An ancient city with thousands of years of history, Braga, located in north-western Portugal, was once the regional capital of the Roman Empire, and is dotted with religious sites. Close to both mountains and beaches and with a temperate Mediterranean climate, Braga draws in a steady flow of visitors, bolstered by its festivals such as White Nights, which attracts nearly 200,000 people each September.

But mayor Ricardo Rio would like Braga to be a destination for IT professionals, investors and entrepreneurs as well as holidaymakers and festival-goers. Elected in 2013, the 43-year-old economist immediately created a publicly funded economic development agency, Invest Braga. This was followed by the establishment of Startup Braga, a tech accelerator, in partnership with Microsoft Ventures. “We want to create good conditions for companies to develop hi-tech projects, and to connect them with investors, and we’ve been quite successful,” he says. 

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Creating an ecosystem

The idea is to create an entrepreneurship ecosystem that connects Braga's university, the technological centres in the city, and primarily the biggest one, the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory, a partnership between Portugal and Spain and one of Europe's biggest facilities in nanotechnology.

“We have a wide range of partners, both from local and regional institutions but also connected with our national institutions… and most of our programmes are developed together with these types of institutions, in addition to the local ones such as the universities,” Mr Rio says. “We have venture capital both at a local, regional and national level and from national institutions as well.” 

Apart from a new entrepreneurialism and skills training programme called Skilled Life, financed by the Institute of Employment, there is also a network of mentors from companies in the IT sector in Portugal and abroad. With 45% of the local population under the age of 30 there is a youthful, skilled talent pool to be tapped in what is Portugal's third largest city after capital Lisbon and nearby Oporto. 

And a tech cluster has flowered in Braga already. “Currently we have about 40 companies from several domains, mostly connected with IT, but our main areas of work are IT, nanotech and medtech,” says Mr Rio. “[Germany engineering and electronics company] Bosch is the biggest private investor here in Braga, the sixth biggest company in terms of exports in Portugal. We are also applying to become a creative city in the Unesco network in the field of media arts, connecting culture and technology.”

Brand recognition

With many of the fundamentals falling into place, the next step is communicating Braga’s tech talents to the wider world. “The main constraint is that Braga is not on the radar. That is why we are making a push to make the city more well known and to show all the potential that we have. Many people [internationally] aren’t even aware of Portugal. The ones that are aware of Portugal have only heard about Lisbon or Oporto,” says Mr Rio. 

“But we are only 30 minutes away from Oporto. Oporto Airport is closer to Braga than to Oporto itself, so we are in quite a special position geographically. We are very well connected, with the airport, the port, the roads and the railways, and we are in the centre of the north of Portugal. What we have to do is to make the public take notice of what Braga is and what Braga has to offer.”