Meet Gonçalo Faria: Smart Open Lisboa Program Director

smart-open-lisboa-housing-gonçalo-faria-program-director

Gonçalo Faria first became interested in the field of innovation and entrepreneurship in 2011, during his MBA, where he recognized innovation was an area where his business experience and his creative and performing arts background could be tied together.

He spent the following years working in strategy consulting in Portugal, Angola and South Africa, being regularly involved with innovation projects and reports and mentoring startups, before dedicating himself fully to innovation when joining Beta-i in January 2018.

Since joining Beta-i one year ago, Gonçalo has taken on the challenge of directing Smart Open Lisboa, which was a perfect fit for his personal and professional ambitions.

It was my initial project and I don’t imagine a better fit with my purpose in life, to bring technology and innovative solutions to better people’s lives. This is a program that has a clear focus on having a positive social and environmental impact, and that is very important for me.

When he joined Beta-i, he became involved in Data Pitch, an EU-funded Open Innovation program that aims to promote a data sharing space in Europe by putting startups working with data from corporate partners based on specific sectoral or data provider challenges.

Joining the open-innovation team was a clear path. To him it’s more and more clear that innovation can only happen in collaboration: when you get together several stakeholders with complementary views, information, needs, solutions, technologies.

Open innovation programs aim to structure that collaboration between two very important agents of change: startups and corporates.

“In a program like Smart Open Lisboa, we have several corporates within a specific sector (either Mobility or Housing/ Real Estate for the verticals we have already implemented) collaborating with the startups and among themselves. And on top of this, we have the City Hall that gives the program a political/ institutional backing and provides the program with access to the city resources and spaces for testing innovative solutions.”

He reasons that considering these factors, you can find advantages for all the stakeholders, which is fundamental to a successful project.

“The City Hall is able to improve citizen’s life and the city management with innovative solutions and to be understood as a friendly city for startups and innovation.”

But it’s in partners that we see the biggest changes: “The corporate partners, are able to tap into the global source of innovation in their specific sector and test new disruptive solutions in collaboration with startups and other program partners and we’re also seeing a budding capacity to handle innovation – it’s learning with peers coupled with learning by doing when it comes to innovation skills and mindset.

As for startups, “they get access to a group of corporate partners, typically hard to reach, and the potential to test a solution with them and eventually get a partner that can give them easy access to the market and jumpstart their growth.”

What we really aim for on our open-innovation programs is for real value added pilots to happen and for the best deals to come forward either investment or partnership deals.    

He also took on another big challenge: to direct Smart Open Lisboa and to steer it into its current version – with different verticals in each edition and a very tight alignment between the program verticals and the strategic priorities of the city. “When Smart Open Lisboa started in 2016 it was structured as a one single program dealing with several smart city sectors. We soon realized that it would be much more effective if we created specific vertical programs. It would be much more aligned with the partner’s core business and would present a much stronger value proposition to the startups.”

Implementing the first vertical, Mobility, last year was a challenging feature, but one that paid off: the team immediately realized that the new structure made much more sense. “Not only the partners were much more aligned in their goals, but when they got everyone together for the bootcamp week, there was an amazing level of collaboration and exchange of ideas. Between startups and partners, there was a group of more than 40 companies in the mobility sector, together in the same room, exchanging ideas and collaborating. That’s an amazing feat in itself!”

After a successful Mobility vertical, the Housing vertical has launched and is now preparing the bootcamp. They hope to re-create the “magic” that happened in the previous edition. 

We are now running our second vertical, SOL Housing, and we are seeing the same level of commitment and collaboration from the partners… we are really looking forward to getting the startups in the mix.

When asked what are the main reasons that make the program interesting for startups, validation is the top of mind answer. “The main reasons both revolve around validation. They are looking forward to validating their product, experiment their product or solution in a city like Lisbon, and make it resonate with clients. And also, validate their business – does the solution work for possible clients and are they willing to pay for it? They also have the opportunity to make a deal with a big client, that will get them access to a large market.”

Besides the fact that having the engagement of the City Hall and municipal companies is vital for the success of smart city solutions, Lisbon is also a great city to test these innovative solutions: It’s a European capital, with a similar regulatory and market environment as the rest of the EU, but with a very manageable size in terms of area and population. And when you are piloting new solutions this becomes a critical factor, you want the pilot to have enough users and exposure to be measurable, but it shouldn’t be too big to handle. You would probably shy away from testing new solutions in a megalopolis but you would probably not want to do it in any backwater or ghost town.”

And then, sometimes, magic happens, and startups that come to test solutions end up falling in love with the city and understanding the benefits of setting up shop here. Lifestyle and quality of life, cost of living, availability of highly skilled developers and engineers at very competitive salaries compared to other European cities, and the general easiness of doing business here. Lisbon is trendy nowadays, and there surely are very strong reasons for that.

Besides the opportunities that the program brings to innovative startups, the impact it brings to the city is one of the reasons it is such compelling work for him. “There are two levels of impact. The first one is the cultural change and more openness to innovative solutions and working collaboratively from different departments of the city hall and the program partners, which is really important if we want to have a lasting impact.”

The second level of impact is the direct change provoked by implemented pilots. Just looking at the last edition of mobility, Gonçalo recalls several: “We now have a better understanding of the flow of people and vehicles in the city and the impact of traffic in air quality, and that can lead to more informed city management and investment decisions. There has been a reduction of traffic (thanks to better parking solutions, a reduction of corporate fleets in the city and additional personalized mobility alternatives like e.scooters). Citizens have now a better “user experience” of the city – there are several apps helping them make their mobility choices, and citizens with reduced mobility now have better service.”

Citizens have now a better user experience of the city.

In this sense, it becomes hard for him to choose the best innovative solutions the program brought to light. “It’s hard to choose because there are many of them, and all of them really interesting and impactful.

But some come to mind: Shotl (a mobility-on-demand solution for people with reduced mobility being developed with Carris), Eccocar (a shared corporate fleet solution, doing a pilot both with Ferrovial and the City Hall)E-floater (a last mile solution, using electric micro scooter that is doing a pilot with Ferrovial on the Lispolis area of Lisbon, and that had a great involvement with the City Hall in defining solutions to avoid all the major issues most other electric mini scooter startups are facing) and Meep (a journey planner with the most complete and accurate info on Lisbon mobility operators, that allows you to choose the best way to get anywhere in the city).”

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