Shape Europe 2014: Entrepreneurship and Innovation
The Global Shapers is a World Economic Forum (WEF) initiative that selects talented and driven people under 30 years old who want to have an impact on their glocal ecosystems. Almost all major cities around the world have their own Hub, the operative cell of this volunteer organization, where young members create projects, initiatives and events for their own cities. These can sometimes have a broader spectrum or become best practices that get scaled outside of the local hub.
I’m a member of the Rome hub but in Italy we also have Milan, Turin, Venice and Genoa.
Every year events are organized for each continent to bring together some members of the hubs in a single venue. This year the Shape Europe event was in Lisbon, Portugal and the main topic was “Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Europe”. The amazing two and a half days were organized by Ines Silva, my classmate from Singularity University, and the other members of the Lisbon hub. The schedule was packed but here I would like to give you a brief overview of the conference day.
What crisis really means is time to change. Innovation is then one of the most important keys we have to overcome the issues our societies are facing. Politicians in Portugal are apparently getting this, as the minister of economy gives us the rankings that his country has climbed in the last few years. Portugal is 28th in the WEF innovation rankings, 36th (jumping 15 places) in global competitiveness, 17th for scientific quality, 10th for bureaucracy simplification, 8th for availability of engineers and scientists and 4th in management schools.
As for entrepreneurship, 35,000 companies started in 2013 and 18,000 in the first half of this year; a 100% growth in five years. The government also introduced a no tax policy for the first three years of a startup, although an entrepreneur from Lisbon told me it’s not that straightforward. The minister is anyway aware of the different mindset about failure between Europe and the United States, something that makes a world of a difference. “The more you fail the more you learn from your mistakes and raise your success rate in the future. Is that the culture in Europe? Not yet.”
Eugenio Galdón is the second keynote speaker; he feels inspired to give us a story of his interesting entrepreneurial journey. President of the Everis foundation, Galdón started Ono, the first broadband company in Spain (now part of Vodafone). “I started Ono because I was jobless”, he says. Incumbent Telefonica stopped almost every competitor. Nevertheless, he stresses that money is not important for your idea to flourish. “Entrepreneurship is about stressing yourself beyond your skill sets with an idea that has actionable impact”, he sums up. When Galdón had the opportunity to talk with the prime minister he said: “I would like for the government to not do anything against me”. He’s convinced that indeed entrepreneurship needs a fostering ecosystem and a good work environment. For him failure is the hidden engine of success and he believes that we’re still at the stone age as to what digital can do for entrepreneurship and social impact.
The conference goes on with panels about building startups in Europe, then on capital and social entrepreneurship. As far as the local ecosystem goes, education is the main topic of intervention for the global shapers hub in Lisbon. The startup ecosystem itself is 2-3 years old in Portugal and was ignited by the economic crisis. The main accelerator is called Startup Lisboa and its manager says that 40 per cent of the entrepreneurs are foreigners. This accelerator doesn’t take equity because of Portuguese law. Entrepreneurs are attracted by low cost of living, cheap flights and human resources.
The area and weather aren’t that bad either. The bridge, trams, hills and bay make the overall landscape of this area not too dissimilar from the San Francisco bay area. The Lisbon bridge has a reddish color that makes it look like the Golden Gate bridge, but it’s actually more similar to the Oakland Bay one since they both share the same builders.
As in most of Europe, the innovation rate of the startups in Lisbon is not that high; there’s anyway a biotech company focusing on drug development. The CEO mentions the fact that most of the successful drugs are mostly developed in Europe. Value gets however created mostly in the US while european big pharmaceutical companies are buying out those US-based companies. The MIT technology licensing office gets mentioned as one of the best practices for proactive technology transfer in universities, one of the missing pieces in the european ecosystem.
Beyond social activities, we concluded the event with an unconference, an informal conference where everybody can propose a topic to discuss in groups. The topics ranged from the situation in Ukraine to computational-thinking education.