Eager networking fosters dynamism of tech industry

The 2014 Web Summit is an extraordinary validation of the perseverance, vision and courage of one Irish entrepreneur

Dublin Web Summit’s Paddy Cosgrave

Dublin Web Summit’s Paddy Cosgrave

 

Whilst building a global business headquartered in Dublin, I quickly discovered an advantage over my larger international competitors: people love to come to Ireland. From customers, to prospective customers, to partners and allies, Ireland had an allure.

Bringing people together yields competitive insight. The speed of change in the hi-tech sector reflects how transparent most of its people are.

It is difficult to imagine staff from competitors in, say the automobile industry, very openly discussing with one another the merits and drawbacks of their respective employers’ business models and trade secrets: in fact, doing so might lead to instant dismissal.

But in the hi-tech sector, professional social engagement is key and is in fact what makes the industry so dynamic. Individuals share insights, observations, and opportunities with one another in person at social events and online. New technology and business models do not usually emerge from pizza-fuelled all-night sessions coding at the computer, but rather from exchanges and war stories shared together.

The 2014 Web Summit starts in Dublin tomorrow, and it is an extraordinary validation of the perseverance, vision and courage of one Irish entrepreneur. Paddy Cosgrave has acknowledged that the inspiration for the Web Summit series came from both his father, who encouraged Paddy to comprehend computing, and from his sister Anna, who wanted to bring successful internet leaders to Ireland to meet students in her university society. Inspired by both, Paddy has quietly and gently insisted to many hi-tech entrepreneurs worldwide that they should join together in Dublin to informally share ideas, network, and perhaps most of all, just have fun.

I have had the honour of attending both prior summits and some of the Government’s Farmleigh events. The parallels and contrasts have been obvious, but perhaps partly captured by Paddy’s early ambition that “geeks can come free but the suits pay!”.

Since then, many professional services organisations feeding the tech sector – legal firms, management advisories, recruitment agencies, venture firms, investment bankers – have competed to pay handsomely to host events for the geeks attending what has become globally known as the “tech Davos”.

This year, some 20,000 individuals will attend the summit, hosted at the RDS. This is an unbelievable number of visitors, making the summit one of the most, if not the most, important technology conferences worldwide. The sheer numbers create challenges of course: can Dublin’s transportation cope with the volume of trips to and from hotels and entertainment venues to Ballsbridge ?

Food industry

Then there is also the night summit, in which a breadth of Irish musicians and artists entertain in the foreground, rather than just providing background mood music. This year, sports personalities will also join the fun, increasing the cross-fertilisation of ideas – and particularly as the global technology sector realises opportunities in the health, fitness and fashion markets.

Nevertheless, the summit has had its challenges. Earlier this year a $6 million (€4.8 million) lawsuit was settled out of court in the US. Elliot Bisnow alleged that Paddy Cosgrave had encroached on certain rights related to Bisnow’s Summit Series, duplicating his concept. Paddy dismissed these assertions as “spurious”.

The summit has also had serious warnings from Ireland’s Data ProtectionCommissioner. The summit in the past used the personal profiles of individuals to advertise their attendance to potential attendees, when these individuals had not given their consent and even in at least one case had not actually agreed to attend. It caused embarrassment that the Irish Government, and its agencies, joined the summit in promoting Ireland as a global centre for digital technology innovation, while at the same time European data protection laws were being flouted.

What next for Paddy Cosgrave and the organisation that now has more than 100 staff ? Certainly there are opportunities and international solicitations, and the summit has already been brought to London and Las Vegas.

Indeed, there may be interested buyers from the global conference-hosting circuit eager to acquire the rights to the summit, but many suspect that Cosgrave has more ambitious goals.

Intriguingly, he has assembled a team of software developers and data scientists to mine data (for example, from Facebook) about attendees. A “match-making” app is now available at the summit, allowing individuals to find others with overlapping interests and profiles. The value in this data is potentially high indeed: a global perspective on 20,000 individuals from the industry enables, as examples, a paid-for introduction and referral service or recruitment agency.

Venture investment

Paddy Cosgrave and his team have already willingly given so much to the nation. Perhaps it is only right that they should also commercially exploit their success.

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