A lot of blog posts have been written about the Web Summit and whether entrepreneurs attending the conference actually get value out of it, whether the conference’s marketing activities are deceptive or not or whether the conference itself has gotten to a size that doesn’t allow attendees to leverage the opportunities they so desperately seek.
This post isn’t about any of that.
A European conference
Last week, fighting against London’s foggy weather, I went to the Web Summit for the third time. I had been to the event when it was half the size and I also went last year when the event had already reached its mega-size.
The conference has clearly evolved into something much bigger than the initial ecosystem-driven event it once was. It has become a European event. Why is that a good thing? Well, because unlike SF/Silicon Valley, Europe’s startup ecosystem isn’t concentrated in one major hub but spread out all over various European capitals. London and Berlin are the two clear central hubs where the concentration of capital, talent and support systems have enabled these hubs to take on centre stage. But what about Paris? Stockholm? Helsinki? Amsterdam? Dublin? Madrid? Sofia? Lisbon?
All these cities are becoming vibrant startup cities and have been strengthening and nurturing their communities for the past couple of years. For investors and other players in the ecosystem, it’s important to stay close to these geographies but ends up being impossible to do it regularly (more than once a year) and consistently.
Personally, that’s the main purpose of the Summit. It allowed me to catch up with the people running accelerators in Amsterdam, the guys behind several coworking spaces and incubators in the Nordics or the entrepreneurs from all over Europe I’d exchanged some emails and had some Skype calls with over the past couple of months but that I hadn’t yet met in person.
It’s the gathering of the technology tribe in Europe.
Ode to Dublin
But let’s face it. If you don’t prepare for the event, your Web Summit experience can become an absolute mess. Think SXSW mess but all under one roof. Too many people, too many speakers, too many stages and startups exhibiting. What to do? Where to go? Who to chat with (WS app can you help?)? Where are you? Where am I?
It has all the ingredients for an absolute failure. What makes it a success? The people of Dublin.
The people of Dublin (and Ireland in general) are absolutely amazing. From the friendly cab drivers and the lovely people from my bed and breakfast, to the bartenders at every pub or the volunteers who wear their t-shirts off-hours to make sure every attendee’s experience in the city is optimal. And all the local players; startups, corporates, government bodies and investors, making sure their peers from abroad are having a good time and aren’t lost in the Summit jungle that gets installed in the city.
In the end, it’s all to make sure you belong there. And that’s why the Web Summit is so special.
If I ever organised a conference of this size, I’m sure there’s a hospitality lesson to be learned with the Dublin WS. From its inception to its end. And what better way to end than with the words of a 77-year-old cab driver interviewed by a Portuguese online newspaper:
“I think a conference like the WS needs to travel the world. Like technology, you need to spread it not limit it to a specific area or a city. Anything that serves to enhance people’s knowledge shouldn’t be kept in one place only. It should belong to the world.”
And now Lisbon
It’s hard to say what an event like the Web Summit will bring to the Lisbon ecosystem and to Portugal in general. Sure, with more than 50k people visiting Lisbon on that week, everyone is going to make a buck from the increased amount of people visiting the city, but from an ecosystem point of view, I think the most important thing the event will bring is density. Innovation is something that is bred through the intersection of great minds. Creating density of talented thinkers and makers dramatically increases the potential for successful ventures to emerge and I very much believe that more people will want to start their companies from Lisbon once they experience the city for a couple of days.
Anyhow, one thing I know for certain. All of us in Lisbon; startup founders, investors, the people running the support tissue that uplifted the ecosystem (from accelerators to coworking spaces), and the people of Lisbon in general — we all have big shoes to fill, and we look forward to rising to the challenge.
Author: Ricardo Sequerra Amram
This post was originally published in Medium