Spotlight on: From South to West, taking on Web Summit 2016

We hear what the South-West's tech and digital businesses have to say about attending Europe's biggest tech conference
22nd November 2016

This month, 53,056 people from 166 countries – including 1490 international tech startups – found themselves in Lisbon for one of Europe’s biggest tech conferences, Web Summit 2016.

Treated to expert talks from global leaders, including the CTO of Facebook – Mike Schroepfer, the Co-Founder of Tinder – Sean Rad, the CEO of Renault-Nissan Alliance – Carlos Ghosn and the Prime Minster of Portugal – António Costa to name just a few, the conference attracted people with the biggest ideas in tech to connect and collaborate across 4 full-on days and nights.

The conference did its fair share of churning out amazing success stories too – including Bristol-based Nook who contacted Web Summit to enquire about exhibiting as a startup and ended up with a whole village of ‘agile-working’ enclosures, capturing the imaginations of all calibre of attendees.

As a region known for innovation and collaboration, the conference also attracted many of the South West’s tech and digital talent. We caught up with some of them right in the thick of it all at Web Summit to get the lowdown on their experiences and advice you could take to practically any big tech event.

Big pond

At a tech event the size of Web Summit, it can be easy to get lost in the crowd and lose the sense of direction you might have been sure of at the very start. And it seems one of the biggest things our South West techies agreed on the most, is the importance of being prepared.

“Walk the floor as that’s where the real innovation is actually happening”

 

tatjana-humphries-invest-bristol-bath-at-web-summitTatjana Humpries (pictured right), the Senior Inward Investment Executive for the inward investment agency Invest Bristol and Bath, explains: “Plan your visit. There is so much here and not enough time to see it all so you’ve got to really strategise.

“There are so many interesting talks but I think you can miss out on too much by going to them. So, what I’m trying to do is go to a few talks in the morning and a few in the afternoon but walk the floor as that’s where the real innovation is actually happening.”

“We saw a guy who sort of broke the rules on what he was allowed to do but he caused a huge buzz around his stand”

 

David O’Coimin, Founder of Do Company and the aforementioned Nook agrees: “It’s not good enough to just turn up and ‘see how it goes’ on the day because your meetings won’t happen in a structured way and you won’t make the best use of your time.

“Always have your context ready so you can relate to the people who are attending and why your product is relevant to them”

alpha-startups-at-web-summit-2016

Alpha innovation: attendees chat to some of the
early stage ‘Alpha’ startups at Web Summit

“You also need to have your story ready,” he adds, “you need to know why it is that you’re here and be ready to explain that over and over again, and not be afraid to repeat yourself. You’re going to have to repeat yourself a lot at these things.

“It also helps if you understand what the tech angle is on your product, or contextualise it. Always have your context ready so you can relate to the people who are attending and why your product is relevant to them.”

jim-hey-casa-web-summitTalking of being an exhibitor, Jim Hill (pictured left), Founder of Exmouth-based disruptive startup and app Hey Casa that connects home hunters and sellers without a middle-man, also has some great advice on making the most of the exposure.

He tells us: “If it was advice to someone that was exhibiting here on one of the small stands, I would say stand out. To a degree, there’s a sense of there being a battleground for exposure.

“We saw a guy who sort of broke the rules on what he was allowed to do but he caused a huge buzz around his stand and it was really interesting. Because there are so many people exhibiting and everyone is competing for your attention, you’ve got to make sure that people are attracted to your stand.”

Techie take-away

But, with so many pieces of advice being thrown around and every talk convincing you that their innovation is the next biggest thing in tech, we wanted to know the key thing our South West techies would be holding onto on their return from the conference.

Tatjana tells us: “I went to a talk earlier that was about autonomous vehicles and what’s actually hindering the development of them. Is it legal issues, is it safety, is it fear?

“It was quite interesting because this is something that we’re looking into quite closely in Bristol and Bath and these are questions that everyone is considering.

“I thought [Web Summit] would be more geared towards logistics of technology but actually there’s a real human side to it”

 

“They were saying that if we put them on the road tomorrow there would be fewer fatalities across the world, but also questioning as to whether that would be responsible or not. So, the consideration of tech and the impact that it will have if we try and speed things along too quickly is what I would take away most from Web Summit.”

ashley-wheeler-coup-media-web-summitAshley Wheeler (pictured left), Commercial Director at Coup Media and Co-Organiser of the highly successful Online Influence Conference held in Bristol last month agrees that the human side of tech was an important techie take-away.

He says: “The most interesting thing was just the depth of the conversation.

“As an agency, we’re involved in tech innovation – things like chat bots and AI for example. What’s quite interesting here is the discussion around privacy and the other elements that go with these technology innovations and also the moral perspective on it, which is not something I thought I’d come away with from a place like Web Summit.

“I thought it would be more geared towards the logistics of technology but actually, there’s a real human side to it which is quite ironic given that it’s AI and chatbots.”

Stand out moments

cisco-stand-at-web-summit-2016Nonetheless, being the geeks that we all are, we couldn’t help but ask about the most impressive things our techies saw and heard during their time at Web Summit.

For David, as an innovative product designer, it was the smaller feats of innovation that captured his imagination. He tells us: “One of the things that stood out for me isn’t strictly tech, although it is material tech. It’s how the Cisco stand (pictured right) is built. It’s made out of cardboard and bolted together and it’s rather beautiful.

“Its gorgeous geometric shape is held together through its geometric form. It’s light, folds down completely flat and is really easy to move. It’s little things like that that really impress me.”

For others, it has been the ability to really visualise how these sorts of events work and take advantage of being in such a huge community that impressed them. Neal Stammers, an Exmouth-based developer looking to help set up a tech co-working space, Propellor Exmouth, says: “I think the scale of the venue that the Portuguese government has created here for the tech community, that’s the most impressive thing.

“[Web Summit attendees] are interested in what we’re doing in Bristol as a hub as well, which is what it’s all about really”

 

“It all seems to have a really good buzz around it as well. I don’t know whether that is just because of Web Summit being here but, in the local area, there seems to be a buzz too which is really nice to see.

“One of the things that I want to do is run events to help fund Propellor Exmouth, and this is the biggest event in terms of any kind of web conference, so there are things you can take away to try and create something similar in the South West on a smaller-scale.”

Ashley agrees when it comes to bringing experiences back home: “We’ve spoken to quite a few potential speakers that we would never have had the opportunity to actually engage with face to face previously. So what we’re going to do here without naming any names is to hopefully bring a really strong delegation back to Bristol in 2017.

 “It would be really cool to see loads more people representing the South West at the next Web Summit”

 

“So that’s senior business leaders, CEOs and CMOs that we’ve not been able to get access to before but who are really excited about the opportunity to come to Bristol. They’re interested in what we’re doing in Bristol as a hub as well, which is what it’s all about really.”

Jim adds: “A really big part of the event is always the bits that happen around the event. So the parties you go to, the people you get introduced to, having lunch – they’re all the bits where you start talking to people.

“And like every event you go to, it’s the people you meet. So for Bristol, Bath, Exeter, Devon, it would be really cool to see loads more people representing the South West at the next Web Summit.”

Many thanks to everyone mentioned for taking the time to chat with us during their time at Web Summit. To stay up to date on Web Summit, you can head over to the Web Summit website or follow the event on Twitter: @WebSummit.