Tuesday 25 October 2016

Space, the fatal frontier: why poor facilities drew tech show away from Dublin

Published 24/09/2015 | 02:30

The Web Summit in Dublin.
The Web Summit in Dublin.

Why has the Web Summit pulled the plug on Dublin and packed its bags for Lisbon? Here are three factors that are likely to have played a prominent part of its decision.

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1. Infrastructure and facilities: Since it starting attracting bigger crowds, Web Summit organisers have repeatedly complained about a shortfall in infrastructure that Dublin has compared to other European capital cities. Anyone who goes to large conferences knows how important efficient transport facilities and conference centres are. Shows such as CES in Las Vegas or Mobile World Congress in Barcelona depend on huge, flexible exhibition spaces served by rail or large-scale commercial vehicle transportation. On this count, Dublin scores very poorly compared to most European countries.

The RDS is a patchwork of exhibition halls with congested traffic surrounding it. And Dublin's Convention Centre is far too small.

At 22,000 attendees last year, the RDS felt cramped and poorly spaced out. With 30,000 coming this year, it's likely to be worse.

Even Lisbon has a convention centre and transport infrastructure that are miles ahead of Dublin's facilities. The centre chosen by the Web Summit, Feira Internacional Lisboa, is enormous and is well served by city transportation. The Web Summit is ambitious: it does not see itself as a boutique or a 'charming' event but as a global one. It needs global-sized facilities.

2. Money: The Web Summit is a private business that wants to make money itself. Portugese authorities are likely to have put more financial support on the table than the Irish government.

While organisers from the Web Summit and the Irish government have declined to comment on finance, the company received €235,000 from Enterprise Ireland and the IDA to help pay for last year's event.

Lisbon is likely to have offered significantly more than this: Portugal currently has a €450m fund called Portugal Ventures, a large chunk of which is reserved for growing and promoting its tech ecosystem.

Lisbon's investment return from landing the Web Summit are clear: it gets to position itself as one of Europe's new tech centres, a message reinforced by the Web Summit during its own year-long marketing activities.

3. Evolution of the company: By moving away from Dublin, the founders of the Web Summit may hope to prove the event doesn't depend on Dublin to retain its success.

And by proving that they can do it, they would also bring the company onto a new valuation plane.

Paddy Cosgrave, Daire Hickey and David Kelly may simply be looking for a new challenge.

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