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The Story of a Blossoming Startup Scene – Interview with Simão Cruz of Portugal Fintech

While participating in this year’s Web Summit a few things were quite evident. Lisbon became a new hotspot for startups in Europe and the national technology ecosystem is now growing well. After a brief conversation at the event with Simão Cruz, I thought it was worth to discuss things further about his viewpoint of the national startups development, from both an investor perspective, as he is looking for interesting startups with Banco de Investimento Global (BiG), and an ecosystem builder one, with Portugal Fintech, an association helping local financial technology startups to grow. And here we go!

Olá Simão, it’s great to have you here. Could you kindly give us a brief introduction about yourself?

Olá Alessandro, thank you very much for the invitation, it’s great to be here.

Sure, so I believe I’ve always had a big interest and curiosity for business and technology, what led me to study Business & Management at NOVA in Lisbon – the city where I’m from. After creating my own business and working with a few startups, I joined BiG – a leading investment bank – to develop innovative projects and create new sources of revenue, in a close relationship with BiG Start Ventures, a VC investing in early-stage fintech startups.

What brought you to start Portugal Fintech and what’s the main idea behind that?

Portugal Fintech is composed of people working around Fintech that, by seeing the hurdles in the ecosystem, decided to come together to help it grow. It is funny how it started, a few years ago, as a way of putting people together, until becoming the non-profit association it is today. Therefore, we try to help startups in four main verticals: from access to capital to contact with incumbents, as well as with proximity to talent and by navigating the regulatory seas.

What are the main challenges that you encountered to develop the association?

The association works as an enabler and a connector of the several gaps we find, from our close relationship with the network. As examples, in order to present an overview of the ecosystem and the startups populating it, along with the solutions in the space, we developed the Portugal Fintech Report, that now is already on its third edition. We have organized the first innovation hub with all the financial regulators and we also create several other events to put together all the ecosystem players. Simply put, the Portugal FinLab is a premium communication channel between innovators (both incumbents or startups) with the regulators, to understand how to operate in the market.

When we first met you told me about your new ambitious plan to launch a Fintech House in the centre of Lisbon. Could you tell us more about this?

We wanted to have a space where startups can find all the conditions to grow in a close relationship not only with other startups but with the entire ecosystem, from banks, insurers and legal firms, to consulting firms, investors and regulators. This is based on the belief that the entire ecosystem can develop faster through collaboration. The “Palace of the Balconies” is a historical building in the business district with capacity for 30+ startups operating in Fintech, Insurtech, Regtech and Cybersecurity. All in all, the Fintech House is the must-go place for Fintech.

You certainly have a very privileged view of the fintech ecosystem in Portugal. How do you see it evolving? What are the main trends that you observe emerging?

At this point, it is impossible to deny the significant growth of the ecosystem. The Fintech House itself is a confirmation of it, having grown so well that today we can have a single space focused in a specific vertical. We see more startups appearing every year and more capital being allocated to them.

As the main trend, I definitely state collaboration. 80% of this year’s top fintech startups in our Report are focused on the B2B segment. So we have a lot of companies focusing on a very specific problem and then incumbents coming to them to better solve that issue inside their organizations, or even to create unique use cases on top of those solutions.

From an investor point of view, what are the things that you are looking for in a company? Which are the names of Portuguese fintech startups that we should keep an eye on?

It has been interesting to see the number of unicorns coming out of Portugal as Outsystems, Farfetch, Talkdesk, and I believe we are really close to seeing it in Fintech as well.

As an investor, seeing that a startup is solving an actual need is the first point of the process. We can then add to it a great team, scalability and traction in the market. All the top 30 startups in the Portugal Fintech Report have these characteristics in a way or another. From big names like Feedzai, Seedrs and Anchorage, to the growing ones as Switch in payments, Loqr in identity; Coverflex, Lovys, Drivit and Habit in insurtech.

During my recent visit to Lisbon I got a very positive impression of a city that has changed quite a lot in the past ten years and that is now blooming. How is the startup scene developing? What do you think still needs to be improved?

Lisbon and Portugal have been improving significantly in several areas that can, of course, always progress even more, as for example wit access to capital, easiness to expand to other markets, and with the regulatory infrastructure as well. One thing where things have improved tremendously is the attractiveness to great entrepreneurs and to innovation, that along with recognized universities and technical talent, plus a great quality of life, have made the country the primary choice for companies like Revolut, events like the WebSummit, or accelerators like Techstars.

Are there any blogs or publications, with a focus on entrepreneurship, startups and financial technology in Portugal, that you particularly like and that you want to suggest to our readers?

The last three reports on the ecosystem are a great way of getting started.

The Portuguese universities like IST, NOVA Sbe, or CLSBE, always have programs and initiatives going on, and there are even organizations focused on entrepreneurship like BET (Bring entrepreneurs together). To get to know the ecosystem and for the best events, I recommend visiting the Fintech House, and I really hope to see you there.

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Alessandro Ravanetti
Alessandro Ravanetti
Alessandro Ravanetti is a writer and editor based in Barcelona. He helps startups with their content strategy, curates the Techstars Startup Digest's fintech newsletter, serves as an independent expert for EU projects, and mentors aspiring changemakers with Bridge for Billions.

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