Nexed: gamified learning startup
Nexed: gamified learning startup
A view from Rebecca Mahony

Reflections on Web Summit: How 'Davos for geeks' reignited my passion for tech

The dust has settled after Web Summit in Dublin earlier this quarter, but I can say that the start-up ethos I witnessed during the two-day conference has genuinely stayed with me.

As a business, the aim for 2014 should be to foster the kind of entrepreneurial, knowledge-hungry and collaborative environment that exists within the startup realm.

Working at Ebuzzing within the online video advertising sector, you meet lots of interesting people working at exciting companies and that’s part of the problem – it’s easy to become so myopically wrapped up in the issues of your own industry, that you can get the false impression that innovation almost begins and ends with online video, which is obviously not the case at all.

As a stark reminder of how the disruptive digital revolution has reached into every sector of human endeavour imaginable, Web Summit has become an essential date in my calendar.

Dubbed ‘Davos for geeks’, the conference has become Europe’s largest tech festival, tangibly buzzing with the energy of 10,000 attendees from all over the world.

Keynote speeches featuring tech and media ‘rock stars’ such as Elon Musk of SpaceX and Paypal fame, Shane Smith of Vice, and inspirational female tech leaders such as Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn rightly generated headlines.

For me personally, the most compelling place to seek ideas and inspiration was on what you could term the Web Summit ‘Fringe’ – among the early stage start-up businesses where the naked ambition and idealism that draws many people into the world of tech was most palpable.

From social commerce start-up Kiosked to Nexed, a Canadian company helping children learn through digital gamification, the start-ups exhibiting on the surface seem to have little in common. But their belief in the transformative ability of digital technology to change the world unified them all. Walking through the conference halls, hundreds of start-ups from all over the world had congregated to share their business visions. Each start-up was allocated an area of roughly 5 feet in diameter with just enough space for a company billboard and a small shelf with room for a laptop to demonstrate their wares - and the diversity of companies attending the event was staggering.

The cynical would say that large percentage of the businesses who presented are destined to fade into obscurity having never made any meaningful impact, let alone money. However, the fact the NASDAQ opening bell was rung at the start of day one was a symbolic representation of how the business world increasingly looks to events such as Web Summit to find the next billion dollar miracle success stories. In recent years, the event has become a proving ground for businesses such as Vine, Hailo and Waze and I will be looking out for the names of the businesses I was impressed by at Web Summit.

Watching how much camaraderie there was within the start ups as they pitched together, networked together, laughed and drank together, really got me thinking about the event in terms of it being a meeting of minds. Looking at the history of innovation, the best ideas have nearly always come out of places and eras where different worlds and ideas collided.

Funnily enough, it’s always been the same throughout history and is not a phenomenon unique to the modern era. In the fifteenth century, the merchants who congregated in Florence and discussed the cultures and concepts they had seen been in their travels played a part in creating the Renaissance, while the Enlightenment was brought about by a period of unparalleled collaboration and idea sharing. In its own way, Web Summit felt like it had a similar spirit, albeit in a room with a lot more staring at smart phones – there was a tangible sense that the event is a real melting pot of innovation.

After Web Summit, I’ve never been more certain that the future belongs to those who adopt the agile, ambitious and most importantly collaborative tech start-up mindset.

Rebecca Mahony is chief marketing officer at Ebuzzing