When considering Europe’s primary startup centers and Startup Hubs, cities like London, Berlin, Barcelona, Paris, and Amsterdam often take the spotlight. However, the landscape of startup investment and innovation is undergoing a shift, bringing Istanbul and Lisbon into focus. Lisbon, already established as a sought-after location for tech professionals, is now joined by Istanbul in emerging as significant players in the startup scene.
Turkey – Istanbul
Serving as a vital link between Europe and Asia, Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, boasts a youthful population deeply rooted in engineering expertise. This has catalyzed its success in pivotal domains such as e-commerce, gaming, and global delivery solutions. Notably, Istanbul has emerged as a formidable player in the gaming sector, securing the second spot in Europe for game deals and an impressive fourth globally.
The year 2022 witnessed an unprecedented milestone in the Turkish startup realm, with investments surging to nearly $1.69 billion. A significant portion of this figure was attributed to the pioneering grocery delivery service, Getir, which stood as a testament to homegrown innovation. Remarkably, 54% of the total investments were channeled into the realms of gaming and fintech, with a noteworthy statistic revealing foreign investors’ involvement in one out of every five transactions.
The previous year marked a substantial leap for Spike Games, as they secured a remarkable $55 million in seed investment. This achievement propelled them into the esteemed league of Turkish billion-dollar gaming startups, joining the ranks of Peak and Dream Games as unicorns.
In December, a significant initiative, the Turcorn 100 Program, was launched, aiming to accelerate Turkish startups towards achieving billion-dollar valuations. Damla Turan, the head of the Technology Entrepreneurship Department at the Ministry of Industry and Technology, emphasized that while not every startup might attain unicorn status, the collaborative structure of the program would bestow benefits upon all participating ventures.
July witnessed a groundbreaking milestone as Istanbul-based Papara emerged as Turkey’s premier fintech unicorn, a noteworthy testament to the city’s dynamic and growing startup ecosystem.
Portugal – Lisbon
By 2022, the valuation of startups based in Lisbon had soared to €21 billion, reflecting a remarkable growth trajectory of 30% annually since 2016.
Much like Istanbul, the Portuguese capital benefits from a youthful populace boasting strong engineering credentials. Additionally, government-backed visas and incentives aimed at foreign entrepreneurs have played a pivotal role in luring tech talents to the city.
Lisbon’s prowess is evidenced by its accumulation of more unicorns than its neighboring countries Greece, Italy, and Spain combined. Notable names among these unicorns include Farfetch, Talkdesk, and Anchorage Digital. The city’s reputation as a European contender to San Francisco is further solidified by its nurturing tech ecosystem, vibrant tech gatherings, notably the annual Web Summit, which stands as the world’s largest of its kind.
Introduced in October 2022, the Unicorn Factory Lisboa serves as an accelerator tailored for well-established enterprises, propelling them towards elevated success. This initiative is experiencing a steady influx of entrepreneurs and digital globetrotters as it continues to gather momentum.
The Allure of Location
In these two European destinations, characterized by their deep historical and cultural tapestries intertwined with vibrant startup landscapes, the allure for the global millennial digital nomad community is steadily rising, drawing them to Lisbon and Istanbul.
Yet, to ensure the enduring growth and stability of startups in these locales, the expertise of seasoned tech professionals is imperative. As highlighted by Tim Kock, the founder of Jungle AI who made the move from Amsterdam to Lisbon in 2016, these professionals should possess the know-how of shepherding companies through various stages, from 50-person setups to sizable teams of 500 or more.
In terms of lifestyle, both Lisbon and Istanbul bask in abundant sunshine, boast picturesque waterfronts, and offer an urban experience intertwined with a deep historical fabric, all while firmly keeping their gaze fixed on the horizon of progress.