Web Summit 2016 – Lisbon Sets Out its Tech Capital StallLast Updated: January 1, 2019
With Web Summit organisers bringing the event outside of their native land for the first time, the stakes are high. They’re also high for Portugal, where there is an intense focus on positioning Lisbon as a major European and global tech capital.
WEB Summit 2016 has become a major springboard by which Portugal hopes to reinvent itself as a leading, if not the leading, European tech capital. And while political leaders in the country do not baulk at the symbolic connotations in the resemblance between Lisbon’s Ponte 25 de Abril and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, the business community’s eagerness to establish their capital city’s bona fides is evident in a billboard campaign announcing “This is Not the New Silicon Valley — This is Portugal.”
“Berlin and Silicon Valley are amazing. We don’t think we are better or worse, only ourselves…”
The campaign, largely being played out via the #ThisIsPortugal hashtag and driven by the @StartUpPortugal movement, has been given an impressive boost by the opening of Web Summit on Monday November 7.
With 50,000 people in the capital for the event, and the city festooned with posters confidently announcing the dawn of an indigenous tech revolution, Web Summit has certainly been a shot in the arm for the nation, which has borne its share of eurozone crises during the global financial crash and recovery.
Perhaps this accounts for the lack of any dissonance or discomfort in the irony of media repeatedly comparing Lisbon to Silicon Valley, at a time when billboards are emphatically stating that the city does not necessarily want to be viewed in that light but on its own merits.
So… did Day One deliver. Objectively speaking, yes, but not without some teething problems, which are probably to be expected for the first time that an event of such scale is hosted. One of the pressure points that must be tackled is admission to various events. Organiser Paddy Cosgrave acknowledged this in the minutes prior to Monday’s opening:
— Paddy Cosgrave (@paddycosgrave) November 7, 2016
From some of the responses to this announcement, it’s something that is going to require much more attention than a #SmallDetails hashtag. On Tuesday morning, 15 minutes prior to the opening session, the queue was reportedly as long as 1km—15,000 people—prompting some understandably frustrated blasts on Twitter. The Web Summit 2016 organisers are to be credited for individually tweeting disgruntled ticketholders, but it’s one of the things that neither Web Summit as an entity nor official Lisbon want to define the event’s inaugural year in the Portugese capital.
There were some media reports criticising the wifi—one of the bogeys that dented Dublin’s credibility as a host city—but by and large attendees seemed satisfied. However, there was a somewhat uncomfortable opening night glitch that occurred when Paddy Cosgrave attempted to demonstrate the effectiveness of the wifi… to no avail. It was unfortunate, but it’s the kind of thing that can and does happen, and it could be argued that it is much too easy to make a big thing out of it.
— Adrian Weckler (@adrianweckler) November 7, 2016
All that having been said, the general impression is one of huge positivity, with such Web Summit 2016-specific facilities as event registration at the airport, and local amenities such as a Metro—and the incredible value travel passes for unlimited journeys on it and the city bus network—drawing widespread praise from the thousands of visitors.
More specifically, the country’s Prime Minister, António Costa announced the creation of a €200m public fund to match venture capital invested in the country’s startups, part of a larger state effort to inject €400m into Portugal’s tech sector over the next two years.
The rest of the week set to be dominated by roundtables and presentations on technology in the automobile sector, FinTech, and artificial intelligence, although these are only the highlight subjects of an agenda that explores every aspect of how technology impacts on our lives—that was implicit in an opening agenda that included presentations from European political heavyweights; Portugese business leaders on the country’s bona fides as a startup hub; and Hollywood actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (also founder and director of hitRECord).
— Web Summit (@WebSummit) November 7, 2016
Although the niggles are far from minor details, it is true that the real meat of Web Summit 2016, and in any year of the event, is in the agenda and the guest speakers. Some swift action to sort out these logistical snags will truly deliver on the promise of an event that has exploded from an attendance of just 400 in a single hotel room in Dublin, to 50,000 people in one of the world’s major conference centres in just 6 years.
It is only then—with the growing pains sorted—that the clouds will part and people will be able to appreciate the true significance of Web Summit, not just for the Web Summit crew, nor for Lisbon and Portugal, but for the entire world. Long after Paddy Cosgrave’s opening night struggles with wifi have faded from memory, it’s possible that the kinds of projects highlighted in the Tweet below are the ones that will be synonymous with Web Summit 2016.
— Iain Alexander (@iaingalexander) November 8, 2016