Are tech conferences a waste of time for start-ups?

There’s no shortage of buzzwords and jargon, but their value is unclear

The model Lily Cole who spoke at last year’s Web Summit in the RDS.  Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

The model Lily Cole who spoke at last year’s Web Summit in the RDS. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times


Tech conferences are all the rage these days, from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to IFA in Berlin. In Ireland, we have the Web Summit (above), which is expanding this summer to include MoneyConf and EnterConf in Belfast.

A “global” technology summit is also taking place in Dublin today. The event, hosted by the Silicon Valley-based Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG), will examine the innovation ecosystem, the agtech revolution, big data and the Internet of Things.

The summit promises to bring “thought leadership on the latest innovations coming out of Silicon Valley”. One of the panel discussions will examine the role of “formal-informal methods to drive the education-innovation axis”.

Cantillon is unsure what “thought leadership” is, or “formal-informal methods” for that matter. They seem like buzzwords, typical of the jargon synonymous with tech conferences. As Paul Krugman says in his column today: we are living in the era of iPhones, iPads and iDontKnows.

On that note, Cantillon wonders whether tech conferences are a waste of time or a worthwhile investment for the cash-conscious start-up? Can these events help start-ups find new customers, get press coverage or secure investment?

The “influencers” and “change-makers” taking a break from “disrupting” their chosen industries to speak at these conferences don’t always have all the answers. And there is a fine line between advising and pontificating.

Many technology conferences/ summits/gatherings/forums (insert your choice) are supposedly for start-ups to network with investors, journalists and successful veterans of growing from start-up to tech giant. However, the question remains: does that always happen and do start-ups benefit?

For all the success stories told at such events, a certain amount of backslapping goes on too. It’s all well and good to give due recognition to success, but it’s important not to lose sight of the start-up and aspiring entrepreneur in the audience, often paying hundreds or even thousands to attend. Cantillon hopes the ITLG event will be different.