Web Summit at maximum capacity, says Paddy Cosgrave

Founder says the 77,000 people at Lisbon event this year is the ‘perfect number’

Paddy Cosgrave, chief executive of Web Summit. Photograph: Miguel Lopes/EPA

Paddy Cosgrave, chief executive of Web Summit. Photograph: Miguel Lopes/EPA


Paddy Cosgrave, the co-founder and chief executive of Web Summit, has signalled that the annual technology jamboree in Lisbon, which has more than doubled in size since he moved it from Dublin in 2015, will not grow much larger in future.

The event kicked off on Monday evening and runs until Thursday, with more than 70,000 attendees and over 2,000 start-ups taking part. This year its high-profile speakers include EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager and former UK prime minister Tony Blair.

Mr Cosgrave signed a 10-year deal with the Portuguese government last year to keep the event in Lisbon until 2028, a deal that includes an €11 million annual payment to Web Summit. A condition of the deal was that the Portuguese would also increase capacity at the waterfront Altice and FIL arena, where it is being held, work that appears to be already under way alongside this year’s event.

However, at a briefing on Tuesday, Mr Cosgrave said he believed the Web Summit event is now at “maximum capacity”.

“Including staff and media, there are 77,000 people accredited for this year’s event. We’ve reached the perfect number for Lisbon, and I’m okay with that,” he responded, when asked if Web Summit could grow even bigger.

“I want to focus on growing the breadth rather than the scale of it. I want more agricultural and food content, for example,” he said.

Grown-up discussions

Mr Cosgrave said in its early years in Dublin, Web Summit reflected technology industry priorities of the time, such as the launch of new products and services. “[But] technology has now become very politicised, and for good reason.

“Web Summit is now about serious and grown-up discussions about everything from what we will do about democracy to addiction.”

Topics discussed in keynote addresses on Tuesday included the relative success or failure of Donald Trump’s presidency, how technology can help refugees, gender and sexuality, and also Brexit.

Despite the challenges of Brexit, Mr Cosgrave said, the UK provided the largest number of start-ups participating in the event. Attendees arriving at Web Summit on Tuesday morning were greeted by a band outside the metro station playing Britpop hits bedside a red so-called “Boris Bus”, promoting investment in Britain and Northern Ireland on behalf of the UK government.