Last year around this time, tech enthusiasts were preparing themselves to travel to Lisbon to attend Web Summit—one of the largest annual gatherings of entrepreneurs and investors in the world.
But much has changed since last year. The world has turned almost upside down by a virus that is responsible for an unprecedented pandemic with profound socioeconomic consequences.
The events industry is one of the sectors hit by the shrapnel from the coronavirus explosion. But organizers of Web Summit are determined to not let fear become a pandemic.
Believing in the power of “people coming together”, the technology conference will go ahead this year from December 2 to 4, albeit in a different format.
“We’ll host up to 100,000 founders, partners, and speakers online and offline,” Web Summit’s CEO and co-founder Paddy Cosgrave told EU-Startups in a recent interview.
He said the details of the conference due to be held in the Portuguese capital will be finalized in early October.
“Whatever decision is made will strictly adhere to Portugal’s health protocols for events at that time,” the Irish entrepreneur explained.
Read more: Why Is Lisbon an Ideal Startup Hub?
In 2019, more than 70,000 people came to Lisbon for Web Summit. This year, according to Web Summit, over 2,500 startups, 800 speakers, and 2,000 journalists from more than 150 countries will be attending the event.
The online part of the conference will be hosted on a platform developed by Web Summit, which, according to Cosgrave, has already proved its efficiency and reliability.
“In June, we welcomed 32,000 attendees from more than 140 countries entirely online for three days on software we built out in just three months. That was our demo day,” he said, referring to Collision, their North American tech conference.
Each attendee, startup founder, investor, media representative, and partner got the chance to establish “meaningful connections” on the app with other participants, he added. “We’re going to scale this significantly for Web Summit.”
The website of Web Summit reads that the tickets of existing ticket holders have been updated and will grant them full access to the online event this year. They will be valid for Web Summit 2021. Tickets are now available on the conference’s website.
On the transition to online, he said it happened smoothly as they had been preparing it for years and are “maybe” the only large event company that builds its software.
“For nearly half a decade, a team of 50+ engineers, product managers, and designers have built software to make our events a lot more productive.”
Participants of Web Summit 2020 can count on ample networking opportunities as Cosgrave believes that “speakers are the icing on the cake of conferences, but networking is the true reason people go to events.”
He says attendees have over the years cited networking as the most valuable aspect of their conferences.
“When it comes to replicating a business conference online, streaming content is not a challenge. Nowadays. You can use any modern tools for free. The harder part is replicating the networking in some meaningful way. We’ve focused on that for a long time, so creating a place where attendees can network in a meaningful way and extract some value is, just by chance, not that hard for us. It’s what we’ve been working towards for years.”
Web Summit’s co-founder said some attendees from countries like New Zealand and Azerbaijan had bought tickets to attend previous editions of the conference but were not able to travel for different reasons.
“They just download the app, watched the talks online. and chatted with everyone on the app. The app makes you powerful.”
Asked about his take on online versus offline events, Cosgrave said software is “very powerful” but is unlikely to replace the “magic” of face-to-face interactions.