Web Summit 2023 (Lisbon)

Peter Himler
Adventures in Consumer Technology
4 min readNov 18, 2023

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This was my fourth Web Summit, Europe’s if not the world’s biggest gathering of those plying the tech ecosystem. The conference has grown considerably since its humble beginnings in Dublin where its organizers remain domiciled. It’s not just the number of conference attendees, but its growing footprint in other regions that sets it apart from other confabs. Its portfolio currently includes Collision in Toronto, Web Summits in Lisbon, Rio and Qatar, and Rise in Hong Kong (2025).

Here are some data points from the just-concluded Lisbon event:

  • 70,236 attendees from 153 countries
  • 43 percent of attendees are women, while 38 percent of speakers are women
  • 2,608 startups exhibiting, almost one in three women founded
  • 321 partners are taking to the exhibition floor
  • More than 85% hotel occupancy across the city of Lisbon

The record-breaking attendance happened despite the conference founder’s ill-conceived remarks on the Gaza conflict two weeks before Web Summit started. It sparked an exodus of big-named sponsors and speakers, as well as the resignation of the founder himself.

Very quickly, however, Web Summit secured a new CEO, Katherine Maher, the CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation, who plugged the leaks and, within two weeks, righted the ship.

One afternoon back at the hotel, we shared an elevator with Katherine, where we had a chance to let her know how much we enjoyed her opening night presentation. She appreciated the feedback.

Since attending the final Dublin-based Web Summit in 2015, I’ve fallen into a regular cadence at subsequent events, including two on-stage moderation sessions, judging the start-up Pitch competition, participating in Mentor Hours, attending a couple of speaker dinners, and carving out time to listen to some of the more noteworthy speakers.

Two themes permeated this year’s conference: AI and climate, with the latter dominating many of the startups presenting.

On the AI front, I took the stage with Mikayel Vardanyan, co-founder of unicorn Picsart, the largest all-in-one creative platform of photo, video editing, and design tools — now fully immersed in Generative AI for creating images and video.

This is quite an impressive company with 1.5 billion downloads. Still, I had to bring up Gen AI bias after my query on the platform for a “successful business person” turned up four images — all of the same 40-year-old white man. I also worried aloud about the likelihood of bad actors using deep fakes to manipulate public opinion. Yes, that means you, Russia.

In my second on-stage session, I sat with some veteran marketing execs to discuss the changing role of the CMO. I reminisced about Y&R Inc’s “whole egg” approach wherein advertising, PR, and direct response comprised the three legs of the marketing stool. (Brand identity/design was siloed away back then.) I suggested that Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall, giving today’s marketers vastly more tools with which to work.

I suppose the greatest satisfaction for me was gleaned from connecting with founders about their early-stage companies’ plans to change the world for the better. This happened on the Pitch Stage where I judged a handful of companies whose solutions to small and big problems didn’t fail to impress. I also had a chance to mentor three young founders in the climate space: Guillaume Mandolini of EVAS, Dragan Gelevski of EarthCare.ai, and Diogo Costa of EcoCradle, who had these kinds words to share following our session:

Yours truly with EcoCradle’s Diogo Costa

There were other notable encounters, including over lunch when former Trump chief-of-staff Mick Mulvaney plopped down beside my wife and me. He, alongside esteemed journalist Michael Isikoff, suggested a political scenario in which both Trump and Biden drop out of the race. I wasn’t buying it.

You never know who you’ll run into at Web Summit, but everyone there had an affinity for technology and how it will continue to change our lives and livelihoods. Even Mick Mulvaney was there to speak about the tech regulatory environment.

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Peter Himler
Adventures in Consumer Technology

Founder, Flatiron Communications; President, PCNY; Editor, Medium; Blessed w/ 3 exceptional sons & a most fabulous wife; Music & tech; Maker of the sauce. #NYC