Reflections on Lisbon - the most optimistic city in all of Europe

Aug 21, 2019

In preparation of this year’s edition of the LAFUTURA conference, which takes place in Lisbon in September 2019.

Reflections on Lisbon - the most optimistic city in all of Europe
Photo by Simon Couball on Unsplash

In preparation of this year’s edition of the LAFUTURA conference, which takes place in Lisbon in September 2019, I got to explore some of the city's most creative locations and met some very interesting people in the tech and entrepreneurial community. When I asked about, „what they are most proud of" and „what makes Lisbon unique", I was not surprised to hear the answers. Instead I was feeling confident that we had made the right decision with Lisbon as the destination for this year's global future conference.

„Lisbon's quality of life is really beautiful and it makes it the most optimistic city in all of Europe!"

This could be the essence of my discoveries, but let me try to explain why. Lisbon has always been a port city with a strategic geopolitical position on the world map. Over centuries Lisbon has been the harbor for venturers, merchants and travelers, where boats were equipped and to where they returned to, with the riches of the new world. The glory and shadows of the old days are long gone and, coming out of financial crisis, Lisbon is one of Europe's most exciting, vibrant and fastest growing ecosystem for entrepreneurship, leisure, tourism and the creative industries – for a new generation of adventurers and explorers.

What is it that makes Lisbon special and what makes people proud to be there?

People in Lisbon, at least the ones I met, seem to have an open mindset towards new ideas and concepts while keeping their own culture, language and traditions alive. To engage with others has always been part of Portuguese culture. Traditionally this has to do with the need of being resilient through trade and exchange. When asked, what is the secret of success, one citizen summarized it well:

"It is the creative scene, the human factor, the beauty, of course the weather and the proximity to the water, but most of all it is the openness that is very welcoming and which makes people stay"

The willingness to experiment and to fail, in order to learn, has an honest and charming touch. You can see and feel that everywhere in the city. But what is special is the mix of the old and the new, which reminds one not to evolve into the future while forgetting the past. The new economy of co-working spaces, tech-startups and the creative industries are shaping the profile of the city and claiming new territories, by occupying abandoned spaces, like factories, warehouses and public areas (ex. LX Factory, HUB Criativo Beato and many more). Small shops, selling unique products, innovative restaurants, craft beer bars, galleries of art and design, markets and cultural venues are evolving the public space into a laboratory and testing ground for new value promises. Notably is also the diversity and the fragmented compilation of industries represented in these new types of venues and in a relatively small area. This demonstrates the reality of a city in transformation through entrepreneurial activity, rather than one following a fixed masterplan. And meanwhile, thousands of new jobs have been created in the process, which also reflects the recovering Portuguese economy.

What is the role of the government?

A municipal government's bold and thorough strategy and a directorate-generale led to building a successful ecosystem for entrepreneurship. 30%-40% of all startup founders come from abroad and many young Portuguese talents, who went away to study, work or to try their luck in other places around the world, are now coming back to experience their hometown from another perspective. The strategic initiatives of the government, with it's network-driven approach to incubating, accelerating and investing in startup companies and building community, and the efforts to consolidate trends and topics have put Lisbon back on the map. Latest developments have proven to bear fruits and create more appetite for further leaps and jumps in the near future. An open data testing lab, the annual entrepreneurship week and the establishment of an open fablab are just a few examples of that development over the past years. The annual websummit and several awards, like the election by the EU as an „Atlantic business hub and gateway to the Americas, Africa and Europe" and nomination of „Europe's Capital of Entrepreneurship" attest that.

„2015 – 2017 has been the tipping point of this development. The policies helped in this development but most of it has been organic and bottom-up".

This reflects the entrepreneurial spirit in the city and it helps to understand the general optimism. My favorite statement, which I can only confirm and which I am very grateful for is, „people will pick up the phone, you just have to try." When looking at the future of quality of life we need to look at it from so many angles, but I am positive that we will find and let the conference guests experience some very inspiring examples.

Paulo Carvalho, former General Director of Economy and Innovation, expert on Foresight, Scenario planning, strategy and innovation and founder of IF Insight & Foresight summed it up nicely:

Lisbon has one of the most connected and dynamic entrepreneurial systems. The city is beautiful, it’s special. It has everything, a cosmopolitan vibe, but in the right size. The big assets where always here and we did a lot to make the city more visible and attractive for entrepreneurs, students, researchers and corporates. The combination of all of this makes it very special. But, there is still a lot to do to make it solid and sustainable.

Curious? Leave your comment below, get in touch and join the annual conference in Lisbon from September 25.-26.2019

About LAFUTURA - The global Trend Network:

LAFUTURA was founded 2010 in Berlin by leading trend spotters from Europe, America and Asia. With many global and local events LAFUTURA is the central trend intelligence network to bridge the gap between trends, innovation and tomorrow‘s opportunities.

LAFUTURA unites and connects the global trend and future industry with corporate innovation leaders, to build a better future together. By connecting people, we create the finest network in this field, give outstanding trend-input and best of „how-to-innovate“ skills. LAFUTURA members are trend agencies, innovation and foresight experts and corporate innovation departments. Our motivation is curiosity, co-learning, create a positive impact for the planet and to co-create in projects together.

About the author: Johannes Comeau Milke

Co-founder and strategic partner at J2C – Journey2Creation, an international innovation and transformation company, head-quartered in Berlin. J2C developed the concept of the „Entrepreneurial Organisation“ - an overarching framework to guide individuals, teams and whole companies through the changing business context of the 21st century. This includes the training, development and application of an entrepreneurial mindset and leadership approach, human centered innovation methods, agile frameworks and principles, authentic identity and communication as well as enabling structures and systems that promote and support creativity, development and collaboration.