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Porto shows its high-tech side to the world

Porto shows its high-tech side to the world
Expresso · 15 Mar 2020

International entrepreneurs are beginning to give Porto a prominent place in the championship of the best destinations to invest in technology and in the European study Startup Heatmap the city appears in second place in the rankings of available talent and in the cost-benefit ratio.

The distinctions follow. It already was the most welcoming city for startups at the World Excelence Awards (2018) and the third fastest growing technological hub in Europe (Atomico 2018). Now (2019/2020), it is the best European city in supporting startup and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the fifth best European medium city in investment strategy, says the FDI Intelligence ("Financial Times”). And it is ‘European City of the Year’ at The Urbanism Awards 2020, "another important distinction because urbanism and quality of life are fundamental criteria for multinationals to choose where they invest”, highlights Ricardo Valente, city councillor for economy.

If investment projects in Porto soared 150% in three years, more than half are in the technological area, to be assumed as a more valuable asset than tourism. In fact, in the balance of the work done in 2019 by InvestPorto, the entity responsible for attracting investment to the city, it is clear that the "demand (of square meters of area) was generated mainly by projects in the technological sector, which tend to prefer modern spaces, flexible and central”.

The jump from €14 to €18 per month in prime office rents in two years reflects the new dynamics of Porto and neighboring counties, marked by the arrival of companies like Natixis, which started in 2017, employs 800 people and is ready to move the barrier of the thousand, or entrepreneurs like Lisa Lang, one of the 50 most influential women in the technological world. He designed OFundamentO from the ground up, a project that combines technology, design and textiles for Porto, "the city with the greatest capacity to give birth to something of this type in Europe”, he explained at a meeting at Porto City Council.

Those who work in the sector say that "Porto is no longer just trending”. As a city and region brand it is already a destination on the investor map, guarantee the companies contacted by Expresso. It is true that in the case of Critical TechWorks, which brought together Critical Software and BMW in the area of ​​technology and mobility of the future, the German investors started by preferring Lisbon. "Critical is there, but we realized that it was easier to grow quickly here and they are surrendered”, comments Rui Cordeiro, executive president of this company that has just moved to the Palácio dos Correios, next to the Porto City Council, and year and a half after the foundation it is ready to employ a thousand workers.

Porto was not chosen due to costs because "there were other possible destinations in Europe that were cheaper for BMW", guarantees the manager, admitting that the talent available and the cost-benefit ratio can help explain the company's rapid growth. "When we advanced, technology was already betting on Porto and that was important for BMW. He saw an ecosystem developing in the region”, he says.

In fact, Porto shares its technological side with other municipalities in its Metropolitan Area (AMP) such as Maia and Matosinhos, where Revolut opens its Innovation and Support Center on March 19th, proposing to welcome more than 500 professionals in areas like financial crime in the near future. "And it makes perfect sense to think about AMP when talking about Porto”, defends Luís Neves, spokesman for Porto Tech Hub, a non-profit association that was born on the initiative of Critical Software, Blip and Farfetch, in 2015, with the mission to reinforce the local image in attracting specialized human resources, "in the certainty that being competitors among themselves, they can complement each other, enhance a network of contacts and create a fundamental snowball effect to enter the international investment map”.

Today, it brings together 26 names from the technological sector, in a mixture of Portuguese and international capital in which the last member was the American Avlino, focused on artificial intelligence. The strength of the Braga-Porto-Aveiro university triangle is seen as one of the success factors of the technological magnet that is being born around Porto, but safety, quality of life, the movement of the Erasmus generation, infrastructure and strength the new tourist destination between the river and the sea "also weighs" in the ongoing change, he comments. "The charm effect of Porto is decisive and a short time ago, at a conference we organized at Customs, an Amazon manager was so passionate about the place that he immediately said that he had found the ideal place for a multinational event", he adds.

Verónica Orvalho, from Didimo, has no doubt that "it is possible to bring different cultures together and conquer the world of technology from Porto”. Lurdes Gramaxo, from Bynd Venture Capital, a company that manages venture capital funds in the seed and early stage phases on an Iberian basis, admits that the weight of Porto in its portfolio is increasing. "We have 32 startups and seven are from Porto, an already solid and well-structured hub in the technological ecosystem.” And he concludes: "Porto is increasingly on our radar, not least because we know that talent attracts talent.”

Didimo invests in digital humans

What's the fastest way to create 3D characters? "Automate and simplify the process through selfies of real people." This is how Verónica Orvalho explains the mission of Didimo, a leader in the development of high-fidelity digital human beings for customers like Amazon or Sony.

It may be another unicorn (startup valued at more than $1 billion) Portuguese, but the university professor and founder of Didimo avoids the business numbers. It highlights the "bet on the creation of more human virtual interactions”. It promises "3D images on each one's cell phone, on social networks”.

It presents the company as a multinational startup that was born within the University of Porto (spin off), has a presence in London, USA and Canada and a wide business area in which entertainment and retail are just the starting point. The next goal: a platform to generate thousands of 3D digital twins. The team of 25 people doubles in 2020 to follow new projects supported by a financing round of €4.4 million from investors such as Portugal Ventures, Farfetch, Bynd Venture Capital, Beta-i and LC Ventures to which it adds €1.8 million from the European Innovation Council Accelerator pilot project.

She saw the project chosen from more than a thousand by the accelerator Techstars (London, 2016), she is the only European in the grand jury of Siggraph, the largest global computer graphics event, she has already earned the attention of "Forbes”, won the Women Startup Challenge (New York) and has an award from IBM.