Hailed as the "sunniest capital in Europe," Lisbon is rich with culture and a vibrant nightlife. It's also rich with hundreds of new startups that are sprouting around the city. Testament to this, it will host the massive startup love fest called Web Summit, which is relocating after several years in Dublin. Beta-i is at the center of this growth. Beta-i an acceleration program with the mission to improve entrepreneurship.
I spoke with Ricardo Marvão, the co-founder and Head of Global Resources at Beta-i about the accelerator and several breakout startups from Lisbon.
In just one sentence, what is your accelerator called and what do you do?
The Lisbon Challenge is an ambitious 10 week acceleration program aimed at eager international tech startups in prototype or product phase, looking for a truly innovative and empowering experience. It aims to offer consistent methods and resources for startup acceleration. Whether you are looking to enter the European market, or explore the vast emerging Portuguese speaking markets like Brazil, we feel Lisbon Challenge is your gateway to success.
The program will be concluded with the Demo Day (fall batch) and Investors Day (spring batch) where you will get the chance to pitch and demo your startup to a crowd of investors, partners and startups
What makes your program different or unique? And related, what’s your primary value-add?
Some international media coverage is comparing Lisbon to San Francisco or Berlin, considering it as one of the best cities to visit in Europe. According to Paddy Cosgrove (founder of Web Summit), “Lisbon is like Berlin 5 years ago, but with the southern Europe climate”.
The truth is, in recent years, Portugal has developed a significant number of world-class startups and programs like ours are key to this progress, for they help a large number of entrepreneurs develop and enhance their business ideas. During this period, Beta-I was considered Partner of the Year by Portugal Ventures, and the Lisbon Challenge was elected the 4th most dynamic European accelerator, by Fundacity, so we are pretty confident we have a top accelerator in place.
Going into detail, in each edition, top teams have the chance to meet with 200 international mentors & investors as well as participate in workshops, pitch sessions and networking events. In an international environment, you will boost your network, learn from each other and progress on a weekly basis. Our 160 alumni startups have raised over 50 million euros, we got 3 alumni at YCombinator and 7 at Seedcamp, and 40% of alumni raised capital.
What do you love about working with startups?
For us, fostering great ideas and watching them grow to achieve their full potential is key. Because the world is changing, but the startup world is changing faster, we challenge teams to embrace change, to take off their shoes, to make things happen, and above all we challenge entrepreneurs to be the best they can be. At Beta-i we believe in the power of “i”, for innovation, imagination, initiative, inspiration, ignition, investment...
Being an entrepreneur is hard, across the globe, but the good thing is that in Lisbon you get to know a lot of amazing people who are always willing to help. You can also relax by the beach and go surfing on the weekends. You have an amazing quality of life here and low costs of living - which is really helpful when you're building your own company.
What is the hardest or most surprising part of working with startups?
The fall-out rate is sometimes hard to witness. Even founders with solid ideas and good business backgrounds can´t sometimes make it, but we have to accept those ‘casualties’ are part of the virtuous cycle of ecosystem growth.
On the plus side, we could point out the sheer amount of amazing ideas and concepts that we are exposed to, on a daily basis. Being part of a structure that deals with all these vibrant and driven entrepreneurs is, in itself, very rewarding.
Do you have a success story to share? Who are the most notable or interesting companies to go through your program?
We would have to say Uniplaces, the online student accommodation platform that just raised $24 million in Series A. They stood out by disrupting the student accommodation business, and they've grown into a 150 employee company and they're currently in more than 30 cities across Europe.
According to Miguel Santo Amaro, Founder at Uniplaces, “Lisbon Challenge was very important as a testing and validation ground, since back then we only had one idea and little else. It served as test and gave our team additional motivation, so we could continue to believe in the project, and it also encouraged us to devote ourselves full-time to this concept”.
Another example is Line Health, the creator of a small pill dispenser who recently went through a major re-branding and product improvement after getting a grant from German big-pharma company Bayer last year.
How, if in any way, has Foundersuite helped your companies?
Although we have started only recently, the Foundersuite platform is very interesting to keep track of investors and see new opportunities to engage. It has also served has a great tool to explain to the startups the importance of a really good structure when startups are fundraising.
Finally, what is your best tip for running a startup?
It pretty much depends on what your vision for the company is, but if you are bootstrapping and growing through lean innovation and minimum viable product (MVP) type strategies, you can control better the business development cycle. Later in the game, to raise the necessary big rounds of investment, entrepreneurs have to go abroad and get it from international investors.
Also, sometimes access to talent is challenging because we're a very small country - however this might change in the upcoming years as we're attracting more and more talent from more experienced startup hubs like London, Berlin and Silicon Valley.
Thank you and have a great day!