Web Summit, Far From Peaking

Four short years ago the Web Summit was just the brain-child of three very young Irish entrepreneurs. Paddy Cosgrave, Daire Hickey and David Kelly can now count their event among the few “must attend” tech conferences globally as well as among the many successful startups operating out of Ireland today.

In fact, Global Entrepreneurship Monitor ranks Ireland as 9th among the 28 European Union countries for entrepreneurial activity. One in 11 people in Ireland, according to the report, is involved in an entrepreneurial activity.

Attracted in by the low tax rate of 12.5%, the ease of doing business here, and a young, educated workforce helped by the free movement of travel of people within the European Union, several of the leading tech companies, including Google, Facebook and Dropbox, have located their European headquarters in Dublin, along with major offices for the likes of LinkedIn, eBay, PayPal and HubSpot.

Alan Hobbs spokesperson for Enterprise Ireland, the Irish government’s agency for supporting Irish businesses and attracting international firms to locate here, believes it is the infrastructure that attracts startups and small businesses and the Web Summit this year really reflects this.

Spread out across a complex of buildings and temporary structures on the grounds of the Royal Dublin Society – a 40 acre site – in the south Dublin suburb of Ballsbridge, close to the FleishmanHillard Dublin offices, the event has come a long way from 400 people in 2010. This year, the more than 20,000 attendees will be fed & watered by an army of 250 artisan Irish food producers in a #FoodSummit that takes over a local park.

But it’s the heavyweight speakers that show how far the Web Summit has come with the number of speakers at Web Summit 2014 exceeding the first event’s total attendance. At least 600 people will take to one of 10 stages over the three days. Among the speakers are cofounder of Paypal and Facebook’s first outside investor Peter Thiel, Dropbox founder Drew Houston, Amazon Chief Technology Officer, Werner Vogels and Google’s Vice President of Engineering, Anna Patterson.

The event has been broadly welcomed by the establishment in Ireland, with the leader of the Irish government, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, coming to the event on Tuesday to ring the NASDAQ’s opening bell for the second year running.

While the speakers are interesting and often inspiring it’s the conversations and casual chats over drinks, usually pints in a city centre pub during the Night Summit, where the real business of the event gets done.

Last year the top 25 startups that came to the Web Summit raised $400 million in the subsequent 12 months and some of those people would have met their investors at the Web Summit and it was a conversation over a pint in a Dublin pub that led to investor Shervin Pishevar signing a deal to invest $26.5 million in U.S. entrepreneur Travis Kalanick’s ride-sharing startup Uber, which now has a valuation of more than $15 billion.

It will be interesting to see what themes, what trends, and, in fact, what deals emerge over the next 3 days in the heart of Dublin 4.