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How Portugal Grew to Become an Innovation Champion Country

CTA Staff

A few years ago, Portugal was stuck in a debt crisis with record-low growth and sky-high unemployment. Now, the country is among the strongest economies in the world and ranks as a top-tier 2018 Innovation Champion in CTA’s first-ever International Innovation Scorecard.

That turnaround would not have been possible without its flourishing startup sector. In 2015, Lisbon was named a European Entrepreneurial Region of the year by the European Union, which cited a range of programs to support and advise entrepreneurs and an initiative to shorten the time it takes to start a new business. The total value of Portugal’s venture capital deals jumped six fold between 2015 and 2016.Today, more Portuguese are choosing to start their own companies domestically rather than take jobs abroad. 

Another initiative boosting homegrown tech is the MIT Portugal Program. The partnership between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – located in Boston, one of America’s largest Portuguese communities – and Portuguese Universities and Research Centers has awarded hundreds of advanced degrees in fields such as biomedical engineering, sustainable energy systems and advanced manufacturing. And its alumni are re-investing in Portuguese tech.

Federico Cismondi was finishing his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at MIT and working in Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center when he realized the process for managing medical documents was broken. Researchers and scientists were spending valuable time on documentation processes that would be better spent working on a new life-saving drug or an innovative medical device.  “All this information is very complex. We’re talking about thousands of documents, and it sometimes contains sensitive patient information,” said Cismondi. His goal was to create “something to author the document in a collaborative way.” 

The solution was DoDoc, a web-based platform for writing and managing complex documents. “We save every action as an auditable event with a timestamp and a user ID, so you can go back and make sure you know who did what and when,” said Cismondi.

Cismondi and his co-founders started DoDoc in Boston and soon opened a subsidiary in Coimbra, Portugal. The company has benefited from Portugal’s commitment to supporting local entrepreneurs, especially an innovative program for angel investors in which the government will match investments in companies based in the country. Half the team is now based there, and half of their investors are Portuguese. “We got a lot of support from the very beginning from private institutions, from specific people that put a lot of their time and money [and] also directly from the government,” said Cismondi.

As DoDoc’s transatlantic story shows, countries can simultaneously attract talent from abroad, support local innovators and encourage the free flow of ideas outside their own borders – a win for global innovation.

Learn more about CTA’s International Innovation Scorecard.