The Web Summit is to quit Dublin and relocate to Lisbon in 2016, according to the event’s chief executive, Paddy Cosgrave.
“We need a new home for future growth at Web Summit,” Mr Cosgrave told Independent.ie today. “Lisbon has the infrastructure and that is why we are making the move.”
The news will come as a blow to Ireland’s industrial policy makers, who have used the event in recent years as a reference point for foreign tech firms seeking to establish a European base here.
But organisers of the conference, which expects to see 30,000 attendees at Dublin’s RDS next month, have been considering a move away from Ireland for some time. State funding assistance and hotel infrastructure are some of the issues previously raised by Web Summit organisers.
However, Mr Cosgrave said that the move to Lisbon is being undertaken for “positive” reasons.
“We’re excited to move but also saddened about leaving Dublin,” he said. “I have nothing but thank yous to many people here after five years in Dublin. The startup community in Dublin, in particular, couldn’t have been more supportive. From people like Eamon Leonard and Ray Nolan to Chris Horn and many others, they’ve all been incredible supporters.”
The Web Summit is to be located in Lisbon “for the next few years”, according to Portugal’s deputy prime minister, Paulo Portas.
“This is a massive decision for us,” said Mr Cosgrave. “We spent an enormous of time considering it carefully. We think it’s the right one for our attendee experience.”
Rival bids from the Netherlands and the UK were also understood to have been made to attract the Web Summit next year.
Mr Cosgrave did not say whether the company will hold any other events in Ireland next year. Earlier this year, Web Summit held two conferences in Belfast called EnterConf and MoneyConf.
However, he said that the company will remain based in Dublin, where it now employs 130 people.
“That is not going to change,” he said. “We remain an Irish company. We will always be grateful for the support and encouragement we received from Dublin. My co-founders and I started Web Summit five years ago and it has grown beyond what I had thought possible. We are proud of the fact that we have become an important pillar of the global startup ecosystem and that 90pc of our attendees come from abroad.”
Speaking at the Ploughing Championships, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he was "disappointed" with the decision to relocate the Summit.
"It's disappointing to find that they've made a decision to move for the next three years, but that's a choice that they've got to make.I know that they've had a number of meetings both with the RDS where it has been housed for a period, and with the City Council and so on."
The Taoiseach went to say that he tried to intervene in the talks:
"I actually spoke myself to Paddy [Cosgrave] some time ago in respect of what were their requirements or their demands. Though it's not a question of not meeting demands, it's a question maybe for the company themselves, it's their choice. It's been a great addition to Ireland and it's reputation for the last number of years so while it's disappointing it's a matter of individual choice.
"Obviously I think the authorities will look at the question of how they need to improve facilities for other events on other occasions. Be that as it may, Ireland is moving on, we've got an enormous reputation internationally in terms of what we do and I hope that Paddy and his web summit can come back again."
Portugal’s deputy prime minister, who said during the summer that his government had been negotiating with Web Summit since March, welcomed the move.
“It’s an absolutely perfect fit having Web Summit make Lisbon its home for the next few years,” said Paulo Portas. “Portugal is getting noticed more and more for its thriving startup scene, proof that there's a lot more than sunshine here.”
Web Summit is seen as a prize event to help build the industrial profile of countries keen to improve their industrial profile internationally.
“In 2015, Lisbon became the first city to receive the European Entrepreneurial Region award,” said a statement from Web Summit. “Investors from across Europe have started looking to Lisbon to capitalise on the low rents and affordable IT talent. Dozens of Portuguese startups have exhibited at Web Summit and Codacy won Web Summit’s Pitch competition last year.”
The statement also said: “Web Summit 2016 will be held in the MEO Arena and Feira Internacional de Lisboa. This venue has extensive transport links, including a metro station and capacity for Web Summit to grow substantially.”
Web Summit organisers claim that its conferences will attract more than 50,000 attendees this year. Co-founders Paddy Cosgrave, Daire Hickey and David Kelly have expanded the company’s events roster this year to include conferences in Las Vegas, Hong Kong and Belfast, while events in New Orleans and India are scheduled for 2016.
Organisers say that next month’s three-day conference in Dublin’s RDS will have over 2,000 start-ups, 1,000 investors and 650 speakers.