What investors are looking for at Web Summit

A total of 1,000 investors and 2,100 start-ups will be in attendance at tech conference

Web Summit in Dublin: a hunting ground for start-ups. Photograph: Eric Luke

Web Summit in Dublin: a hunting ground for start-ups. Photograph: Eric Luke


“Anybody who predicates their investment strategy on finding the next Facebook or Google is a lunatic,” Draper Esprit partner Brian Caulfield says.

Caulfield has attended every Web Summit since the beginning but he’s not looking for the next Facebook or Google.

“They are exceptional companies and if you happen to hit on a company like them, it’s probably luck.”

The investor is attending this year’s tech conference on the lookout for start-ups in data, analytics, digital health, the internet of things and artificial intelligence (AI).

“We are primarily interested in start-ups at the series A or series B stage. It will need to have a product in the market and commercial evidence [of success],” he says.

“My final-year project when I graduated from college was in the AI space. That was my main research interest, so I’m excited by it.”

Caulfield is also interested in fintech start-ups, especially ones picking apart the banking business model, such as CurrencyFair. He believes there are some big opportunities in the analytics space too.

“We are putting a vast amount of sensors into the world and connecting those sensors to the web. There will be huge opportunities in analytics as a result.”

Has he ever met a start-up at Web Summit that he invested in? Yes he has. “Datahug won the Spark of Genius competition in the first year of Web Summit. I was a judge in the competition and I subsequently invested in them.”

For Caulfield, the market opportunity of the product or service the start-up is offering is the most important factor.

“If it’s not a big unsolved problem, then you’re wasting your time. A lot of VCs will say it’s the entrepreneur first and I think they’re liars. They’ll often say: ‘Right guy, wrong company.’ Which proves they’re about the idea and market opportunity too.”

Connor Cantwell, a partner at Boston and Dublin-based investment firm Cosimo Venture Partners, is on the lookout for Irish and UK start-ups aiming to expand into the US.

“We don’t get involved in hardware-related start-ups. We can make a more positive impact in the internet and software spaces,” he says.