A change in the way business is being conducted is stirring beyond Lisbon’s traditional offices with suited executives. In a 19th century mansion, like-minded international entrepreneurs with shared ideas and affinities meet – a love of Portugal, bold, creative innovation and sustainability.
RedBridge meet-ups are not your conventional run-of-the-mill networking events. For starters, you won’t see suited executives engaged in formal business babble.
Instead, there is live music, a bar serving beers and wines, and some of Lisbon’s most alternative entrepreneurs casually dressed chatting with counterparts from across the pond in the United States, particularly California.
These entrepreneurs have several things in common; the ones from the US have relocated or branched out to Portugal realising that the Portuguese, with their laid-back, out-of-the-box thinking, can teach them a thing or two about actually living – working to live and not living to work.
Second, as their own country becomes ever-more politically and socially divided, these US entrepreneurs have come to value the certain quiet modesty that the Portuguese naturally have, their fine food and wines, and calm society, far removed from gun law issues, school shootouts, and political turmoil with court cases over the storming of the Capitol building.
RedBridge events, which take place at the Palácio in Lisbon’s Rua Vítor Cordon, typically begin with relaxed networking cocktail garden parties with a glass of vinho verde or beer, exchanging contacts and ideas.
The latest event was held in the same building as Funnyhow – an innovative and unconventional brand advertising agency with top drawer clients like Tanqueray, Lipton, Heineken, Sagres, Durex, Uber and EDP – founded by Hugo Antonelo who, with author Jonathan Littman, founder of publishing company Snowball Narrative, came up with the RedBridge idea.
Involving a top-calibre lineup of self-starting entrepreneurs all passionate about what they do and all committed to initiating change on environmental sustainability issues, it was also timely as Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa had been visiting Portuguese companies, entrepreneurs and community figures in San Francisco the previous week (September 27), handing out honours to figures like Vasco Morais, an entrepreneur and developer of various projects that have helped to bring Portugal and the United States closer together.
The RedBridge event of October 6 included: Benjamin Joffe, a French native now living in Portugal and partner in SOSV, a $1.38 billion climate and health tech fund that has made 200 investments in climate tech, and who will curate the upcoming October 25-26 SOSV Climate Tech Summit; Bárbara Leão de Carvalho, PhD, from Lisbon, who is focused on systemic change in Portugal; Emiliano Gutiérrez, a native of Mexico who launched the first Raiz Vertical farm this summer in Lisbon to feed city dwellers, combining clean energy, natural and LED light, recirculated water, and minimal transport; and Nathan Hadlock, who left San Francisco for Lisbon as lockdown hit mid-March 2020, then created Pela Terra, Portugal’s first Sustainable Agriculture Golden Visa fund, with US$25 million already raised.
Jonathan Littman says Americans, particularly Californians, love Portugal because of the ‘Good Life’ (Boa Vida), living by the sea, the ease of making true friends, the entrepreneurial thirst of the Portuguese, and the feeling of being in the ‘California of Europe’.
“I met with Hugo Antonelo of Funnyhow in 2021. We were looking at Lisbon’s famous red 25 de Abril bridge — and we have an almost identical one in San Francisco – and he asked me: ‘John, what do you want to do with your life?’ And we decided to create this community, which is becoming a club made up of cross-border California-Portugal creative and sustainably-minded entrepreneurs.”
Jonathan rose to fame in Portugal after his article ‘The New California Dream in Portugal’ appeared in the Los Angeles Magazine, notching up over 130,000 views.
The author of the true crime books ‘The Watchman – The Twisted Life and Crimes of Serial Hacker Kevin Poulsen’ and ‘The Fugitive Game – Online with Kevin Mitnick’, and co-author of the international bestsellers ‘The Art of Innovation’ and ‘Ten Faces of Innovation’, says their aim is to connect Californian and international entrepreneurs with Portuguese startups and entrepreneurs.
“Portugal now has seven unicorns and most of them are connected with California and Silicon Valley, so changes had already been happening in Portugal’s development as a major startup destination and innovation hub,” says Hugo Antonelo of Funnyhow.
“There are also several similarities between Portugal and California; the surfing, the beach lifestyle … and so there is more than work that connects people from California with Lisbon in particular and Portugal as a whole.
“Companies are people, and we are thinking about people first. I opened my office in San Francisco in 2019, I met Jonathan and agreed there was a movement, after the pandemic, of people coming to Portugal from California, and Portuguese moving there. Jonathan and I were two such examples,” he explains, adding that TAP’s direct flights to San Francisco was also a boon.
When the pair realised the momentum, they thought creating a club for the community of entrepreneurs that had links to both countries was a great idea to “break the expat bubble”.
“We wanted to help that California community to break out of that bubble and meet Portuguese entrepreneurs, talent, and investors, and create a mix of those two worlds,” continues Hugo Antonelo.
Nathan Hadlock, also one of the founders of RedBridge, who is an advisor to the Golden Visa fund Pela Terra, is examining creating sustainable farmland in Portugal.
“We’re working towards solving agricultural problems here in Portugal, particularly issues with soil. Conventional agriculture that has lasted hundreds of years has completely exhausted this critical part of the system. In our project, we work with operators to change their practices and focus more on soil — meaning cover crops, animal grazing and organic amendments.”
Nathan has been living in Portugal for two-and-a-half years, his first time based out of the US. “I am seeing this country through the eyes of an immigrant. I always wondered why all the most successful companies in the US were founded by immigrants, and how they could see opportunities and problems that I didn’t. Now I am experiencing this for the first time.
“It’s really exciting here in Portugal. Everywhere I look I see business opportunities and, for Americans, specifically those from San Francisco where a lot of the technology and business and funding models are cutting edge, it’s good to share that knowledge here in Portugal.
“However, Americans often miss the point and see things in a very extractive way, whereas the Portuguese really value people and putting back. We should be creating companies and products that make life better, rather than just monopolise your time even more and get you to buy things,” Nathan Hadlock concludes.
RedBridge past events have featured self-stating entrepreneurs such as Hélène Guillaume Pabis, whose fierce passion for a wild, outdoor lifestyle led her to create her Wild.AI app, Lisbon AI innovator João Graça of Unbabel, who spoke honestly about how he initially resisted flying to San Francisco for what became the Y Combinator of a lifetime; and Mária Girão Sá of Ethical Legend, who studied innovation but found herself stuck in a career where “I was giving away my time” before creating scarves crafted from plastic bottles.
Chris Graeme is editor of Essential Business magazine – www.essential-business.pt
By CHRIS GRAEME