Web Summit 2016 off to a positive start after initial hiccup

Start-ups report good contact with investors and hope to repeat Uber’s funding success

If you were expecting diversity at the Web Summit, you certainly wouldn't be disappointed. The event played host to everyone from sports stars to Wikileaks representatives, while electric cars and coffee-dispensing robots roamed the area around the MEO-FIL arena in Lisbon.

The day kicked off on the centre stage with Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer discussing Facebook's plan for the next 10 years – in short, connecting people currently not online, virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

He gave way to a discussion on whether government and entrepreneurs are a marriage made in hell, with AppDirect's Daniel Saks, and former European Commission president Jose Barroso.

And so the day continued, dealing with autonomous cars, the share flotation of Line, discussions on technology as a democracy killer and sacrificing privacy for the benefits of technology. Finishing up the day Luis Figo, former Portuguese international star, and Ronaldinho both took to the stage to discuss their respective ventures.


The general reaction to the Web Summit’s move to Lisbon has been positive, at least at the Portuguese end.

The start-ups given their booth space on the first full day of the show reported good contact with investors, the whole point of getting to Web Summit in the first place for many of them. Tomorrow, they give way to a new wave of startups, and they get to roam the show floor, meet investors and generally take in the entire spectacle.

The story about how the Web Summit was instrumental in helping get Uber $37 million in funding, when Sherpa Ventures co-founder Scott Stanford and Uber founder Travis Kalanick met in a pub after the Web Summit in 2011, has passed into legend. There are plenty of start-ups hoping to be that story at some point in the future.

Deals of that magnitude haven't been announced this year, but at a press conference earlier in the day co-founder and chief executive Paddy Cosgrave said he was sure that things were happening behind the scenes that might come out later on.

He also addressed questions on the wifi – again – taking great pains to explain that it was down to his mobile network rather than the event wifi that caused the hiccup.

“Web Summit is never perfect. But if we find something wrong, we fix it.”

He compared running something like Web Summit, a three-day event with software: constantly improving and upgrading.

But where does the Web Summit go from here? “Our focus is on the next three days – from Friday we’ll focus on 2017,” he said. That’s not strictly true though. The tickets for next year are already on sale, with a two-for-one offer being touted on the site. So the event already has one eye on the future even before the doors closed on the opening ceremony.

As the day drew to a close, Juan Branco, legal adviser to Julian Assange, published a statement on behalf of the Wikileaks founder. In it, he defended the release of the Podesta emails that have thrown a shadow over the Clinton presidential campaign, saying it defended the public's right to be informed.

“We publish material given to us if it is of political, diplomatic, historical or ethical importance and which has not been published elsewhere,” he said. “It would be unconscionable for Wikileaks to withhold such an archive from the public during an election.”

At a panel discussion on the internet as a safe space earlier in the day, Mr Branco said the organisation would have published material on Donald Trump and his campaign, but it had not received it. That was a message that was reiterated by Mr Assange, who said they had not received any information on other candidates that fulfilled the stated criteria.

“We cannot publish what we don’t have,” he said. “We publish as fast as our resources will allow and as fast as the public can absorb it. That is our commitment to ourselves, our sources and to the public.”

He denied there was any wish to influence the US election.

Web Summit continues until November 10th.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist