Thursday 18 January 2018

3,000 Irish travel to Web Summit

A woman takes selfies in front of the Web Summit logo on the opening day at Parque das Nacoes in Lisbon
A woman takes selfies in front of the Web Summit logo on the opening day at Parque das Nacoes in Lisbon

Adrian Weckler in Lisbon

With thousands of Irish tech executives descending on it this week, is Lisbon really becoming the "next tech capital", as one over-zealous Guardian newspaper headline put it over the weekend?

The Web Summit organisers, fresh from their break with Dublin, are keen to spread that idea.

Nestled among the trams, hills, surfing spots and giant red suspension bridge are huge Web Summit logos. If Paddy Cosgrave wanted to make an impact on the city, he appears to have done so.

City planners are keen to stifle caffeinated comparisons, however. Authorities here have put up huge signs around the capital urging 53,000 Web Summit tech visitors not to call Lisbon "the next Silicon Valley".

Nevertheless, Irish interest in the event is high. The Web Summit organisers say that over 3,000 Irish people are attending, the majority either from start-ups, white-collar firms or the investment community.

Ireland's biggest tech export, the Collison brothers, aren't speaking at the event. However, there's a large contingent from Stripe going to the event, including chief business officer Billy Alvarado and a number of its Dublin-based executives.

Other big Irish tech companies here include Intercom (co-founder Des Traynor) and VoxPro (Dan Kiely, chief executive) while strong up-and-comers present include Bizimply (Gerard Forde, chief executive) and Cork-based Teamwork (Peter Coppinger, co-founder).

But from an Irish perspective, the most intriguing speaker is Northern Ireland-born Sarah Friar, cfo and "operations lead" at the publicly-quoted US payments firm Square. Having grown up in Sion Mills, Co Tyrone (at the time the most bombed town per head of population in Europe), Ms Friar is basically running Square at the moment. This is because Square's founder and chief executive, Jack Dorsey, is spending more and more time trying to sort out his other company, Twitter. Ms Friar speaks today about how to manage the public flotation of a tech company in the current climate.

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny and other Government ministers were invited, say organisers, but declined to attend. However, eight IDA executives will be on hand, as will representatives from Enterprise Ireland.

Irish interest aside, the main attention will be focused on talks by Tinder founder Sean Rad, Renault chief executive Carlos Ghosn and Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer.

There is also some interest in the involvement of actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (of 'Batman', 'Inception' and 'Looper' fame) and footballing stars Ronaldinho and Figo, as well as a number of other luminaries from the world of entertainment and sport.

But what of the wifi? And the burgers? Or festering rows with authorities? Are any of the old chestnuts that plagued the Web Summit in Dublin still hanging around?

The event's organisers seem pretty pleased with the red carpet rolled out here, with a claim that 1,000 police are being assigned to manage security for the event. Apparently, the only pushback from Portugese planners has been over a proposal to put a giant Web Summit logo on a city crane. That request was refused.

Not everything is as billed. While Lisbon's people are friendly and the city is charming, rip-offs abound: this reporter was taken on a circuitous loop from the airport to the hotel by a chatty, diverting taxi driver.

Don't believe all you hear about Lisbon being cheap. While there's good value to be had outside the main tourist areas, normal restaurants often charge Dublin prices for things.

For tech executives on expenses, it doesn't amount to much. But to hordes of cash-starved start-ups pawning kidneys to make it here, it's relevant. Lisbon isn't quite the bargain town that it is sometimes made out to be.

However, with lower rents and a relatively new Metro system serving most of the city, it is probably cheaper and more efficient to live in Lisbon than in Dublin.

That, together with a glut of engineers whose wages are less than Dublin's, puts Lisbon in the spotlight for the next few days.

Irish Independent

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