you lose everything, you lose your fear, too. 

The credit for all this newfound fame goes to a new generation. One which has emerged from a certain dark side of our country. That side which is shy of speaking about money at all, lost between guilt, fear and that impoverished humility of those who owe everything and can demand nothing. This new generation hasn’t been given much, but it has made the most of its education. They’ve made the most of that particular Portuguese DNA of talent and determination, taking up a truly global vocation in a way that is putting to shame those nonsense theories that we suffer from “southern lethargy”. We don’t. 

My days at Startup Lisboa have shown me this: countless hours of hard work, dedication, sweat, tears, laughter (and laughter among tears) of the almost 300 startups that have passed through the six floors of number 80 on Rua da Prata. To them, the entrepreneurs of this house, and to the team at Startup Lisboa, I pay my tribute. They — we — are good people. It would be false modesty to say otherwise. 

Despite the competition and the worst habits inherited from the Silicon Valley mindset… in the end it’s all about people. Those who we want to sit at the table with us. You invest more in people than ideas. 

These past six years at Startup Lisboa essentially make up the history of the Portuguese entrepreneurial ecosystem. With all due respect to some early pioneers — Talkdesk, Farfetch, Aptoide, to name a few — who ventured before this time, the birthplace of the entrepreneurial nation is in Lisbon’s baixa. 

“Who would ever start a tech incubator in the historic city centre?” — we heard that a lot at the start.

Where have you ever seen a country like this, with incubators popping up from north to south? We can’t take the credit for them, but after these past six years, it’s good to know that we weren’t wrong. It’s good to know that there is now an entire country doing more, and better. 

As for us, we continue to do what we've always wanted to do: to help entrepreneurs by providing the space, services and favourable environment they need to turn their ideas into profitable businesses that create jobs and produce wealth.

Recently, I re-watched Sliding Doors, the 1998 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow; in Portuguese it was called “Critical Moments” (Instantes Decisivos) and it was my inspiration for writing this. I can't help but smile when I remember that at one point in the movie, the boy says to the girl “nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition", quoting Monty Python to cheer her up (but without resorting to the more obvious "always look to the bright side of life”).

Having been traumatised by the bankruptcy of a company I owned in the 90s, STARTUP LISBOA has helped to free myself from the fear of failure. In this time, I’ve learned that perfection is but an illusion. Just do it. 

Above all, Startup Lisboa taught me that every day is a good day to start. Or to start over, because, you know, “nobody expects the Spanish Inquisiton".

Thank you, Startup Lisboa.

Ana Santiago

P.S. - This text was originally written in Portuguese and translated into English by Unbabel. Thank you!