From today until November 4, 40,000 attendees are expected at Lisbon's Web Summit, which is returning to an in-person format. Paddy Cosgrave talked to ECO about the plans he envisions for the event.
Web Summit is expanding to new stops — Hong Kong, Brazil and Tokyo are on the organization’s list — but that does not take away any strength from Lisbon’s tech summit, which kicks off this Monday at Parque das Nações, in Lisbon. On the contrary, argues Paddy Cosgrave. However, the co-founder of the tech summit does not commit to maintaining the event beyond 2028, a date agreed with the Portuguese government. From today until November 4, 40,000 attendees are expected at Lisbon’s Web Summit, which is returning to in-person format.
The “biggest” tech event takes place in a country where still waiting for the commercial launch of 5G, but nothing to be missed, says Paddy Cosgrave. Even without the new generation of telecommunications, Lisbon is still the city to be in, at least for the next decade. “There are literally thousands of people moving from London, New York, San Francisco and Paris to Lisbon. It’s turning the city into an unbelievable cosmopolitan melting pot. It’s a good place.”
Can Lisbon become the permanent home for the Web Summit?
We are here until 2028. After that, I don’t know, I hope to still be alive in 2028. In tech that’s an eternity. Things are changing so fast. Who knows what the world will be like in 2025? My expectation is that, at least for the next decade, Lisbon will be the place to be. Berlin, for a long period of time, was the place where everybody wanted to move to, to set up businesses there. And for whatever reason — maybe it’s for academics to find out — a lot of people are moving to Lisbon. I see on social media, the enthusiasm and the challenges it’s creating. There are literally thousands of people moving from London, New York, San Francisco and Paris to Lisbon. It’s turning the city into an unbelievable cosmopolitan melting pot. It’s a good place. I am aware of the discussion about the challenges it poses, with the cost of living and housing, but they are good challenges, cities in decline also have challenges, but the wrong challenges. Lisbon has the right challenges, which have to be solved.
In a recent press conference, you said that this year’s edition of WS would have greater participation of new founders, who have never been on stage before. Can you give us examples of startups that we will hear a lot about in the future?
WS is happening at the same time as COP26. There are over 200 startups at the Web Summit, which are focused on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A quarter of the companies in the pitch competitions are focused on the SDGs. I expect politicians to solve all the problems facing our environment, but innovation will ultimately play a crucial role. I think a lot of that innovation will be carried out by the people who are at Web Summit. COP doesn’t seem particularly interested in a lot of the people driving the actual innovation that will get us to a kind of carbon zero future. But they are at Web Summit. Obviously, there’s also the crypto guys.
Since you mention the ‘crypto guys’, I wanted to focus on those ‘guys’. As you know, there is a huge gender diversity problem in the tech sector. There are not enough women. The latest Eurostat data…
They are shocking.
In Portugal, we saw a 5.3 percentage point drop in the number of women working in the tech sector. Ten years later we are still having this discussion.
In 2014, some of the key people involved in Web Summit came from the music industry and they ran music festivals. For them, the idea that only 10% of the attendees at a music festival were women would be strange. When they came to work for WS, they were saying, ‘what’s wrong with this industry, something is very wrong here. Why is it that 90% or more are men?’ Since then, with our Women in Tech programme we’ve worked hard to increase the participation of women on stage and their presence at the event. We have about 40% women attendees and 35% women on stage. But it’s definitely industry leading. And I think a lot of events need to work harder to address this. We need to bring students from Portuguese universities, overwhelmingly women and show them that this industry is filled with people just like them. It’s not just about women in their 50s who are leaders in their field. You have to start at 18 and 19 years old or even younger. Otherwise, you will never tackle the problem.
Are you going to have a student programme again?
Yes. We will have 5000 students. We do it through the Department of Education.
COP doesn’t seem particularly interested in a lot of the people driving the actual innovation that will get us to a kind of carbon zero future. But they are at Web Summit.
You are planning to have a summit in Brazil. According to the local press, representatives from that country are coming to WS to close a deal with Rio de Janeiro. Can you confirm that Rio will host the WS?
We haven’t made a decision yet: whether it is Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre or Brasilia. I think it was the mayor of Rio de Janeiro who said that the decision is taken. (laughs) That is not the case. Maybe he is trying to discourage the other cities. Everything is still on the table. I have studied the World Economic Forum and they have grown the notoriety of Davos by creating regional events in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and North America. And in the case of Web Summit, I think there’s a massive opportunity to increase participation from Latin America, not just from Brazil, Brazil is already the fifth or sixth largest country by participation. The numbers are pretty incredible.
Will you hold a summit in Hong Kong next year? And in Tokyo?
Yes. (Tokyo) will potentially be in 2023.
Any other cities planned? Sydney, for example?
No, that’s it for now. In the last 10 years, we have held WS events in almost every major city, New York, Seattle, London, Toronto, Paris, Stockholm, and the purpose of all these events is to try to create notoriety for Lisbon. This is a global event.
Won’t these events around the world cannibalize the Web Summit in Lisbon?
It does exactly the opposite. The WS base gets stronger with greater international participation. And that is achieved by going to the markets and getting people to know WS better. You can go to the street and ask anyone in Portugal, or in most business centres in European countries, for Web Summit and people know what it is. If you do that in Buenos Aires, people don’t know. These are huge markets, with great opportunities. We have to educate people.
You mentioned that Brazil was the fifth or sixth country in terms of attendees at the Web Summit in Lisbon. If I was a Brazilian citizen, why would I come to Lisbon if there is a Web Summit in my country?
Because it’s an entirely global gathering. We already organize events all over the world. The difference is in the level of participation. The WS (in Lisbon) is the biggest technology conference in the world. Why do people come from Mexico, for example? There’s a particular interest in the European market and they know there will be more Europeans at this event. More and more, Brazilian companies aren’t just thinking about growing within Latin America, they want to grow into Europe as well. And Portuguese and European startups want to scale into Latin America. So there are very compelling reasons for them to come to the WS in Lisbon.
The WS base gets stronger with greater international participation. And that is achieved by going to the markets and getting people to know WS better.
How does it feel to have this big tech event in a country that is one of two in Europe that does not have 5G?
5G is not important for the purposes of a tech conference. 4G is perfectly sufficient and wifi is the best of a major event in the world.