How discovery has made Portugal’s future present

 In Internationalization

Discovery is part of the Portuguese DNA. With it come ideas and innovations and we consider how, 20 years on, some of the highlights of Expo’98 and an attractive and efficient investment environment have created the future.

Expo’98 opened the door to a series of new horizons for Portugal and, 20 years on, these horizons are as vivid and colourful as ever. Not only did the infrastructure programme deliver a spectacular bridge, the second longest in Europe at over 12 kilometres, but it also led to the “expansion” of Lisbon by a further five kilometres through the creation of an entirely new namesake neighbourhood which continues to host the Oceanarium, one of the capital city’s top tourist attractions.

In a single year, 11 million visitors, including heads of state and industry gurus, were welcomed and introduced to Lisbon, and many credit this with giving Portugal the confidence to host other major events culminating in the latest Eurovision. Twenty years have elapsed since the big event called Expo’98 happened in Lisbon.

Whilst the big events, like the Euro 2014 and the Cities of Culture (Porto in 2001 and Guimarães in 2011), receive the airplay, there are a number of underlying programmes which underpin the growth and development not only of major cities but also of whole regions.

For example, COMPETE 2020 promotes entrepreneurship, internationalisation and competitiveness with a particular focus on innovation and new, possibly ground-breaking strategies. This programme encourages companies to develop the ability to innovate and create new advanced strategies.

Then, local investment agencies, the most prominent of which is Invest Lisboa (since 2009) have been created to focus international investment in certain areas.

The development of a public strategy by Turismo de Portugal looks towards 2027 to further improve a national tourism strategy through the various stakeholders, with the objective of enticing more than the 20 million visitors welcomed last year.

Critical to attracting foreign investment was the creation of an ­investor-friendly environment, particularly in an international context. Once again, it’s not just about the top billing events such as the Web Summit but also the initiatives that ensure that investments are crystallised more readily, such as StartUp Portugal and Simplex.

With the number of startups increasing by 20%, StartUp Portugal has already been delivering on its objectives of promoting and ­accelerating the growth of startups with international funders through the creation of an entrepreneurship ecosystem at a national level alongside financing structures.

Simplex delivered the Empresa na hora, or “on the spot firm”, platform, enabling the setup of a new company in a matter of days. The importance of this efficient and digitally-based platform is hard to overstate: 20 years ago, setting up a company could take two months.

Whilst the new Ultimate Beneficial Ownership legislation provides more of a challenge for more intricately structured operations, ­Portugal is on course to provide the head office for nearly 40,000 new companies in 2018.

With Expo 2020 in Dubai, the theme moves from Expo’98’s “The Oceans, a Heritage for the Future” to “Connecting Minds, ­Creating the Future” with the sub-themes being “Sustainability, ­Mobility and Opportunity”. Both the current theme and the subtheme seem particularly relevant, with the seeds of the future having been sown at Lisbon’s World Fair and with the 2020 European Green Capital having just been awarded to Lisbon.