In this guest blog post, Vitor Pereira gives an insight into Portugal’s attitude to entrepreneurship, in the context of Smart Cities.
Registrations for Ovum’s Smart to Future Cities 2015 event are now open. After the great success of the 2014 event, the 4th Annual edition will take place at Waldorf Hilton on 28-29 April 2015, and offers complimentary attendance to city/government representatives.
Portugal, doesn’t like entrepreneurs?
Or, at least, it seemed that way until a few years ago. A crowd of Prophets of Doom bravely resisted the innovation, the boldness, the audacity and the risk of people who owe little or nothing to the country, but, who fell in love with it; with the Portuguese, the food, the landscape, the quality of life – only God knows what triggered so many passions among investors, foreign entrepreneurs and true leaders, which could have chosen large, “more developed” cities and countries, yet still fixed roots here, in this sunny rectangle, in the extreme south of the old continent.
I met one of these extraordinary entrepreneurs a little less than a year ago, at the Smart to Future Cities conference, which took place in London. Between the famous speakers, leaders of large global companies and even the Minister of Science and Technology of England, I heard, at some point, speak of Portugal. I hastened to check the program, but I did not see any connection nor identified a familiar name. I remain focused to the presentation and took some notes. And I was not the only one that was stuck to the theme. The entire room was following the words and explanations of that middle-aged speaker, already with many white hairs.
It was a dynamic and active presentation, which talked about a city. A new city for the future, sustainable and full of technology and latest generation services, ready for the most diverse and varied experiments, the Internet of Things, including some signed by names like McLaren or Microsoft. Yes, it was a city that would have true Formula 1 technology, adapted to buildings and utilities. Like me, many of the people present almost imagined the city. We were transported to its squares, to the laboratories and the streets teeming with the best professionals in the world in the most diverse sectors of activity. Sincerely, I was appreciating the idea. In fact, knowing that it was a great global project, which would be developed in my country, in Portugal, caused me chills of excitement and it seduced me too. I started to visualize a chronicle about the theme and then I searched for more details, even during the presentation. In the meantime, the speaker had finished talking and gave space to questions of assistance. And there were many of them. Curiosity, interest and enthusiasm. Applause and wishes for success. When I tried to speak with him personally to get more details, unfortunately he had already left. But I fixed his name: Steve Lewis.
Crossing the desert
I was far to know that the story had so many complex contours. And here, I must confess some ignorance. Until then I had never heard about the project PlanIT Valley. Or maybe I had, but I was not interested. Perhaps because I do not like the media controversy around allegedly megalomaniacal projects or because much of the information that has been published was related to dubious things, insinuations of public-private business, white elephants, disputes of lands, and such like.
And so it seemed. The project that I heard about in London, after all, was already more than 5 years old and it was involved in problems here, in the sunny rectangle. Capital problems, licensing, bureaucracy, and things that in 2008/2009 almost forced it to stop completely and disappear.
But, few of those news stories spoke about the project that was presented to me, in London, in 2014. They did not detail the information or the potential, nor the vision of its promoters. Too little of what I have read in the press at the time, had the clarity of what I have seen in the presentation of Steve Lewis, the CEO and Founder of Living PlanIT. Many of the texts were superficial and innocuous and almost presented the project as megalomaniac, even crazy and casting doubts on its genesis and realization, only pointing out impressionistic titles such as “Portuguese Silicon Valley” or others. At this moment I started to glimpse the reason of the slowdown and the forced stop. Sometimes I think that Portugal doesn’t like entrepreneurs at all. I already felt it in some way too, and as well I already noticed it throughout my 20 years of professional journalism. Trying to see the positives in something does not sell and it is not profitable. The controversial is the ground that everyone wants to cultivate, even if the harvest is insignificant and disastrous.
The case of Paredes PlanIT Valley
A few more months have passed and a few weeks ago I contacted Steve Lewis personally and asked for more information about the project, which he promptly sent me. I confirmed the feeling that I had in London. To the present day, this is a fantastic and bold project, with so much potential, fully-framed with the present and future development policies. Only now are many seeing it and Steve Lewis has already commenced delegations and expansions of its vast group to various points of the globe, so that if Paredes (the Portuguese project) does not come to fruition, definitively, the project can pack up and leave the country. And that will lead the same people who pointed out all the doubts to relaunch the eternal debate about the negativity in which the country transformed itself. A country that welcomes as few but, on time to advance, in particular, does not give the necessary steps, oppresses with bureaucracy and as the saying goes “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.
Portugal has fear of entrepreneurs and this apparent bustle and national fever around entrepreneurship seems to be just that: apparent and febrile. Our governments and political leaders nicely try to give an image that they are open and available to embrace these projects, but too often end up relenting and ceding to others who are not entrepreneurs. They cede to fear. They are afraid and they step back. They create obstacles and, in the end, they complain that it’s not their fault, because actually they “gave the PIN” (National Interest Project). To begin with, Portugal needs truly entrepreneurial profiles in the government itself. And this current government seems to have some. But, quite often the political will comes up against fearful bureaucrats, full of doubts and schemes, against which, the whole will and strength of champions like Steve Lewis, whose professional background and curriculum are undeniable, are not enough for success. And this country needs more success and less envy.
PlanIT Valley has a new lease of life. The group of Steve Lewis has strengthened itself with first-line strategic partnerships (Cisco, Microsoft, MacLaren, IBM, Hitachi). The sponsoring company Living PlanIT, receives mentions and awards in a sustainable way, the most recent, the prize European Growth Excellence Leadership for Smart City Projects 2013. The distinction, attributed by Frost & Sullivan, recognized the growth and rapid expansion of the company into new markets in the world.
“The cities are looking for solutions to complex projects that not only require a vast knowledge, but also innovative ideas and technologies,” explained Adrian Drozd, director of research at Frost & Sullivan. “The Living PlanIT soon positioned itself as a player capable of approaching these critical projects,” recognized. (in Smart-Cities.pt)
From Portugal to the world, while the group succeeds, here prevail the doubts and the fears. As if expecting the worst possible outcome (the definitive abandonment of the project) to then be the first to say “we were right, this project had nothing to be successful!”. I really hope this is not the outcome, but if it is, if Paredes is not viable, then I view an opportunity to start again, and why not, in the interior of the country. There, people make mistakes too, but there are those who have learned the lesson and if the PlanIT Valley wants to remain in Portugal, even though far from Lisbon and far from Porto (full of catastrophic noses upon the others), it can come closer to Europe. In fact, the vision and the entrepreneurial power of Steve Lewis could also contribute to help us release the country of the Prophets of Doom, the hordes of pessimists and seat backers, getting rid of the envious and the skeptics, anyway, of the obstacles to true entrepreneurship, which generates wealth, employment, development and prosperity. And the interior is still Portugal.
Written by Vitor Pereira
After 20 years of Journalism and Media Professional, I’m dedicated since 2008 to new projects related with Innovation and Technology. Consultant of many municipalities to the Smart Cities theme and Tourism sector based on the newest technologies and communication tools.