24 Nov 2014

Web Summit: 3 days, 21,000 startups and 2 hats

By Vicky

A few weeks ago I went to the Web Summit in Dublin and I was there wearing two different hats – representing some of our startups and as an early stage investor – which led to some interesting insights on both sides.

For those of you who don’t know, Web Summit is an annual tech conference that attracts 21,000 start-ups, 614 speakers and boasts nine different stages and over 400 pitches. Basically, this event is a big deal. It’s a bit like Glastonbury or Bestival where there is so much going on and you’re not quite sure where to start or who to see.

I spent two days exhibiting with the BGV teams TalkLife, Wevolver and Tree Press. This reinforced something I’ve always known but have never experienced first hand – being a startup (particularly a social startup) is bloody hard! Too many people are quick to tell you that your idea won’t work, it’s been done before, or pounce with suggestions of things you have already done, as if you didn’t have the sense to think of it before.

The first and only question people were interested in was, ‘How does it make money?’ Making money is of course very important but when I’m interrupted whilst talking about mental health, self harm and suicide by people saying,  ‘That is nice, but how does it make money?’ I fully realise how far off people’s radar the ‘tech for good’ concept lies.

At BGV I meet hundreds of people every month who are passionate and willing to share their idea with me. Having now exhibited a startup as if I was on the team, I have gained another level of respect for anyone who is willing to quit their job and work on something that they truly believe can be a success. Drew Houston summed it up well in his talk about starting Dropbox – ‘founders are solving big problems, they are like dogs chasing a tennis ball…. nothing will get in their way’.

My second hat was as an early stage investor for social ventures. There aren’t many companies in Dublin doing what we do, but I wanted to see what people and the market thought of social investment beyond it being a ‘nice’ idea. After speaking with a range of startups, investors and attendees I realised that people were shocked that we would want to limit our investment criteria. Although a few of the speakers touched on using technology for social good, it still felt like it was a long way off becoming a mainstream. At BGV we want to prove the market and show that you can make money from doing social good.

Getting more women in the industry and promoting gender equality is a hot topic at the moment so I was curious to see the presence of women at the event. To give you a picture, I didn’t have to queue for the female toilet once, and I don’t think it was because there were loads of toilets! This is a problem; greater diversity means better ideas, and better solutions. Women in tech was a popular topic among the speakers. Eva Longoria called for more women to get involved in tech, business and STEM and challenged every women at the conference to become mentors. She claims ‘without mentors, the system won’t work’.

The atmosphere at Web Summit was like plugging yourself into an electricity socket. I left Dublin feeling overwhelmed with the volume and diversity of ideas. We need to harness this energy to tackle social and environmental problems, and increase diversity in the industry so that women are welcomed as leaders in tech and business.

Image credit: Web Summit licensed under CC BY 2.0