The digital Renaissance of a Sleeping Beauty
Until recently, Evora, capital of the rural region of Alentejo in Portugal, was one of these magnificent cities in Southern Europe with a prestigious past and a worrying future. An aging population maintained the traditional wine and olive oil making as well as cork harvesting. Every season, herds of tourists included the beautiful landscape and monuments in their sightseeing tour. If you were born there you had limited prospects : study and live on unemployment for a long time or leave the region, the country in hope of a better future
The creation of an active digital ecosystem awoke the sleeping beauty and finally led her into the 21st century. Unlike in fairy tale the change did not occur by magic, it took the time and energy of the key players of a full ecosystem set in motion. Fueled by EU funds and inspired by successful accelerators in Lisbon, the city, the region, the agency ADRAL and the University of Evora regrouped to launch and nurture this Renaissance. Attracting technology industries like the Brazilian aeronautics company Embraer as early as 2012 laid ground for a need of qualified engineers and technical projects.
The regional agency ADRAL decided to create the accelerator Evoratech. Joao and Alexandra gave me a full tour of the fab lab, media innovation room and IoT and robotics creative space (https://www.fablabs.io/fablabvoratech). They also explained that in a region where 50% of the population are civil servants and where agriculture is led by large landowners the concept of entrepreneurship did not come naturally and required quite some convincing (couple of years actually).
Professor Paulo Quaresma, Vice Rector of the University of Evora detailed how the university selects and sponsors projects that are candidates for successful start-ups and creation of patents. The selected projects will be listed on the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) records attracting VCs on the lookout for promising investments. Evora even managed to turn weaknesses into opportunities. The low density of an aging population in a large territory has become an excellent testing environment for remote healthcare solutions.
The sleeping beauty seems to be well in-stride. Additional industries such as Mecachrome continue to grow the aeronautics cluster. The local precision farming start-up Agroinsider http://www.agroinsider.com/ called attention at the 2016 Web Summit in the SaaS category.
The sleeping beauty has not totally transformed into a dashing unicorn yet. Growing the entrepreneurship mindset in the student and local population is an ongoing crusade, scaling the successful start-ups is always a challenge in Europe. It is doubtful though that Evora will ever go back to sleep. The partners of the ecosystem are kicking off the next hackathon on digital tourism so maybe, in addition to the great monuments, history lovers will put the city on their sightseeing tour to enjoy an exciting digital experience.
Veronique G Boudaud - Follow me on my WW DigiTour