From small beginnings four years ago, more than 22,000 people from 109 countries are at the RDS to attend the three-day event which has been dubbed ‘Davos for geeks’. That includes representatives of more than 3,000 start-up businesses, 1,500 journalists from 70 countries, 1,000 exhibitors and - most importantly - 800 investors who have access to billions of euro. The summit also contributes in the region of €100m to the Irish economy, with around 13,000 hotel rooms and B&Bs booked for the event.
The Web Summit is itself a start-up and was co-founded by Paddy Cosgrave, Daire Hickey and David Kelly. It has come a long way from what they now call a ‘meet-up’ in a room attended by 400 techies in 2010. Back then the only food they could afford to give those attending was a truck-load of sausage rolls from the local chipper. This year, attendees are being fed by 250 Irish artisan food producers. Another innovation is a number of mini-summits, based around music, film, sport, food and technology.
Its success is testament not only to the founders’ technological skills but also their ability to persuade, cajole and plámás top-ranking speakers to attend the Web Summit every year. Daire Hickey certainly has form from his student days in charming famous people to come to Dublin. In 2006, as president of Trinity College’s Philosophical Society, he managed to attract TV star David Hasselhoff as well as Oscar winners Al Pacino and Oliver Stone to address students.
In the past three years speakers who have come to Dublin for the summit have included Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk, Skype founder Niklas Zennström, Netflix founder Reed Hastings, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, and YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim.
This year 600 speakers are on one of 10 stages over the three days. They include tech-loving celebrities like Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria and U2 frontman Bono who will give the closing address at the summit today. Among the main speakers are Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal as well as the first investor in Facebook; Drew Houston, founder of Dropbox; Padmasree Warrior, CTSO of Cisco; John Sculley, former CEO of Apple; Brendan Iribe, CEO of Oculus; and Google’s vice president of engineering, Anna Patterson.
What is the secret of the summit’s success? The secret is that there no secret - just hard graft, intelligence, passion and plenty of Irish charm as well as recognising that when thousands of like-minded people gather, something magical happens. “What the summit does is create an environment for people to do deals and for serendipity to occur,” said Daire Hickey . “Last year the top 25 startups that came to the Web Summit raised $400m in the subsequent 12 months and some of those people would have met their investors here.”
Some of its success must also be attributed to the Irish entrepreneurial spirit. More than 30,000 people set up new businesses in Ireland last year alone.