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Portugal's forward-thinking approach to innovation reaps rewards!

In November, Lisbon was declared one of the two winners of the '2023 European Capital of Innovation' award, securing €1 million (US$1.09 million) from the European Commission. The city's achievement underscores its commitment to fostering innovation by embracing progressive governance practices.

Gare do Oriente, one of Lisbon’s main train stations, is one of Santiago Calatrava's early works and was completed in 1998.

The 'iCapital Awards' recognize “those European cities that are courageous enough to open their governance practices to experimentation, to boost innovation, to be a role model for other cities, and to push the boundaries of technology for the benefit of their citizens.”

Innovation is a mindset deeply ingrained in Portugal's startup ecosystem, becoming synonymous with the country's identity.

Portugal's pavilion Expo 98 by architect Alvaro Siza Vieira

The Santa Justa Lift, situated at the end of Rua de Santa Justa, connects the lower streets of the Baixa with the higher Largo do Carmo.

Despite its economic growth and the recent rental increase due to a surge in housing demand, Portugal maintains an affordable cost of living, making it an attractive hub for innovation.

Every day, it attracts more talent, each drawn to the spirit of creation, driven by dreams and a passion for building, problem-solving, challenging the status quo, and generating wealth.

This constant influx of human and technological innovation is, in turn, stimulating property acquisition. And the dream of homeownership will be sparked not only by the basic human need for shelter but also by the excitement of designing new living systems and interactions on fresh ground. This has the potential to inspire a desire for unconventional housing and foster alternative living styles.

In the 20th century, cities like New York and Los Angeles, with their diverse strands of modern architecture, embraced architectural advancements alongside their social and political reforms. This approach paved the way for visionary architects and designers to blueprint new living and working spaces, transportation systems, and environments, shaping human interaction in previously unimaginable ways.

How far have we come since William LeBaron Jenney, an architect in Chicago, designed the first skyscraper in 1884 as a milestone of the Industrial Revolution? Far.

Now, a hundred and forty years later, 'The Line,' a smart megacity project known as NEOM, emerges as a technological marvel in the heart of the Saudi Arabian desert. It consists of two 170-kilometer-long skyscrapers spaced 200 meters apart, aiming to achieve 100% sustainability. 'The Line' stretches from the Gulf of Aqaba on the left to Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Royal Reserve, home to 40 Arabian gazelles in the Riyadh region on the right. This ambitious project asserts a shift in narrative: "In Saudi Arabia, NEOM's primary objective is to 'think differently about everything,'" are the terms used to describe the project.

When social narrative shifts, new geographies and playgrounds come to the forefront. In Europe, Portugal is undeniably one of these stepping stones. Defying the prerequisite of residing in expensive megalopolis, Portugal entices architecture adapted to people's focus and aspirations of closeness with nature and a regional culture.

Architecture and design serve and facilitate humankind's intrinsic mobility through contemporary infrastructures. And Portugal, with its preserved natural resources, bucolic landscapes, stunning coastal lines, and progressive immigration policies, provides a blank canvas for imagination to those who seek safely, peace, and a greater symbiosis with nature.

Bukubaki Eco Surf in Baleal

Casa do Moinho Pequeno – Architect Manuel Aires Mateus from the ruins of two old warehouses.

Grândola, Portugal, Architects Aires Mateus, Area 633 m², Year 2015, ArchDaily

The country's abundance of ruins has also presented architects and developers with exciting challenges, on one side preserving historical significance and geographical charm, on the other integrating advanced technologies for energy efficiency and sustainability in housing renovation.

The pandemic years have reshaped paradigms in housing design. In her book 'Architecture after Covid,' Albena Yaneva discusses how it has "“revived the profile of the perfectionist – the calculative pensive architect, the designer who thinks more than acts, the one who writes before sketching. It also freed designers from rigid hierarchies, unlocked the hidden potential of the youngest team members and turned the makers into writers and the shy into the vocal.” [Source]

Innovation in the 21st century will need to rise above divisive conversation lines or the resurgence of nationalistic and dehumanizing violence, and as such design can answer the call for mental and physical support and shields. In today's world, where living and working often occur within the same space, the home has become a sanctuary. Fashion trends reflect this shift. Li Edelkoort, a leading trend forecaster in design, fashion, and architecture, speaks of "hibernating while rolled up in sweaters, cardigans, and blankets to help the body combat emotional stress and slow down the metabolism in order to use less energy of all kinds. Conditioning us as a survival mechanism.”

In Portugal, a perfect cocoon is woven from its gentle climate, serene small cities and rural landscapes, and breathtaking Atlantic coastlines. Here, simplicity and a focus on well-being are not just trends but a way of life. This is a space where technology, architecture, and well-being can harmoniously intertwine. And rather than simply erecting buildings, the future of living spaces lies in designing forms that seamlessly integrate with the landscape, as if shells in their organic unity.

MAAT Museum of Art | Architecture |Technology

In Lisbon, housing development is booming. From Lisbon to Barreiro, cranes stretch into the fluffy clouds like mechanical giraffes or sentinels overseeing the development of the old and the new, side by side. The need to reconsider how we want to live, with an emphasis on more single-sharing housing and a diverse range of options accessible to all, implies that innovative thinking is as potent when focused on reshaping banking practices as for housing designs, and access to housing.

