The principle is the same as for other young companies: there is a business idea, opportunities in the market for it to thrive and someone willing to roll up their sleeves to make it a reality. The difference is that the entrepreneurs who Empowered Startups is bringing to the Algarve, Alentejo and other parts of the country are not young people dependent on foreign capital, but experienced investors, with resources and international connections.
Laura Blumes, the general manager for Europe of this international digital business incubator, spoke with the Sul Informação and told us how this organization, which was born a few years ago in Canada, arrived in Portugal and what it is doing.
And there are already almost two dozen companies that are starting up, in Portugal, linked to this project, the vast majority in the Algarve.
«We have around 50 entrepreneurs [interested in investing in Portugal]. I think we currently have 46 in the system. But when it comes to those who already have their businesses launched and well underway, we have 12 here in the Algarve and one in the North. In January, two are launched in Aveiro and another two in Évora», he enumerated.
These entrepreneurs, like all the founders with whom Empowered Startups works, «have existing companies in the country where they come from».
«Their objective is to establish a business in Portugal, which can be in the digital services sector or it can be a platform, which is automatically connected to a company abroad and to all its ecosystems. In other words, it is a Portuguese company that has immediate connections to all these ecosystems. It is as if bridges were established instantly”, he exemplified.
All entrepreneurs «go through a testing and validation phase, to confirm that all these left-wing come true”.
Empowered Startups was founded by Paul Girodo, who, from a young age, formed with his wife a couple of «true entrepreneurs», used to launching businesses, «one after the other».
“Paul and his father, who is a professor at a university in Canada, participated in a project with Interpol, related to the fight against money laundering, which was a success. The project caught the attention of the Canadian government, due to the advances it made», framed Laura Blumes.
Later, when the Government of Canada decided to create a visa program for startups, «as a pilot project, a small group of entities was chosen to be part of the experience».
«They invited public incubators, “angel” investors and asked Paul if he also wanted to join, because he had experience both as an entrepreneur and in the fight against money laundering», which ended up happening.
This is how Empowered Startups was born, «an incubator whose focus is to receive transnational entrepreneurs, with a different profile from what most people associate with those who create a startup».
“Usually we think of someone who is in their 20s and maybe doesn't have any money. They have a great idea, but they don't have the resources or connections, but they're going to shake up the industry», illustrated Laura Blumes.
“However, in the United States and France, entrepreneurs are people who are further along in their careers. Nowadays, there are studies that tell us that the ideal age to be an entrepreneur is 45, but we've been betting on this for some time”, he added.
The arrival of this incubator in Portugal took place at the end of 2019, following a survey carried out by Laura Blumes, who supervised the creation of the company’s European offices, in Grenoble, France.
«While I was in France, I heard about Portugal and that it was a very dynamic country. I was told that there were people here who were going further, looking for connections that weren't so obvious and creating very innovative programs, not only in Lisbon, but also outside the big cities”, he said.
From here, Laura started «making contacts and asking people how the visa program [Startup Visa] in Portugal», an initiative of the Portuguese Government that Empowered Startups helped to set up.
One of the first contacts was with a partner who was in Bragança, who spoke «about what was working and what was not working» in this region.
“One of the things he told me is that the visa program does attract people, but they are people with no money, despite having good ideas. What happens is that, when they arrive here, they end up not launching the company, choosing to get a job”, he described.
Although «it is good to have talented people wanting to work here», the ideal is that «entrepreneurs who start businesses linked to international activities» come to Portugal, something that Empowered Startups proposes to do, also, in our country.
“A good part of what we do is working with universities and research centres. We seek to know what is happening in research centers and how we can turn innovation into a business with the potential to expand internationally», revealed Laura Blumes.
And that is precisely what is happening now, in Portugal.
«We started a partnership with Brigantia-EcoPark, which is linked to the Instituto Politécnico de Bragança (IPB), and later we made a similar partnership in the Algarve, with CRIA, and others in Évora, Leiria and Aveiro. Things have progressed and businesses are starting to emerge in these ecosystems, which are outside Lisbon or Porto, which stem from the activity that takes place in universities», explained the director of Empowered Startups in Europe.
The new companies that are being born in the Algarve, Alentejo and other places where the incubator has partnerships «are linked to others that its founder already has in his country of origin, which can be Canada, the United States or Vietnam. ».
«There are many people around the world who see the same thing as we do: that Portugal has tremendous… I hesitate to say potential, because Portugal has proven time and time again how capable it is as a country and as a people. I think Portugal is proving, once again, how much it can do and how much it can be», he praised.
And what kind of companies is Empowered Startups bringing to our country?
«There are businesses in different areas, but I would say there is a theme: they are mainly in Fintech and in digital health care».
«For example, one of the projects that will be launched in Évora has to do with primary health care, namely the type of care that is given to someone to prevent them from getting sick. It is a type of service designed for older or very young people, which ensures that they stay healthy and monitors them», he said.
«This is particularly useful in areas outside the major centers, such as Alentejo, which has places where people are very far away and it is not easy to go to them, to check if their blood pressure is good and or to help control diabetes », he considered.
In the Algarve, on the other hand, «there has been a lot of interest in Fintech. Some projects focus more on cryptocurrencies, others on foreign investment. The big opportunity that entrepreneurs are seeing is that the region is attracting wealthy people, who come to enjoy the Algarve, but who also like to get involved in business».
The knowledge created at the University of Algarve allows those investors, «who already live or who already have connections to the Algarve, to use their resources to invest even more, in the region and in Portugal».
This is possible, not least because the research carried out in Portugal «is highly respected and recognized abroad».
Another advantage is “public policies regarding things like cryptocurrencies. There is future thinking that allows researchers to do important work in terms of blockchain quality cripto, which attracts investors, because they know that the business environment will allow them to grow».
On the other hand, the students who will work with these researchers “are very promising and talented”, which means that the entrepreneurs “have a talent base to work with”.
«The objective of both parties is for these students to start working in the company, not only as part of the research project, but in the long term. And, as you can imagine, this is also interesting for universities, which can say to young people: come here, because you can have access to a career in companies that are based in Portugal, but that are connected to the world», he illustrated.
«What is certain is that there is money coming into Portugal and that it can stay in the country and be redirected to help the country grow, while obviously benefiting the investors themselves», assured Laura Blumes.
All investors joining the Startup Visa program intend to «become citizens of Portugal. All of them are building a base in Portugal, so that they can have a home here».
“There is an example of an American investor, who lives on the western side of the USA. He has a wife and two children, who are of school age, and he wants to move to Portugal. However, you can't go away like that all of a sudden. He has a whole life, which is what pays for the new business he is launching here”, he said.
In this way, «he is launching himself, growing and, slowly, he comes more and more and more often to Portugal. In the end, he will complete the transition and, even keeping the business he has in the United States, he will live in Portugal».
According to Laura Blumes, the founders associated with Empowered Startups have something else in common: “everyone wants to create something bigger, they are all entrepreneurs by vocation. They are people who are always eager to get into something new and interesting».
And Portugal has not only opportunities to explore, but also a tradition of valuing «the important things in life, like good food, natural beauty and peaceful coexistence, in a place where people are polite and kind to each other» .
The Portuguese, considers the incubator's director for Europe, «always pursue something greater, but without forgetting to appreciate the things that are good for our soul».
“And I think there are more and more people considering that this is the key to a good life”, he concluded.