“We’re proud of our journey together”: Inside the Unicorn Factory Lisboa

“We’re proud of our journey together”: Inside the Unicorn Factory Lisboa

In conversation with Gil Azevedo, Executive Director of Startup Lisboa, we got to know more about the Unicorn Factory Lisboa project, which aims to be a benchmark platform at European level. Find out what kind of startups this unicorn factory is looking for, as well as how its programs help startups and scale ups to scale.

This content is available in Portuguese.


– How did Unicorn Factory Lisboa come about? What kind of projects do you incubate?

Unicorn Factory Lisboa was created in 2022 as a result of a new strategic positioning of the city of Lisbon for innovation, with a view to creating an internationally relevant ecosystem of startups and scaleups. Unicorn Factory Lisboa complements the Startup Lisboa incubation program, which has existed since 2012 and focuses on technology startups at an earlier stage.

The Scaling Up program, also launched in 2022, is aimed at technology scaleups already in the growth phase, with funding, a team and a solution with revenue.

This new positioning has allowed us to increase our support capacity and in the last year we have almost tripled the number of projects that have entered our programs, and today we have a community of over 200 active startups and scaleups.


– Do you have an area of specialization?

Unicorn Factory Lisboa supports technology startups and scaleups from all verticals in the Scaling Up incubation and acceleration programs. These programs are complemented by thematic acceleration programs in various areas, such as FoodTech and ClimateTech.

In addition, Unicorn Factory Lisboa has been creating hubs and communities in verticals with strong growth, such as Gaming, AI, and Web3, allowing it to bring together talent, startups, investors, and companies in each vertical and thus boost the growth of these areas.


– What does your incubation model consist of?

Unicorn Factory Lisboa has two different models for supporting startups and scaleups.

The Startup Lisboa incubation program is designed to provide an environment conducive to the growth and development of early-stage companies, where incubated startups can count on comprehensive and structured support, leveraged by an initial training program and the networks of more than 150 mentors, 100 corporate partners and 130 investors.

The Scaling Up program is an acceleration program designed specifically for scaleups that are already in the process of or planning their internationalization. This program is designed to train the entire senior team for the challenges of international growth and not just the founder, based on international best practices.

In both models, we don’t take stakes or invest, we are ecosystem enablers. You don’t have to be in Portugal to take part, and we already have around 50% international founders.


– Can you tell us the story of a startup that made a difference in the incubator? And where has incubating with you made a difference?

Over the 12 years of Startup Lisboa and about a year and a half of Unicorn Factory Lisboa, we’ve had many startups that have made a mark on us and that today are examples of successful entrepreneurship in Portugal.

A more recent example that demonstrates well the journey that startups have with us is Pleez, which first took part in our acceleration program for the “From-Start-to-Table” FoodTech vertical, then entered the Startup Lisboa incubation and, last year, joined the Scaling Up program, having pivoted along the way, raised capital, grown the team to around 50 people and is now scaling to other international markets, with the founder becoming a mentor for the “newer” startups.

Like Pleez, we have a large number of examples where we are proud of the joint journey and the results achieved, and where the founders themselves end up supporting new projects based on their experience.


– Failure is also part of the journey. What did you learn most from something that didn’t go well?

Our greatest learning has been to understand that, at each stage of a company’s growth, there are new challenges that require attention in new areas and, for this reason, we need to keep evolving our services and relying on new partners and mentors who help us grow in our areas of activity, so that we can provide more effective and dedicated support to each of the projects that go through our programs. This evolution is done by studying the best international practices and not just remaining closed in on our own reality.


“We are facilitators with very strong networks of mentors, partners, and investors”

– What is your incubator’s differentiating factor? In other words, what is unique about you that enhances the success of the startups you incubate?

We are facilitators with very strong networks of mentors, partners, and investors, integrated into programs that support startups at all stages of development, from the first steps to international expansion.

With this positioning we are able to contribute very actively to the success of startups, leveraged by a very strong community of more than 200 startups and scaleups, both national and international.


– Community is one of the factors that distinguishes an incubator from an office center. How do you take care of yours and what plans do you have to make it more cohesive and fertile?

We believe that in order to have a cohesive community we have to create and nurture relationships with those who seek us out and those who experience the national startup ecosystem through Unicorn Factory Lisboa. We have a very broad mix of startups and founders, both in terms of size, vertical and nationality. It’s a community that has been in existence for over 12 years and is constantly energized through events, initiatives and programs. The diversity and scale of our community is often identified as one of the great assets of our programs.


– What are the main challenges for incubation in your specific context?

The challenge for the next few years is to make Unicorn Factory Lisboa a reference platform at European level, and at the same time to be able to collaborate with the other incubators and accelerators in Portugal, so that together the ecosystem can gain international scale and we can attract more innovation, talent, investment and jobs to the country.




#IncubXdiscoveries is Startup Portugal’s monthly feature that will help you discover Portuguese incubators. What projects they incubate, how they manage their community and what success stories they’ve had and future projects are some of the topics covered in these interviews.

If you’d like to find out more about Unicorn Factory Lisboa, either because you’d like to see your project incubated in this region or because you’d like to establish a partnership, contact the Startup Portugal team at incubadoras@startupportugal.com.



Startup Portugal Team • February 16, 2024