Friday 23 August 2019

Adeus, Web Summit: As the ship pulls out, here's what we'll miss and what we won't

Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave
Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave
Wifi coverage was one of the issues Paddy Cosgrave raised in correspondence to the Department of the Taoiseach after the Web Summit announced its move to Lisbon next year
Peggy Johnson from Microsoft on the Start Up University Summit Stage. Photo: Frank McGrath
John Sculley, Obi Worldphone speaking at the Web Summit at the RDS. Pic Steve Humphreys
Pat Lam speaking at the Web Summit in Dublin this week – ‘I was asked to speak about the role of real-time analytics in sport which is an important part of our game’the

Ailish O'Hora

Adeus, Web Summit.

Adeus is Portuguese for goodbye, and yes, I admit it, I had to look it up.

It has been an emotional three days, every November...and more - for all involved.

But as the big machine, which is now the Web Summit, pulls out of town and departs for climes sunnier (and more lucrative) in Lisbon, here are some of the things we’ll miss, and some we won’t.

Rio Ferdinand, Ambassador, BT, on the Centre Stage during Day 3 of the 2015 Web Summit in the RDS, Dublin, Ireland. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE / Web Summit
Rio Ferdinand, Ambassador, BT, on the Centre Stage during Day 3 of the 2015 Web Summit in the RDS, Dublin, Ireland. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE / Web Summit

Atmosphere/personality: The Web Summit has a personality all of its own.

Bold, brash, disorganised, unforgiving and naive – it’s almost like an extension of Dublin town itself, highlighting all the things we love and hate about our capital – but mostly love, to be honest. And it brought with it a whole host of conflicting emotions.

Business/Economy:  The Web Summit brought business to Dublin and the thousands of attendees spent money here. There are, however, conflicting reports of how much the Summit was worth to the city, but some believe it was as high as €100m a pop.

Failte Ireland said that 86pc of those attending this year travelled from abroad with 13,000 hotel rooms and B&Bs booked. Then there’s the Web Summit pub crawl, bringing business to parts of the city that may not always get tourism footfall.

Technology/deals: Okay so it is hard to fathom exactly how many deals were done at the Web Summit and how much they are worth. The Uber deal is almost like the stuff of lore at this stage. But it is true that investor Shervin Pishevar met US entrepreneur Travis Kalanick in Bruxelles pub on Dublin’s Harry Street back in 2011 during the Summit. Later on that night, in the Shelbourne Hotel, Pishevar agreed a deal to invest over $26m in the-then start-up Uber.

Showcasing Irish start-ups: Workforce management software company Bizimply won the ESB Spark of Genius award, one of Ireland’s most prominent start-up competitions  at this year’s Web Summit. The victory netted the firm €25,000 in cash. Bizimply also won a 'Pitch' award for best business pitch. Those awards, which are traditionally presented on the last day of the Web Summit,  are two-tiered - and Bizimply won the gong for companies that have raised less than $3m. Over 1,300 Irish and international firms applied to enter the competition.

Web Summit chief Paddy Cosgrave and Portuguese Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas discuss the move to Lisbon at the RDS
Web Summit chief Paddy Cosgrave and Portuguese Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas discuss the move to Lisbon at the RDS

Chaos: Yes, we will miss it. Whether it was the traffic, the logistics or simply getting around the sprawling RDS itself, there’s not a hope it will be replicated in matter how hard they try, it was Irish chaos...and we do it well.

There are also things we will not miss, however. From the co-founder and CEO Paddy Cosgrave’s rants to the infrastructure deficiencies in the capital, here are some of them.

Rip-off Ireland: Yes, whatever lessons we were supposed to have learned from the economic crisis that befell the country in the past decade went firmly out the window during the Web Summit, particularly in the hospitality sector. I saw lunchtime starters cheekily advertised on a window of a mid-range Ballsbridge restaurant for €11.95 yesterday. Then there’s the hotel prices -  an ongoing Web Summit bugbear. It’s a free market force, of course, but you would hope a bit of longer-term thinking might prevail. Then there was the price of food for delegates at the Summit, a €20 voucher for a meal. It didn’t go down well with the masses. Mind you, Web Summit tickets aren’t cheap either.

Rants/Demands: No, we will not be missing Paddy’s rants – from blogs to interviews, Lisbon is welcome to them. We understand that he is very passionate about the Summit and wants things to work, but sometimes less is more. That is certainly the case here. The handling of some aspects of this year’s Summit also leaves a lot to be desired. The agreement that he would appear on the Late Late Show and a decision to pull the appearance at the 11th hour was just one. Garda escorts for VIPs and requests that city roads to be closed during the Summit are just not realistic proposal in an already stifled city.

Infrastructure: Using the free bus service to and from the city to the RDS this week highlighted just how well things can work when there’s a bit of joined-up thinking involved. But Web Summits down through the years have been dogged with infrastructure problems like traffic chaos. It will be interesting to see how Lisbon deals with these issues, including who will be blamed for any issues that might arise and who will take up the responsibility.

Rain: While the weather for the first two days of this year’s summit were glorious, on the third day it poured. And it started pouring just as the Portuguese deputy prime minister took to the stage at the RDS yesterday to boast about the ‘sun and sea’ that would greet next year’s attendees in Lisbon. That’s one thing that we can't fix...although it never seemed to bother the visitors who came to Dublin for the Summit.

Wifi: Will it go down in history as the worst aspect of the Dublin Web Summit? While the system was outsourced this year to fix the problems of previous ones, it still wasn’t great. But it was better. Last year it was diabolical. Again, it will be interesting to see what Portugal will do differently.

I, for one, am pretty confident the Web Summit will return to Ireland, even if it is in a different form. Until then, Lisbon’s gain is our loss. We'll miss it, chaos and all.


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