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Web Summit's influence goes well beyond tech crowd

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Preparations were nearing completion in the RDS yesterday. Picture: Stephen Collins /Collins Photos

Preparations were nearing completion in the RDS yesterday. Picture: Stephen Collins /Collins Photos

Preparations were nearing completion in the RDS yesterday. Picture: Stephen Collins /Collins Photos

It may be Europe's largest web technology conference with almost 22,000 people bustling through the doors of Dublin's RDS today, but many people might still ask: what is the Web Summit for?

Is it for geeks? Is it for product launches? Or is it part of a trend that is big because of the search for 'the next big thing'?

Partly, it is all of the above. But there is no questioning that the wider economic impact that the conference has had on Dublin's technology scene. 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 employs 200 people here and is expanding rapidly.

Within the industry, the Web Summit has also emerged as a potent force. In 2011, 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 €12m earlier this year.

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 benefited. 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 website Techcrunch later.

But is the Web Summit simply in step with a version of Ireland - the low tax place to set up - that is changing with the abolition of the 'Double Irish' exemption?

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Some industry executives think not.

"It's not on our radar," said Sam Chandler, founder of software firm Nitro which is currently growing its Dublin base quickly. "All that means to companies like us is that the Government here announced measures to prevent companies from faking their domicile. But we're talent first, tax second. When we look at Ireland, all we now see is thousands of talented people we can employ.

"Dublin, to me, is like a mini Silicon Valley. Getting rid of the Double Irish doesn't make the slightest bit of difference to us."

Authorities here will be hoping that such sentiments are replicated in more events such as Facebook's decision to expand its operations in Ireland.

Yesterday, the social networking giant said that it was "sensibly planning" for growth that could double its Irish operation to 1,000 people.

"We're definitely growing here and it's not slowing down," said the company's managing director for Ireland, Sonia Flynn (inset). "We have room for 1,000 people here at our newly offices and we made sure that we had that space for expansion because the business is growing very strongly."

Facebook is believed to be considering even more office space, with the social networking giant understood to have enquired about further facilities nearby. Rival social networking firm Twitter is also set to expand its Irish operations to Dublin's Baggot Street.

Last month, LinkedIn said it could double its Irish workforce from 600 to 1,200.

This week, it's not just the Web Summit generating interest. The event has also proven to be a magnet for other conferences around Ireland this week capitalising on the Silicon Valley investors and tech firms here. The Web Summit has more than 20,000 attendees and hundreds of senior investors in Dublin this week. Who will be the next big beneficiary?

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF OPENING DAY

9:40am, main stage: Remember virtual reality? It's back, with Oculus Rift, the next generation gaming headset the tech world is raving about.

10.45am, main stage: After Snapchat's Evan Spiegel, Limerick's John Collison is arguably the world's biggest tech star under 25. He and brother Patrick created one of the world's most important online payment firms, Stripe.

12.35pm, main stage: The noted developer, investor and actress Eva Longoria will take to the stage to explain her vision for the future of technology.

1pm, library stage: Pat Kenny joins Abigail Disney, great-grand niece of Walt Disney, to discuss cartoons and the future of film.

2.10pm: Taoiseach Enda Kenny attempts to push the right buttons for the opening bell of the Nasdaq Exchange.


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