EIT Digital met with Gonçalo Amorim, Executive Director at BGI, innovation partner of EIT Digital in Portugal. Portugal is part of ARISE Europe, EIT Digital's implementation of the EIT Regional Innovation Scheme (RIS). ARISE Europe is designed to stimulate regional growth in EU countries where EIT Digital is not physically present with a Node. Its objective is to connect local and regional innovation centres and their ecosystems to EIT Digital's innovation and education ecosystem.
BGI is a deep innovation, vertically-focused, global accelerator based in Lisbon (Portugal). BGI is directed at aspiring tech entrepreneurs and Innovators working on Medical Devices and Health IT, Smart Cities and Industrial Technologies, Enterprise IT and Smart Data and Ocean economy. BGI has coached over 120 ventures since it was launched in 2010, 73% of which are active, having raised €111 million in venture financing. The accelerator has been featured in "100 leaders accelerating the companies of tomorrow" by Hot Topic Accelerator 100, 2015. It has an ongoing cooperation with MIT Portugal program.
EIT Digital: Can you tell us more about BGI?
Amorim: BGI began as an initiative in 2010 stemming from Portuguese government supported international program with MIT, Carnegie, UT Austin, Harvard, and Fraunhofer that had already been in place since 2006. The goal of this programme was to streamline research (mainly applied) and bring closer the business and research worlds. Before this initiative, Portuguese universities were not really working together.
After four years of the program, a specific activity across all activities was set up to be dedicated to entrepreneurship derived from applied research from universities. We managed to prove in action that the social science school - ISCTE-IUL- can lead innovation and pull innovation out from laboratories to markets.
We came up with a concept for fostering innovative venture, with a model of venture competition, like MIT100k (the oldest competition organized within MBAs) - up to 1 million euros to four ventures per year. With MIT, we designed unique boot camps, which were cutting-edge at the time, promoting new models to mitigate risks and multiply chances of success in engineering and business.
As the ecosystem in Portugal was underdeveloped in 2010, the aim of our action was to help create new and sustainable innovative ventures.
In 2013, BGI was founded as an enterprise to allow more flexibility in investment and venture and a small fund was therefore created (7 million euros) being the first to commit financial resources to risking ventures. As we were very US centric, we wanted to reconnect to Europe and we were looking for partnership with strong institutions similar to MIT, where to find synergies and connect ventures to the European ecosystem.
EIT Digital: How does BGI work with EIT Digital since 2015?
Amorim: EIT Digital selected BGI for the ARISE activities after we replied to an open call in 2015. From the start, we have been ambitious with our relationship. We wanted to be a strong partner and being proactive in trying to find complementarity within our missions and goals matching the two organisations' missions.
Finding the right partner was difficult, especially in Portugal, at a time when the ecosystem was not mature enough, and also we wanted to be able to join a pan-European network, for these reasons, EIT Digital was the best partner possible.
The ecosystem has always been vibrant in Portugal with lots of challenges, especially in scaling up. Seeds and pre-seeds were easy to find but larger rounds of financing were sparse: the pool of capital available in Portugal was not enough to allow fast scale up (when looking for more than a 1 or 2 million euro).
We needed to foster longer-term collaboration, leading in digital verticals to make sure the companies we were investing in have a follow-on platform to carry on their growth targets. The European scale is a key step for successful growth. We were confident to have a great starting position to explore this network and gain mutual respect, bringing different and complementary stakeholders together.
Every year we have been doing more activities within the ARISE program and for example, this year we are proud to host the first EIT Digital Summer School outside of a country where EIT Digital has a Node.
As the summer school is one of EIT Digital education activities, BGI was challenged to come up with a different model for a Summer School this year. Students studies cases based around corporate activities. The attendees immerse themselves in real business cases originating from EIT Digital's pan-European ecosystem of scaleups, industrial partners, university partners and research companies.
Slowing down the growth of healthcare costs and maintaining the quality of life are main challenges in the Healthcare in Europe. In the EIT Digital Academy Summer School in Lisbon (July 2 - July 15) learners are challenged to come up with business ideas on Healthy Lifestyle and Occupational Fitness and Independent Living and Long‐term Care.
Six startups work as business cases around these solutions and students will be working on business models to get theses ideas faster to market. The Summer School will be attended by 30 students from EIT Digital and some more students from ARISE countries.
EIT Digital: What have been the main achievements so far?
Amorim: During the first year of our partnership, for Demo Day 2016 in Budapest, BGI proposed two applicants for the EIT Digital Challenge, who won the 1st and 2nd awards. And regarding access to finance, the application for an alumni company of BGI received a lot of interest from the EIT Digital network. Portugal was not the hotspot for investors at the time and with the help of EIT Digital we got the attention of top EU investors.
During our second year of partnership, we proposed a new initiative: EIT Digital Open Hours, a remote brainstorming session so that EIT Digital can be reached without borders and reach out further to wider EU communities. We coordinated the Open Office hours with mentors, Business developers, and organised a road show in Portugal helping understand better the ecosystem and local challenges.
This year we just published a scaleup report for Portugal to show how Europe can strongly leverage its entrepreneurial talents. This report is based on the views of the market, entrepreneurs and actors of the ecosystem and gives an accurate picture of the startup scene in Portugal. But the idea is that the same initiative can be scale across most ARISE countries in years to come.
EIT Digital: How do you see the future of entrepreneurship in Europe?
Amorim: When you are an entrepreneur, you have to be optimistic and see the future as always bright side. And indeed, I believe the future is bright for Europe. Even if we woke up a bit late for this new model of fostering growth, Europe is always first to invent but not so good at getting the value of innovation, but the reality is changing very dramatically for better.
BGI has partners both in the US and in the EU, so we can compare and see the complexity of navigating in Europe. An old continent with great history and many different cultures, legal systems, etc., brings added complexity but also more opportunities and startup shave to navigate in their own ecosystem.
We have to learn from the US on how to adopt more pragmatic approaches to nurturing ecosystems and become problem solvers for investment and business growth.
In the EU, we need to leverage more the strengths of our various countries and get a European mind-set to overcome cultural and language barriers, among other. As I was growing in Brussels since I was 14, I feel totally European, and Europeans share a vision: to become more intelligent in the use of resources, and put our common and shared goals first and not national pride fist.
But so far, Europeans have not been good enough at selling their success stories, at celebrating. We need to be bolder in telling our stories and take pride in our common achievements. EIT Digital represents the European fabric of startups, entrepreneurs, and innovators. We are a great nation together, let's not be shy in selling our strengths.
About Building Global Innovators
BGI IUL MIT Portugal is an American style, deep innovation accelerator part of the MIT Portugal program. BGI is based in Lisbon (Portugal), conducting some components of its acceleration program in Cambridge (USA). It is an NFP organisation founded in 2010 set up by one of the top management universities in Portugal, ISCTE-IUL. As a deep innovation accelerator, BGI focus on 4 verticals: Medical Devices and Health IT, Smart Cities and Industry 4.0 solutions, Enterprise IT and Smart Data and Water Economy. Since 2010, BGI has accelerated 120 ventures which have aggregately raised over €111 Mio, with a survival rate of 73% to date and creation of 727 high-tech jobs.