This year’s Lisbon Web Summit has passed and it has been a great show. This event is seen as the most important gathering of start-ups in the tech scene, and it is a truly amazing event – this year with more than 70 000 participants. So for those who are curious – what is it all about, who is it really for, and is it worth your while, even if you are not in tech.
I’ll share my major take-aways as a professional who is predominantly in public affairs.
Understanding the start-up world
First, this kind of event gave me quick insights into the ecosystem of a special part of the start-up world. Start-ups do not equal start-ups: the web summit represents a certain startup type that aims to develop a product which allows to raise investor money, to scale – and then to sell; in short: the Silicon Valley method. And it looks like a business model in which you just need to follow the rules of the game, learn (usually via initial failures), work hard, be persistent and disciplined – as in every other business. Businesses who do not necessarily seek to scale and/or need investor money will not find their place at the web summit, even if they are into tech. For the others though, it is the place to gain initial attention – be it as investor or as startup looking for money. And then maybe close your deal a bit later in more personal meetings or at next year’s web summit with prescheduled meetings and pitches.
Noise, show and serious business
The web summit is a huge show. Hymnal music starts every show and is meant to give you goosebumps, the light concept is overwhelming, stages and exhibition space everywhere – complemented by public parties which are impossible to enjoy if, due to the other 69999 people trying to get a drink, leave you partying in a long queue and probably just sipping on the water you brought yourself. The major value for participants is in the one-on-one meetings they manage to arrange beforehand, and catching up with peers. Having said that, the multiple parallel events feature the biggest names not only in the tech industry, but across the board of the crossroads between business, politics and other worlds – Jayden Smith, Michel Barnier, Margrethe Vestager, Edward Snowden are just a few names of the 2019 web summit
Start-ups and politics
This goes to show that start-ups are not only about investor money and growing a business. Many of their businesses are highly affected by regulation – whether they sell products using CBD oils, develop an immersive children’s play with an option to sell merchandise, or establish applications that need to comply with the most recent rules of European data protection and cybersecurity. Regulation is not the first thing startups or investors look at, but as the high number of policymakers at the web summit shows, they seem to increasingly become aware of a need to monitor legal requirements and developments.
Conclusions for politics and public affairs
The websummit displays an incredibly dynamic of those who successfully develop a startup or are about to do so. Innovation needs such dynamic. Rules for the political framework in which this innovation can foster without touching upon the rights of others, are important. Listening to Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier and EU competition commissioner Margrete Vestager however, it became utterly clear how far from each other the worlds of start-up businesses and politics are. We all – startup entrepreneurs, public affairs professionals and policymakers – have to make an effort to understand each other’s worlds and needs, and to find ways to communicate with each other. That’s what the websummit can truly teach, and why it is worthwhile for everyone dealing with innovation, to visit at least once.
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