Irish start-ups give thumbs up to Lisbon Web Summit

Fledgling Irish firms use trip to Portugal to meet potential investors and customers

US actor and director Joseph Gordon-Levitt at  the Web Summit in LisbonPatricia Photograph: De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images

US actor and director Joseph Gordon-Levitt at the Web Summit in LisbonPatricia Photograph: De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images


Whether it’s the pitch competitions that run throughout the Web Summit or the room full of early-stage companies competing for attention from attendees and investors, start-ups have always been a huge part of the tech event. Pub crawls became the location where start-ups could make important contacts with mentors and potential investors.

When the Web Summit was in its early years in Dublin, the appeal of the event was that you could meet investors and chief executives of major tech firms strolling through the hall. In recent years, that may have become a little bit harder as the crowds increased.

One complaint levelled at the Web Summit in Dublin was that, for start-ups, getting tickets was expensive and some doubted the value of being at the event. Start-ups got a stand for only one day – and “stand” is probably overselling it a little, since it’s just a small wooden structure with a sign, alongside many other small wooden structures with signs.

Although some start-ups got free tickets to the event, most paid close to €2,000 to get that space and access, before you took into account the price of hotels and flights to the event.

But it wasn’t all work for the Irish start-ups in attendance at the Web Summit in Lisbon. If you walked from the MEO part of the venue to the FIL part at the right moment – and I did – you could have watched LuvGuru cofounder Liam Grant playing frisbee with 500 Start-ups founder Dave McClure.


For sports start-up MatchDay it was the first time to exhibit at the Web Summit. The company is building on the fantasy football trend but adding its own twist through allowing real-time predictions and competitions against friends. The company is still in its early stages but is planning a test with a Carlow-based pub in the coming months.

Has the trip to Portugal been worth it for the company? Cofounder Ian O’Reilly thought so.

“It’s been a good experience, we’ve been speaking to a lot of interested parties,” he said. “It’s a bit exhausting.”

The Web Summit app also helped in connecting them to the right people, he said.

And Irish companies presented more than software offerings . Mercurial, for example, has developed an interactive mirror that allows companies to collect feedback from customers – without even touching the screen. Cofounder Paulo Amaral explained some of its potential uses, from collecting feedback on facilities in public toilets to putting the mirrors into lifts to gathering customer feedback while the experience is fresh in their minds.

The Web Summit had been a busy time for Mercurial, he said, with plenty of attention from potential investors. The company plans to follow up with investors as it figures out more about its plans.

“We came to Web Summit to connect with investors and potential partners,” he said. “We’re just spinning the plates at the moment. We’ve taken business cards – some just want to know how much we want for our product, because they are ready to invest. But we are still connecting with manufacturers and engineers, we need a team.”

Limerick start-up Gigliotti used the conference to meet executives from Coca-Cola, a company that is important to the success of its Smartdrinx system. Gigliotti is in talks to provide its system to hotels, which would replace the standard minibar, so getting not only the drinks company on board but also investors who may back its enterprise is significant

“The value for us is in raising funding,” said Alexander Mittel, head of operations. “You have to find someone who is interested in IoT [internet of things] – we’re more hardware than IoT but we have an IoT component in the dashboard and analytics – and also understands our markets. But we’ve made good progress.”

Leveris was on a beta stand – slightly larger than the alpha spaces, but along a similar style. The company helps build online banks for firms with banking licences.

“We haven’t left here,” said Leveris’s head of innovation, Conor McAleavey. “It’s been really good for setting up meetings. We’ll probably have 10 or 15 meetings over the course of it. We don’t really need to be on the stand, but it’s a good point of contact for us.”

So for some Irish start-ups at least, the trip to Lisbon appears have paid off.