Lisbon's scrappy and fiercely innovative startup scene

Portugal isn't an easy place to make a living, but these days its looking like a great place to be an entrepreneur. 

For years the country's economy suffered under military rule as industries were nationalized and overseas colonies lost. While democracy returned in the 1970s, the business climate was slow to rebound through the chaos of revolution. Then, in 2010, the global financial crisis hit the country like a tidal wave. Unemployment peaked at over 17 percent and the government was forced to borrow $79 billion and adhere to strict austerity measures. Throughout the turmoil, an estimated half a million young, educated Portuguese fled the country for a better future abroad — many ending up in the United Kingdom, Germany and Brazil. 

But those who stayed behind, along with the nearly 250,000 that honed new skills abroad and returned, have been busily building one of Europe's most exciting, scrappy and fiercely innovative startup hubs.

Today, the country's capital, Lisbon, offers entrepreneurs the sort of scene their San Francisco, London and New York counterparts can only dream of. The city boasts a low cost of living, a highly educated workforce willing to work for relatively low wages, high speed internet and the same time zone as London and Paris. What's more, the city offers a favorable climate, tons of culture and surfable waves.

And people are starting to take notice. In 2015, Lisbon was named the 'European Entrepreneurial Region of the Year,' and in 2016 a major German study ranked the city as Europe's fifth best performing startup ecosystem — performing above tech-stalwarts like Dublin and Stockholm. What's more, they've managed to do this without much help from outside money. In 2016, the city's startups pulled in a paltry $18.5 million in venture capital in 9 deals. 

So, what are they building in Lisbon? Here are 5 homegrown startups building amazing things in Lisbon:

CardioID

CardioID makes hardware and algorithms that process and make sense of the electric signals your heart gives off. The company has mastered a way to quickly and easily take an EKG with a device that's small enough to embed in everyday objects and doesn't require a gel. Their first major project using the technology is a smart-steering wheel that will let a driver (or their dispatcher) know when they're becoming sleepy. The company says that the technology can also be used to build things like smart-bike handlebars that give athletes real-time information about their fitness levels, or it can even be embeded into a keyboard and used for identity recognition. 

Uniplaces

UniPlaces operates a marketplace where students can find or list rooms in shared apartments. Unlike the big real estate aggregators like Trulia and Zillow, UniPlaces is designed solely to meet the needs of students. Users can search for a single room in a larger, shared apartment, and see results based on the attributes of the apartment and room. If you're looking for a room in an apartment that doesn't allow couples and is good for an Erasmus student, UniPlaces is where you go to find it. Try and find that on Craigslist. The service works in countries across Europe. 

Rewind Cities

Rewind Cities puts augmented reality technology onto a smartphone, allowing users to travel through time at the push of a button. Simply point your smartphone’s camera at a historic building, and the app will superimpose an image of what the area used to look like a long, long time ago. With the slide of a finger, you can literally scroll through time to see how an area has changed over the years. Right now Rewind Cities only works in Lisbon, but the developers hope to expand to other cities in the future. 

Altar.io

Altar.io is an app development agency that took a unique approach to winning business in a competitive industry. While the company does top-notch work (their clients include MTV, Cisco and Universal), they leverage the city of Lisbon itself to lure new clients. When a client signs up to have a new app developed, Altar.io offers a 'retreat program' where clients are flown to Lisbon for a week of fun in the city. The company takes care of all the details and the trip includes some quality face-to-face time between clients and developers. The developers get a chance to know what they're making is actually what the client wants, and the client gets an app and a guilt-free, tax-deductible vacation. 

GetSocial

GetSocial tracks what they call ‘dark social’ analytics to give marketers a better picture of what types of content are actually going viral. According to the company, as much as 80 percent of social analytics go untracked because they happen behind privacy walls. GetSocial has developed a way to track and analyze not only what's happening on publicly on Facebook and Twitter, but also what's being shared on private networks like email and WhatsApp. After all, what's the point of going viral if you don't know it? 

That's all for now. For more, follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

Images via companies featured