Entrepreneurship and the new age of discovery

I was in Portugal last week for the Lisbon Startup Summit and was also lucky enough to visit Sagres and hear of Henry the Navigator (Henrique, o Navegador). It set me thinking about the perennial topic of how you create an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

In the early 15th century the world was a dark and ignorant place, it was largely unmapped, the continents were isolated and travelling the ocean was not much more frequent than a trip to the moon. However, on 8 July 1497 Vasco de Gama left Lisbon with 170 men who successfully sailed round Africa to India and opened up a new era in global trade.

By 1420 Henry realised that to lead such expeditions he needed cartographers, shipbuilders, navigators, explorers and funding for the huge expense. He brought together the best and brightest at Sagres and led development of the caravel, a light oceangoing ship that could sail into the wind, freeing Portugal from reliance on the trade winds. He started the University of Lisbon by donating venues for scientific study (grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, music and astronomy) and Portugese sailors became experts in the use of Ephemerides for celestial navigation (medieval GPS). It took almost a century but funded by a “Royal Flush” of profits from the lands discovered, Portugal became a global power by encouraging measured risk taking and rewarding the entrepreneurs who delivered.

What can we learn from this? From inception through to global leadership there is a long path for every company and entrepreneur. What is important is that they get the right support and people for each stage of their growth. You need talent in technology, product design, sales, marketing, finance, logistics, customer support and entrepreneurs who can steer the ship. You also want support from others that have made similar journeys and funding for everything from the seed concept to the IPO. Ecosystem is the right word given the range of ingredients needed to create successful global companies and you can’t plant one overnight.

It was exciting to see that in Portugal this has been growing for a while at every level from seed to growth. My thanks to those who hosted me and whom I had the pleasure to meet: Beta-iBusy AngelsFaber VenturesCaixa Capital, Shilling Capital and Pathena. My thanks also to Stephan Morais and the Caixa team for the helpful overviews below. Finally, to all the future Vasco de Gamas, I look forward to speaking with you!


Portugese startups and technology centers


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