Tuesday 26 March 2019

Deals, Dublin and Dropbox: how the Web Summit spurs investment

Paddy Cosgrave with Enda Kenny
Paddy Cosgrave with Enda Kenny
Ryan Smith, founder of Qualtrics

Murray Kerchavel

Just what sort of economic impact does the Web Summit really have? It may be Europe’s largest technology conference, but does it produce real commercial deals?

Just what sort of economic impact does the Web Summit really have? It may be Europe’s largest technology conference, but does it produce real commercial deals?

Four years ago, Paddy Cosgrave was putting the finishing touches to a fledgling tech conference from a bedroom with two co-founders, ex-journalist Daire Hickey and young accountant David Kelly. From tomorrow, the Web Summit, employing over 100 people, will commandeer the entire RDS for Europe's largest tech conference.

The conference has become a global phenomenon, with over 20,000 people in attendance, hundreds of startups and many of the world’s most senior investors.

But the wider economic impact of the conference is now starting to become apparent, both in Ireland and for companies abroad.

For Dublin, the conference has had a major impact on inward investment, according to several senior tech company executives.

Several high profile companies have set up in Dublin in the aftermath of visiting the Web Summit.

Dropbox is one. Having originally come to Dublin in 2011 for the Web Summit, it announced a Dublin office subsequently.

Twitter is another. Jack Dorsey first came to the Web Summit in 2010. A year later, Twitter announced its Dublin office. It currently employs 200 people and is expanding rapidly.

Some company founders have been forthright on the impact that the event has had on their investment decisions.

"There's huge kudos owed to those Web Summit guys," says Qualtrics founder and chief executive, Ryan Smith. "I can tell you that they're doing more for the tech scene in Ireland than pretty much anyone else I know. Honestly, they're bringing a lot of jobs to Dublin."

Qualtrics specialises in “survey-based enterprise data collection.

Smith first came to Dublin in 2012 when he attended Dublin's Web Summit. He says that this was the initial basis upon which he decided to locate his European base in Ireland. Having done so last October, Smith hoped that it would get to 150 people. The 34-year-old founder, who has just landed $150m (€118m) in fresh venture capital funding, is now revising that figure upwards.

"Let me tell you, we're already at 55 jobs and it looks like we could get to 250 jobs in the next 18 months if we execute," he says. "That Dublin office has been phenomenal for us. I have six other companies from Utah right now asking me about possible expansion and I'm telling them about Dublin. We found an unbelievable workforce and leader there. Now we're out of space at our [Earlsfort Terrace] office and moving to a bigger place."

It’s not just companies that benefit from the conference’s emergence. One of the country's best-known pubs, O'Donoghue's on Dublin's Merrion Row, credited the conference as an important part its bumper post-tax profits this year.

"We were very happy with how the business performed during 2013," said pub owner Oliver Barden. "The Gathering led to a huge upturn in the tourist trade. Events such as the Dublin Web Summit, along with a strong interest in domestic sporting events, gave us a boost."

Within the industry, the Web Summit has also emerged as a potent force for. In 2011, the online car-sharing service, Uber, secured almost €30m of funding arising from a Web Summit-related meeting with Goldman Sachs and US venture capital firm Menlo Ventures in Dublin.

Similarly, Matt Mickiewicz and Allan Grant founded Hired.com when they met in Dublin. The two raised €12mn earlier this year.

And the Web Summit was the first public event where smarthome platform SmartThings won €25,000 in 2012. This summer, it was acquired by Samsung for €150m.

Local startups have also benefitted. Kerry-based relationship intelligence startup Datahug went on to raise €4m following their 2010 ‘Spark of Genius’ award win.

Some of the most high profile new venture capital firms were also partly incubated at the event. Two of Uber’s funders, Scott Stanford and Shervin Pishevar, formed the basis of Sherpa Ventures after spending time together at the Web Summit in Dublin in 2012.

“There was something very special… I don’t mean to sound corny, but those are the facts. We discovered a real deep appreciation for each other,” Stanford told the online site Techcrunch later.

The Web Summit has over 20,000 attendees and hundreds of senior investors in Dublin this week. Who will be the next big beneficiary?

Online Editors

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