Carlos Moedas talks innovation in Lisbon, Source: City of Lisbon

Carlos Moedas: Our ambition is to become a city where entrepreneurs can come to scale their businesses

Carlos Moedas: Our ambition is to become a city where entrepreneurs can come to scale their businesses

A conversation with the Mayor of Lisbon about the spirit and dimensions of innovation present in the Portuguese capital

Carlos Moedas (1970, Beja) graduated as a civil engineer from Instituto Superior Técnico (Lisbon) in 1993 and also has a Master’s in Business Administration from the Harvard Business School, USA (1998/2000). 

The subject of innovation has always been close to his mind and work. He was the EU Commissioner (2014-2019) responsible for Research, Science and Innovation. He designed the proposal for the future Horizon Europe programme worth 100 billion euros, launched in 2021. He co-authored a series of publications in the field of science and innovation and in 2014 Moedas also became the youngest member to be elected to the Portuguese Academy of Engineering.

On 26 September 2021, Carlos Moedas was elected Mayor of Lisbon. Since then the City was awarded the European Capital of Innovation award in 2023, Public Transportation has become free for young people (below 23  years of age) and for the elderly (above 65 years of age), Lisbon was chosen as one of the 100 European cities to become carbon neutral by 2030 (EU Mission City), and citizens 65+ were awarded a free health plan with medical consultations.

Mr Mayor, Lisbon won an important accolade – the 2023 European Capital of Innovation (iCapital). What was your vision of pushing boundaries in city management that helped earn this accolade?

Since the first day I took office, I have established a very ambitious goal: to become the European Capital of Innovation. Lisbon had a very strong ecosystem of small startups but was lacking the tools to help these companies grow. When I was EU Commissioner, I knew Europe had a similar problem, which led to the creation of the European Innovation Council, an institution which has become a fundamental contributor to Europe’s competitiveness worldwide.

At the time, I realized that – more than Member States – cities were the ones boosting entrepreneurship and creativity thanks to their diversity and agility. When I became Mayor, I decided to replicate the EIC model at the local level and support local companies to scale their business from Lisbon to the world. These companies have the potential to become large employers and to foster the city’s ability to retain and attract talent. That is the vision that supported the creation of the Unicorn Factory, one of the largest scale-up programs in Europe, focused on providing entrepreneurs from all around the world with the tools, knowledge, funding and connections they need to scale.

In just two years, the Unicorn Factory attracted 12 unicorns and other 54 large tech companies to set up offices in Lisbon, accelerated more than 200 start-ups and has partnered being considered one of the top 10º best programs in Europe by the Financial Times. 60% of these companies are founded by foreigners who decided to move here. It is an unprecedented growth that shows the Unicorn Factory is having a structural impact in our economy.

Lisboa Unicorn Capital was the promotional brand for the innovative capital competition. What do we find behind this label?

Behind this label are all the different activities run by the city to promote innovation. Last year alone we had 14 different acceleration and incubation programs. The city needed a unified brand representing our ambition: to become a city where entrepreneurs can come to scale their businesses.

How does innovation help cities in their quest to provide a better life for their residents? Can you tell us more about the SAUDE 65+ programme?

The first impact of innovation in people’s lives comes in the form of job creation. In total, the Unicorn Factory represents over 10.000 new highly qualified and well-paid jobs. This means that young graduates do not need to leave the country in search of better opportunities.

Secondly, we are now using the 1-million-euro prize of the European Capital of Innovation to invest in social innovation. We recently launched a new project – Lisboa Innovation for All – where we invite the tech community to use their skills and knowledge to solve concrete and tangible social problems in the city.

We will focus on 3 main areas: (i) quality of education, (ii) access to healthcare and (iii) integration of migrants. For each category, we will award a 120,000-euro prize to those who present the most impactful project, and we will implement it in the city. It is about bridging the gap between the tech bubble and the rest of the city and having entrepreneurs give back to their community. More projects such as the SAUDE 65+ could very well come out of this program.

As for SAUDE 65+, it was designed to provide our more than 140.000 elderly with access to a physician and to basic care. Our national healthcare system hasn’t been able to deliver those services properly, and more than 1.5 million people in the Lisbon region do not have access to a family doctor.

We analysed the situation to understand what the city could do about it and realized most people aged 65+ needed three things: access to general practitioners, access to dental care and to optical care. And so, we created a free healthcare plan for all those aged 65+ in the city which provides exactly that. It is a perfect example of what I call the “Local Welfare State”. Due to their agility and proximity to the people, cities are better suited to solve everyday problems even in areas that traditionally fall under the responsibility of central governments.

Your city also received the Procurement Initiative of the Year award. What was the innovative municipal initiative that earned such a high praise?

The Municipality of Lisbon developed a Sustainable Procurement Management System in alignment with the recommendations of the ISO 20400 Sustainable Procurement standard, and, as far as we know, this is an innovative initiative in Europe. In 2022/2023, our efforts were validated and acknowledged by a third accredited party, further affirming the robustness and effectiveness of our approach. 

The core objective of this system was to establish a systematic framework ensuring that all public procurement processes within the Municipality of Lisbon are developed with responsible, transparent, fair, and ecological principles. Our approach was designed to provide clear guidance and strategies to facilitate the easy application of sustainability criteria in all procurement processes. 

By anchoring our practices in ISO 20400, we aimed to elevate the sustainability quotient of our procurements processes. This involved implementing stringent measures to prioritize environmental and social responsibility, transparency, and equitable access for all stakeholders.

Has Lisbon joined the Procura+ European Sustainable Procurement Network? How do you value this initiative implemented by ICLEI?

The Municipality of Lisbon is still considering joining the Procura+ Network. However, we underline that our municipality is an ICLEI member already.

The Procura+ conference received so many professionals and agents, who wanted to deepen or share knowledge, in this very relevant area, such as the area of ​​sustainable public procurement, innovation and circularity.

It was an honour for Lisbon to be involved, share its good practices and influence all those who want the best for future generations.



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