Web Summit 2013 scaled new heights

Friday 01 November 2013 14.59
Elon Musk was this year’s biggest draw

By Will Goodbody, Science and Technology Correspondent

@willgoodbody

It is sometimes said that journalists are for the most part cynical. Always knocking. Forever trying to find fault. Prone to concentrate on the negative. And unlikely to give credit where credit is due.

It may or may not be true….

But either way, today it is only fitting to acknowledge the fantastic event that was Dublin Web Summit 2013. Or “The Summit”, as it is now called, reflecting the fact that it has morphed into something more than just a technology expo for geeks. Over the course of the past 48 hours, this little island of ours became the focus of the global technology world. 10,000 delegates streamed into the RDS to hear 350 speakers from companies big and small talk about where technology is at, and where it is going.

Inevitably it was the big names that grabbed the headlines. Elon Musk, the founder of Paypal, Tesla and SpaceX, was the big draw for the closing session last night. But over the course of the past two days, a whole host of tech leaders took to the stage, like the founder of WordPress Matt Mullenweg, Drew Houston from Dropbox, Padmasree Warrior of Cisco, Phil Libin the founder of Evernote, the world famous skateboarder turned philanthropist Tony Hawk, the man behind the iPod and founder of Nest Tony Fadell, Jay Bregman who invented the Hailo taxi app, and Aaron Levie of Box to name but a few.

They may not be household names among the general public. But in the world of tech entrepreneurs, they are the a bit like rock stars.

The 900+ startups represented at the event were also busy in the background. Pitching ideas, courting investors and besieging any member of the media that happened to pass within grabbing distance. The diversity of ideas on show was mindblowing. Whatever you need, there is almost certainly now an app for that.

It was a truly international, multicultural experience. Delegates came from 97 countries. And while those attending previous Web Summits were typically more often than not Irish or European, this year the Americans were in town in their droves, along with visitors from other tech leading countries, like Israel.

The atmosphere was almost suffocatingly positive. Filled with hope and optimism for a tech sector in Ireland and around the world which is powering ahead and has much, much more to offer in the future. And that’s even after you strip out all the PR guff and hot air that inevitably surrounds gatherings such as these.

Bloomberg TV, CNBC, the BBC were all there. As were representatives from the big online tech news sites. The pictures of the Nasdaq opening bell being rung from the main stage by the Taoiseach (helped by a cast of thousands) on Wednesday were beamed around the world – into dealing rooms, board rooms and offices. The IDA used the event to announce 335 new jobs among foreign tech firms here. Enterprise Ireland used it to sell Irish startups to foreign investors, and invite in startups who may wish to relocate to Ireland.

It’s all evidence that the Web Summit (or The Summit) has reached a milestone – a critical mass that places it firmly in the annual global tech calendar as a must-attend event for tech entrepreneurs and leaders from around the globe. That’s not my view. That’s what many of the CEOs I spoke to and interviewed told me.

It is a phenomenal achievement by its founders – Paddy Cosgrave, Daire Hickey and David Kelly. A small group of young men who, like many of those attending The Summit, had a vision, pursued it and with the help of a lucky break or two along the way and a lot of hard work have realised the dream. All in the space of three short years.

The secret of their success is hard to put your finger on. Clearly convincing the likes of the founders of Twitter and Skype to travel here in the early years of the the Dublin Web Summit had alot to do with it. That attracted global media attention, which in turn attracted the notice of tech and marketing companies who decided they needed to be at the next one.

The location also clearly has much to do with it. People like coming to Dublin, and when they come The Summit goes out of its way to show them a good time. So much so that this year saw the advent of a Night Summit and a Food Summit, running alongside the main tech events.

Where it goes next is a big question? The brand is clearly now a very valuable one. But can the organisers continue to grow the event? Can they continue to attract the big names, which are its life blood? Can they continue to host it here in Ireland? Would moving it elsewhere diminish it?

All questions for another day. But in the meantime we say well done, and here’s to next year.

(You see, journalists can be positive and give credit. Although in fairness, the Wifi was awful.)

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