From Tesla to Lisbon: how Techstars discovered Portugal?

  • Bernardo da Mata
  • 31 July 2019

Launched last year, the first edition of Techstars' acceleration programme conquered foreigners from all over the world. Some even decided to remain in Portugal.

Olivier Le Lann lost himself counting the number of people he contacted with during the three months of the acceleration programme. The idea of creating EVA was born in Seoul, South Korea when Olivier was in charge of bringing Tesla to that market. On his baggage, he was taking already not only loads of experience but also the ambition of establishing a company on his own.

“I had my eyes in Portugal for a long time, but the programme Techstars was the trigger to make it happen. We found not only a great work environment as well as great engineers but also an investment opportunity to create a startup in a cheaper way than in London or in Paris”, Le Lann explains to ECO.

Le Lann’s company was one of the nine foreign companies, among the total ten, to integrate the first edition of Techstars and Semapa’s acceleration programme, launched last year in Portugal. Techstars, which is one of the largest accelerators worldwide, choose Lisbon not only because of previous investments it has done there before (i.e. Outsystems, Farfetch, Sensei, among others) but also due to Websummit’s presence and the city’s natural attractiveness.

“Part of this attractiveness has to do with the fact of companies knowing they have conditions to remain in the country”, Hugo Augusto, Techstars programme manager for Portugal. Once a Portuguese entrepreneur in the US, Hugo returned to Portugal in July 2017. The opportunity of managing the programme in Portugal happened around that time.

Hugo believes the country counts with various attraction’s factors that persuade foreigners to move and, eventually, remain living and working there. “Since the beginning that we thought Portugal is a fast-growing tech hub, thus being quite attractive for building global startups there. That was the reason why we decided to use Lisbon’s attractiveness in our favour”, told ECO.

“We have several local clients there as we will launch a programme, this summer, to monitors forests and raise awareness of the fire risk as well as fight them with our technology”, adds.

From Asia to Lisbon

“We are a team of four co-founders coming from Asia and Europe with not only a vast corporate background but also a vast entrepreneurial experience. I helped both European, American and Japanese companies to enter into more than 20 countries. My pre-EVA challenge was launching Tesla in South Korea”, Le Lann tells ECO in an interview. His startup is still giving its first steps as that doesn’t stop him thinking bigger than before. The technology the company is developing is related to deliveries from A to B points. Besides an app, EVA also developed an aircraft – shown for the first time on the demo day, which was the pitch date for final projects to investors and the community. “We removed uncertainty from delivering goods from A to B. Sending these goods without the usual stress was never this easy”.

The idea was born in Seoul when the entrepreneurs thought that, despite having “a great electric vehicle, it still get caught in traffic”. “It had to fly to run away from that reality, instead of increasing even more traffic on Earth”, told. Now, in its development phase, the team moved to Tagus’ south margin. “We are now in Seixal preparing our business operation as well as developing some additional features. The team is growing fast, having five job vacancies available at the moment.”

Indra den Bakker, CEO and Co-founder of, for instance, moved himself to Lisbon in 2017 to launch his startup. “We saw immense potential for our startup to grow in Lisbon. Lisbon has all the ingredients to become a leading European city (regarding investment) as we wanted to be part of it. Besides that, the great climate, the food, the people and the city’s charm made it an easy choice for us.”, told ECO. The startup, co-founded by Indra and his business partner Annieck Schouten, combines satellite images with machine learning to gather intelligence on the planet. “To give you an example: which tree species exists in a piece of land and what is their biomass? Which kind of threats, like trees’ infestation, deforestation and extreme drought, exist in a certain place?”, the co-founder exemplified. The team based in Lisbon is composed of 5 people, four Dutch and one Portuguese.

“After three months in the programme, we are still in the beginning. We will keep accelerating over the next months. We are currently gathering some news clients and working on long-term contracts. Besides that, we will expand our team to develop new tools”, adds.

Paul Martin, CEO and Founder of tagSpace, also saw in Techstars and Semapa’s acceleration programme an opportunity to expand his business. Paul grew up in London, studied computer science in Manchester, then moved to Vancouver, Canada, to work in videogames and, after that, he finally moves to Australia. “The programme in Lisbon helped us a lot in bringing our company to Europe. And, besides the programme, Portugal was a natural choice because of the music festivals and tourism industries, which are the perfect environment for our business”. TagSpace offers its clients solutions to create augmented reality experiences in certain locations.

“We offer a new way of generating profit by combining added-value and users’ engagement”, explains, adding that his target-clients are the big tourism events, like music festivals and others. “We help people to do what they couldn’t do with a map: we guide them through crowds, providing them with real-time information – like information on the queues’ waiting time”.