Get to Know the Portuguese Entrepreneurship Ecosystem: Vodafone Power Lab

As part of the Scaleup Portugal Report, we created a series of interviews where we introduced the members of the Portuguese Entrepreneurship Ecosystem. Fátima Cardoso, Head of Vodafone Power Lab, was one of our guests and told us about the work of this incubator.

Photo of a team of 5 people working in an office with their computers.

If you've followed our work since 2017, you'll probably know that every year we launch the Scaleup Portugal Report, in partnership with EIT Digital. The Scaleup Portugal project was born out of the ecosystem's need to have concrete information that would objectively and comprehensively reveal the best startups in Portugal. It then became the first report of its kind to provide a realistic portrait of the Portuguese E&I ecosystem, presenting a microanalysis of technology and technological startups originating in Portugal.

We will soon launch the new edition of Scaleup Portugal Report, in which we will present the 25 most promising Portuguese startups of 2021, based on total received funds, total income, capital/revenue ratio and jobs created.

So, in honor of all stakeholders in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, last year we decided to create a series of interviews - the Scaleup Portugal Series - as an add-on to the report, with the purpose of understanding the perspective of investors, startups founders, policy-makers and other enablers regarding the Portuguese startup scenario.

In one of our episodes, we interviewed Fátima Cardoso, Head of Vodafone Power Lab, to find out how this program created by Vodafone Portugal has been promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in Portugal. If you miss the interview, we leave the highlights below.

What is Vodafone Power Lab?

Fátima: “Vodafone Power Lab started in 2009 and since then it has been evolving and growing to follow up with a growing innovation ecosystem. This is the innovation program for the entire Vodafone Portugal corporation and our main goal now is to promote successful partnerships between startups and different departments/areas of our organization. I say “now” because it wasn’t like this before. Two years ago we were more focused on making projects grow into a business. Now, we are trying to work with more mature startups in order to promote these successful partnerships. Therefore, our goal is to find startups that, with the required support, are able to become Vodafone suppliers, clients, partners for brand activation, or startups that can develop products or services to be included in our own portfolio for customers.”

How has Vodafone adapted to the challenges and evolved?

Fátima: “We saw, and we identified the need to grow our own program. For instance, we were seeing that the way we were working with the startups wasn’t probably the most beneficial for everyone. We used to found earlier stage startups and helped them grow their businesses. Then we found that that was a challenge because we couldn’t give continuity to the project. So, we evolved to this more mature program, and we are dealing with less challenges now. Of course they are still happening, and we need to have resources allocated to the projects, we need to communicate with the teams... But those are the challenges we find in our day-to-day jobs, regardless of the function we have. It’s our own job to face those challenges and to work them around.”

In terms of scouting, what characteristics does Vodafone Power Lab look for when trying to absorb innovation?

Fátima: “Besides having a specific set of characteristics - for instance, it needs to be a tech-based startup -, the startup must provide something that Vodafone actually needs. In order to be a successful partnership, Vodafone Portugal must find, in the startups, solutions that will deliver value to the business. Nonetheless, it’s important for the startup to be technology based, and to have the maturity to become at least one of the 4 pillars: (i) it must have the ability to become a Vodafone client; (ii) a Vodafone supplier; (iii) a partner for brand activation, (iv) or to be able to develop a product/service to be adapted to Vodafone’s portfolio.”

How has Vodafone become more attractive to have more founders working with it?

Fátima: “When looking for partnerships with Vodafone, startups are looking to establish a positive association in order to increase their solutions credibility towards investors, and new customers. Being associated with a big and international corporation such as Vodafone is very appealing to the startups. They also want to pursue the possibility of presenting their products and services to our customer base, so they can grow their business and have less costs with customer acquisition.”

Is the buzz around Portugal's innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem validated?

Fátima: “I think the reality might be a little bit ambiguous. Actually it’s very uncertain as well. Yes, there is buzz around the Portuguese ecosystem, but there are several factors that none of its stakeholders can control. Yes, we are the house of Web Summit, but let’s consider the current situation… We are in a context of a global pandemic and none of us, corporates, startups, consumers, could predict this, and the economy is going to take a huge turnaround. However, I consider that our environment is very resilient. We know that our Portuguese communities are hard to beat and they are willing to work hard enough to keep up with this buzz and to continue to establish this ecosystem as innovative.”

📌 Scaleup Portugal Report will be out soon...

In 2020, Sword Health led the TOP 25 and was considered the best Portuguese startup in the “Oscars of Innovation” organized by BGI. A year later, the company joined the list of Portuguese unicorns. Like last year, the next big Portuguese success story could be in the TOP 25 of 2021. Keep an eye out to be one of the first to download the report!

Also read: Opinion Article: What is missing from the old raw materials industry to return to the spotlight?