Web Summit 2016: 
More sun, more fun, more Ukrainian startups

This year’s Web Summit conference moved to sunny Lisbon from rainy Dublin and gathered more than 53,000 people from all over the world. Focused on technology and business, it also attracted nearly 1,500 startups, of which at least a couple of dozen came from Ukraine. In addition to that, Ukraine was among the top 10 countries by the number of attendees.

Like many technology conferences, Web Summit could be logically divided into two parts — startups exhibition and talks. All participating startups were assigned a track — Alpha, Beta, or Start — depending on the stage of growth they’re currently at. In the three huge pavilions, startups’ stands were grouped both by track and industry, like Healthcare or Hardware. The content part was distributed between 17 stages, including the Central one with 15,000 seats.

The Central stage at Web Summit
“Last time I saw a crowd this big and dense was at Sorochynsky Fair near Poltava,” said Artyom Yaremchuk, the co-founder of Attendify that had a stand in the Start track. “What also is similar between the two, is that the fair has no specialisation — here they sell harvesters, and next to them honey and sausages. Here the idea is about the same.”

If in the previous years it was easy to put together an overview of all the companies coming to Web Summit from Ukraine, it’s not the case anymore — no less than 20 Ukrainian-founded companies exhibited in the Summit’s halls. Getting the exact number is difficult, since many of the startups are officially headquartered elsewhere, while still having most of its employees working from back home.

In addition to well-known Ukrainian-founded companies like the event app builder Attendify or Mac OS and iOS app developer Readdle, there were a number of newcomers, for some of whom Web Summit was the first international event ever. YouTeam, AutoMoto.ua, Dinarys, BotFunnels, Giver, SendPulse, VirtBox, TaxFree4U, XM^online, Glutenoff, Tracklam, AdSaver, KickFit, GlutenOFF, LifeTracker, and ShowMebiz were among the new and relatively new names that aren’t covered too often by Ukrainian tech media.

Ukrainian startups’ stands at Web Summit

In addition to those companies, scores of Ukrainian startup founders decided not to pay for a stand, but roam the venue and meet potential partners and customers rather than wait for them at the designated booth.

Preparation is key

For some of the Ukrainian startups not going for a stand at the conference, the wide scope of the event was the main reason.

“We almost purchased a stand here — we went through all the talks with the organisers and were chosen for the Alpha track,” said Aleksey Ivankin from Stickerpipe and 908, who’s moved part of his business to Poland from Ukraine. “I was already entering payment details when I thought — we could just buy two attendee tickets [for me and my co-founder] and come here without the need to stand at the booth for a whole day talking to random people.”
Aleksey Ivankin

On the other hand, for startups with B2C products this can be a benefit rather than a nuisance.

“For us, the conference is a good way to showcase the product, gather feedback from end users, and meet corporates,” said Misha Nestor from LifeTracker, a Ukrainian-founded startup headquartered in London. “Web Summit is a unique place because of the flow of totally random people who come to our stand and learn about the LifeTracker app. It’s extremely insightful to see how they understand the app and interact with it.”
A bunch of random shots from around the conference venue

All startup founders agree, however, that no approach would work without a thoroughly done homework. Most of the founders, no matter whether they were purchasing a stand or coming “incognito,” began their preparations at least a few weeks in advance. Among the advice they gave to fellow entrepreneurs were to have a plan for the conference way before coming there.

“The most important thing is being pro-active. If you do your homework before the event, research the audience, contact the leads, schedule meetings, then you’ll be fine both with and without a stand,” said Yaremchuk. “At an early stage, having a startup stand is a great way to perfect your sales pitch and talk to different people. I don’t believe you can find an investor here, though.”

All in all, the founders agree that although it’s hard to find the right people among 53,000 attendees, it’s worth a shot.

“We had a stand at Web Summit in 2013, so I think both approaches work,” said Alexey Orap, the CEO and founder of social media analytics startup YouScan, who this time brought a few teammates to meet potential partners. “But you can’t control who comes to talk to you, so it’s a bit too random. But if your budget and team size allow for it, it’s worth getting a stand at least once. At the end of the day, it all depends on preparing for the event in advance.”

Networking with Ukrainians

In addition to startups and talks, any conference has the third part, that is networking outside of the venue’s walls after sunset. Web Summit has traditionally been good at that part, holding what’s called a Night Summit and organised pub crawls in the evenings.

This year, Irish beer gave way to Portuguese wine and sangria, but the spirit of the after-conference events has remained as bright and lively as before. In addition to dozens of official networking parties there were even more unofficial ones, some aimed at people working in certain industries, others gathering participants speaking a certain language or coming from a particular region.

That latter kind of parties, although quite popular, wasn’t to everyone’s taste.

“Networking events have no value, I don’t believe in them, and almost never go there,” Yaremchuk said. “I believe even less in networking events for Ukrainian or Russian-speaking people. Why go to Lisbon to talk to people you can meet in Kyiv? It’s a moment of subconscious procrastination — you just move your comfort zone shell from Ukraine to Portugal and remain inside it.
“You need to think about the actual result you’d like to get from going at such events. If you just want to have a good time with the same group of people you’re used to hang around — then it makes sense. If you’d like to get useful connections and broaden your experience, then it is better to search for themed meetups, like ‘UX meetup’ or ‘SaaS founders meetup.’”
Artyom Yaremchuk (L)

There was, however, one event for Ukrainian participants that was hard to refuse to attend. With a last-minute notice, the embassy of Ukraine in Lisbon had invited Ukrainians from Web Summit to come over and talk about what the officials can do for the industry and entrepreneurs.

Although not having too many ways to help Ukrainian startups in Portugal, the embassy can still do something, said the ambassador Inna Ohnivets. That includes advising entrepreneurs on the local laws and ecosystem, checking legitimacy of Portuguese companies, and even helping communicating with Ukrainian embassies in other countries.

An informal meeting at the Embassy of Ukraine in Portugal

All in all, it’s now apparent that Ukrainian tech entrepreneurs have become a very internationally active bunch over the past few years, which was shown once again by this year’s Web Summit. With or without a dedicated stand at the conference, entrepreneurs from Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Vinnytsia, Ternopil, and other cities were seen across the four pavilions of the conference talking, listening, brainstorming, debating, and partying.

One reason for this could be the lack of large-scale startup events in Ukraine itself. Over the past two years after the last IDCEE conference took place, no truly international events of significant size have been held in the country. Taking into account the international nature of technology entrepreneurship, that’s not necessarily a bad thing — at least for now.