Sofia Fernandes, Head of Marketing and Projects at BGI

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Early years and where you came from?

Since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to be everything and do anything. I’ve wanted to be a vet,
a lawyer, an actress, a journalist, a chef. So many things, so hard to choose. I believe that is the
reason why I kept on the science area in high school, so I could always have my options open. In my
university application form, I had Management, Medicine, Veterinary, Communication Science,
Journalism. It was probably an odd application. I truly believe everything happens for a reason. I
got a tip from a close friend that ISCTE had the right fit for me. So, I study Management there.
And that was the beginning of a great adventure…

How were you introduced to the world of the Portuguese tech industry?

Back in 2015, when I was 22, as one of the top students of my master I was invited to be a professor assistant at Nova SBE, for Management Master students, being one of the courses I was evaluating Advancing Marketing. Nova had a partnership with BGI, a deep tech accelerator from the MIT Portugal Entrepreneurship and Innovation Initiative. The startups being accelerated by BGI needed strategic marketing plans, and therefore my students were involved as a consultant, supporting those entrepreneurs and at the same time having a more “hands-on” work. I guided the students towards the final project and graded their work. That was my first contact with startups. Later on, I’ve received a job offer from BGI to make a rebranding and support on the implementation of different programs. Since then I’ve been working directly with startups, researchers, investors and corporates to successfully support talented dreamers transfer their technology into the market.

Walk me through your work and what you are doing now in the tech industry.

At this moment I have three main responsibilities at BGI:

  1. Design the overall strategy of entrepreneurship and innovation programs while guiding my team, 4 project managers and 4 interns, implementing them. The main focus is to support researchers or entrepreneurs actively invent and develop technologies while providing close consulting and mentoring for a winning “Go to Market” strategy.
  2. 2) Find new leads for a business generation: connecting my startup alumni with potential investors and clients or looking for new partners/ clients for BGI.
  3. 3) Design BGI brand communication and marketing strategy for 31 different projects Therefore I basically scout for technology, meet with the entrepreneurs, help them grow and strategizing for success, and then make the leads to enter the market and get investment.

What part of what you do, you love the most?

I love to create strong brands and sell dreams

How do you think that your background and knowledge impact the way you approach your work in the Portuguese tech industry?

I come from the science area back in high school, so I have the basics to understand the technologies, with some additional research it is relatively easy to get what the technology is about. I’m a manager by training specialized in marketing strategies having experiences abroad as a student and as a worker. I’ve worked as a consultant in different industries, such as Palácio Nacional da Ajuda, Unilever (brand Surf), Biotherm, and that provided me a great versatility to support a different kind of projects with different ambition scopes.

During my 3 years as University Professors Assistant, I got expertise in guiding people, improving their approaches, but as well with research, and methodologies to understand the market and consumer. Finally, I’ve also managed YSL Fragrances in Portugal, which provided me a much more commercial view and aggressive sales and marketing strategies. One of the startups main problem is selling and finding the right target market, only if that strategy is consistent and logic, they are able to raise capital and successfully get clients. Therefore, most of my work at BGI is precisely to support entrepreneurs in that quest — identifying who in the market will buy, and for how much. This means contact with 147 startups, 86 of which are still active, 75 startups that BGI supported raising capital, in a total of 210 million euros of capital raised — which is over 100 million euros to what Cristiano Ronaldo cost to Real Madrid.

What advice do you have for young women that want to get into tech and don’t know where to start?

When I was 23 and entered at BGI I remember going to a meeting, where most investors and corporate representatives were male and between 40–50. I must admit age was an obstacle at the beginning. I was even once asked “But how old are you? Aren’t you too green?”.

I think far and foremost you need to read, to be interested, to talk to people, to ask all questions, even if you think they are silly, and try to learn as most as possible. If you know what you are doing, you are confident, regardless of the comments, regardless of the age, regardless the gender. So be kind, respectful, humble to learn more but confident of what you know and what you can bring to the table. Be prepared, even if it is “I am not sure, I’ll check later”. With that mindset in mind, there are two options: — you are an entrepreneur, talk with industry enablers — how can they help me, what are my odds? what will it cost me? — if you want to work for others — check if there is a particular industry that you like, check if the company/startup you are applying has core values that meet yours, and if your day to day tasks are something you would like to do.

In both cases, I would advise going to tech/innovation gathering, conferences, talks, networking events, talk with others and above all set expectations, so you know what you are getting into, and therefore you can conclude if that is pleasant for you.

Walk me through a day in your life as a Portuguese women in tech.

Typically, I spend my mornings in meetings, validating documents for my team, looking for different strategies and more efficient to support our stakeholders. Usually, I have working lunches, with investors or corporates, to brief them about the newest developments in our portfolio alumni and to find synergies for projects to come. The afternoon is usually reading dedicates, to Strategy plans, applications for grants, proposals for clients. Every week I meet with corporate partners to know what their main challenges are and how can my portfolio companies solve them — implementation plans/ pilots.

Startups usually reach me on a daily basis by phone asking for support on specific problems, that can go from setting up a meeting with a corporate, to find interns, or providing feedback on a pitch or term sheet.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

!

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Gmail, bank app, zoom, LinkedIn, Spotify, Zomato, WhatsApp, Waze, Instagram.

Anything else you want to share? :-)

I think life becomes more exciting when you only succeed when several people succeed. So if you are going after entering the market with new technology, or supporting technology, really do think about how much will you impact other people's life.

Humans are all about connection, that was how we were naturally design, creating communities to survive and strive. You will spontaneously be more motivated when you work towards the development of the environment around you. You can check more about it on the Maslow hierarchy.

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