When California became the 31st American state in 1850, it was accompanied by its first gold rush, attracting waves of settlers in search of fortune. Today, California stands as the most populous state in the United States, with nearly 38.966 million people, surpassing the populations of Texas, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania.

With his balmy weather, California has long been synonymous with real estate success and innovation. From aviation to Hollywood to the Silicon Valley, each sector has attracted brilliant minds, driving wealth creation and requiring continuous housing development. However, for the first time since 1901, the state has experienced a slowdown in population growth over the past three years. This underscores the imperative for new territories to foster innovation through progressive policies that attract entrepreneurs and investors, hand in hand.

At FinTech House Lisboa, with its bustling and collaborative beehive atmosphere, we meet Jon Fath, a 36-year-old CEO and co-founder of Rauva, "Portugal's first business super-app" tailored for independent entrepreneurs and small businesses.

The Fintech House is an initiative of Portugal Fintech in partnership with Sítio.

Jon Fath, co-founder and CEO of banking app Rauva.

Jon studied at MIT and has lived in over 20 countries, specializing in blockchain, AI, and fintech businesses. In the Netherlands, he served as the COO of the banking app Bunq. With a career spanning mergers and acquisitions, Jon entered the technology sector by founding Equivvy, the first B2B equipment rental and sharing platform. He oversaw the international expansion of Transmetrics, a leading Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform dedicated to logistics, where he held the position of CEO. Jon serves as a member of the Board of Directors of FANA, a charitable blockchain fintech initiative. For someone who spent eight years "living in hotels out of two suitcases," Jon's decision to settle with his girlfriend in Lisbon is a significant change. He explains his choice:

"Portugal is a nation of entrepreneurs, with 1 million small enterprises and 700,000 freelancers among its 10 million population—70% are either running a business or self-employed."

What essentially drew him to Portugal is the country’s fluent ability to foster diversity. "Diversity is key. In my previous leadership role, our team comprised one thousand people from 48 different nationalities." He sees this factor as crucial to enable and fuel innovation and creativity and replicates this thinking in his current hiring process. "Among the 27 European countries, only a few attract such a diverse talent pool. More than France or Italy, for instance, Portugal offers a highly diverse, dynamic, and international ecosystem."

Portugal had already established its reputation as the 'European Tech Eden on Rolling Waves' well before 2016. However, with Lisbon hosting the Web Summit, the acceleration became evident throughout the city. Since then, the country has attracted international creators, artists, mavericks, urban nomads, remote working surfers, eco-entrepreneurs, hospitality visionaries, and people in general with an appetite for change, affordable living, and well-being.


Iliana Ivanova, Commissioner for Innovation, congratulated Lisbon and Linköping with these words: “They are shining examples of how cities can use innovation to reshape the urban landscape, tackle demographic and economic challenges, and work for the benefit of their residents.”

Lisbon's emergence as a beacon of tech innovation coupled with a cool lifestyle is indisputable, with the Web Summit playing a significant role in transforming the city into one of the hippest places to visit and live. Originally founded in Ireland and initially held in Dublin, the Web Summit permanently moved to Lisbon in 2016.

Thanks to that event alone, the city has attracted experienced global capital and helped mature local investors. It has also drawn adventurous minds in technology, architecture, design, and live arts. And Jon Fath praises Portugal's potential to host projects with an international start-up mindset. 


Portugal expresses the business agility characteristic of small countries like Luxembourg, Switzerland, or Denmark, where 'small' isn't a weakness but an asset for agile and unconventional thinking. In 2021, small-scale but fast-paced and steadily growing companies represented over 1% of the country's GDP. Scaling concepts for international markets is imperative for growth in a small country by design. As of January 2023, Portugal's population stands at 10.26 million, equivalent to the state of Michigan. Women dominate its gender breakdown, constituting 52.8% of the total population. And most people are concentrated along the country's coastal lines, with the Metropolitan Area of Lisbon (+1.7%) and The Algarve (+3.7%) experiencing notable population growth.

"Innovation cannot be stopped," Jon Fath believes, "but it can be slowed down or, in reverse, given wings."

What do these ten cities have in common? Iceland, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, Austria, Singapore, Portugal, Slovenia, Japan, and Switzerland. These are the 10 safest countries in the world, with Portugal ranking seventh.

With an increase in populism and right-wing politics worldwide, entrepreneurs and creators are leaving regimes that stifle their dreams. They are considering relocating to places where fusion architecture with nature is thriving, where housing renovation offers a 21st-century lifestyle with European charm, and where safety is paramount. What would be the next steps along Jon's mission to expand his Rauva 50-person team to 150 by the end of 2024? Could it be out-of-the-box housing solutions that would more closely look at Lisbon’s demographic, and not systematically cutting out housing systems and policies that are actually perfectly adapted to today’s demand?

There is something else where Lisbon wins! The sparkling lights of its always-blue sky naturally blind the screen. On rooftops and terraces when sipping negronis and Port wine, the screen somehow feels old news. Yes, Life is Good!

Lisbon, viewpoint Santa Catarina.

Sunset over the capital city.

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