From the prompt to download the mobile app at the airport, to the billboards on the way into town, to the giant logo adorning Baixa Chiado square, to the pride in the faces of the people taking selfies there, Lisbon this week was wall to wall Web Summit and it was a triumph.
And, you couldn’t help but be proud of the Irish team on the ground who made it all happen; Maeve and Sarah and Brian and Declan and Richie, and of course, the founders, Paddy and Daire and David. Their decision to move Web Summit to Lisbon made sense from the moment I got there and by the time I left I couldn’t see the conference ever moving back to Dublin.
Lisbon can easily handle what’s now a 50,000+ person conference. It has a metro, inexpensive accommodation, good weather and cheap taxis. It also has a huge conference center with working wifi, although trying to get online at cafes and restaurants back in the city center proved a useless and frustrating endeavor.
The Portuguese government, both city and national, is love struck with Web Summit and say they’re already negotiating another two years of the conference on top of the 3 they’ve already secured.
With my Startup Dublin badge around my neck, I was asked many times how I felt about the conference relocating. And while I have to admit to a pang of bittersweetness, I’m also very happy for Lisbon to host the big conferences while Dublin continues to lap Portugal and most other European tech ecosystems when it comes to capital, startups, scale-ups and tech talent. It’s good to know what you’re good at and in Ireland we’re good at tech, and at hosting smaller, relationship building conferences like SaaStock and InspireFest. According to the IVCA we also raised a whopping €734M in capital so far in 2016. Now there’s a standout number for Ireland, and even more so relative to our size.
The formula in Lisbon was a familiar one: the VCs were networking away in their castle, the global leaders in their beautiful underground bunker and the startups in the noise and organized chaos of the main floor. Did investors from abroad actually meet more Portuguese startups because they were in Lisbon? I doubt it. But the model still works well for the vast majority of attendees. You may get some good business done but either way, you know you’ll have a lot of fun.
On Monday my taxi passed by a huge sign that said “This is not the new Silicon Valley. This is Portugal” and I saw the same sign over and over again at the conference and around the city. Lisbon can host Web Summit, that’s fine, but I do covet the pride and confidence they’re exuding at every turn as a result. In Ireland, even where we know we’re great, we still only consider ourselves grand. At a government, startup and stakeholder level, that’s an attitude that may hurt us more than we’re willing to realize.
This article first appeared in the Dublin Globe. For more stories on Dublin's startups and tech scene, visit their website here.