Dublin felt like the centre of the tech world this week as the razzmatazz of the Web Summit descended on the city. Over the course of the two days NASDAQ bell was rung, the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) was driven on stage in an electric supercar by Elon Musk and the world’s most famous skateboarder, Tony Hawk, made an appearance in the RDS (Royal Dublin Society) at what is now the biggest tech conference in Europe and has to rank up there with the likes of SXSW in the US in terms of scale and HuJo was there to soak up all the excitement.
The atmosphere was electric from the moment we entered the main hall of the RDS on day one and the same buzz was maintained for the full conference by the constant din of more than 950 entrepreneurs trying to pitch their start up to media, venture capitalists and anyone who would listen. The space was expanded from Web Summit 2012 but with the attendance tripling to 10,000 this year’s conference felt a lot busier and more hectic.
Big Name Speakers
More than 300 speakers appeared in keynote addresses, panel debates and ‘fireside’ chats across five stages, including the impressive main stage in a huge auditorium that was back lit with what looked like an array of Rubik’s cubes gradually changing colours as the conference unfolded. Speakers included CEOs of now multinational companies like Phil Libin of Evernote, Jay Bregmann of Hailo and Aaron Levie of Box, to big name investors like Kevin Rose of Google Ventures and others from Atomico, Andreeson Horowitz as well as anomalies like 13-year-old Jordan Casey, who is already a serial app developer and entrepreneur. There was also a large digital media presence with speakers from Vine Media, The Huffington Post, TheNextWeb, RTE, The Guardian, and The Wall Street Journal among others. HuJo spoke to a number of them and will be publishing interviews over the coming weeks.
On top of the main stages the exhibition floor was littered with smaller stages where entrepreneurs were constantly making short pitches to panels of experts as part of a two day competition. London start up Import.io, which attempts to structure the web more coherently to make data open to everyone won the PITCH later stage company award, New York based Placemeter, which automatically extracts data from live video streams too the early stage award, whilst ViddyAd, which allows companies to make professional videos at low cost online using stock content won the ‘Spark of Genius Award’ given to the best Irish start-up.
The conference had a real start-up feel to it, the entrepreneurs pitched in front of chipboard panels rather than gleaming screens and were playing every trick in the book to try and grab your attention. There was free smoothies, free coffee, exhibitors dressed as superheroes, women in lederhosen and there was even a gang of leprechauns constantly roaming the RDS. It wasn’t all about technology either, at lunchtime, in between rain showers, the 10,000 strong crowd migrated to nearby Herbert Park for the Food Summit where a huge tent housed food from some of Irelands best known restaurants and there was even a Movember (a charity that encourages men to grow moustaches for the month of November in aid of cancer) stand where you could get a free hot towel shave on the eve of a shaveless month.
The only complaint we heard from attendees was the poor quality of the Wi-Fi signal which left many exhibitors without a product to display. Organisers blamed the number of ‘tethered’ devices for the backlog and each start-up stand was given a hard line for the second day which seemed to alleviate the problem somewhat. But this didn’t dampen spirits as nearly every attendee we spoke to had made some sort of deal or at least made some new contacts over the two days and the selling went on right to the end up to the point where the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny pitched Ireland to Elon Musk live on stage as a potential European HQ for his Tesla electric car company. I attended the Web Summit last year and thought ‘it can’t get much bigger than this’ but after nearly tripling in size the question for its impressive organiser Paddy Cosgrave is where does the Web Summit go from here?
Main image courtesy of Dan Taylor/Heisenberg Media
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