Whilst building a global business headquartered in Dublin, I quickly discovered an advantage over my larger international competitors: people love to come to Ireland. From customers, to prospective customers, to partners and allies, Ireland had an allure.
Bringing people together yields competitive insight. The speed of change in the hi-tech sector reflects how transparent most of its people are.
It is difficult to imagine staff from competitors in, say the automobile industry, very openly discussing with one another the merits and drawbacks of their respective employers’ business models and trade secrets: in fact, doing so might lead to instant dismissal.
But in the hi-tech sector, professional social engagement is key and is in fact what makes the industry so dynamic. Individuals share insights, observations, and opportunities with one another in person at social events and online. New technology and business models do not usually emerge from pizza-fuelled all-night sessions coding at the computer, but rather from exchanges and war stories shared together.
The 2014 Web Summit starts in Dublin tomorrow, and it is an extraordinary validation of the perseverance, vision and courage of one Irish entrepreneur. Paddy Cosgrave has acknowledged that the inspiration for the Web Summit series came from both his father, who encouraged Paddy to comprehend computing, and from his sister Anna, who wanted to bring successful internet leaders to Ireland to meet students in her university society. Inspired by both, Paddy has quietly and gently insisted to many hi-tech entrepreneurs worldwide that they should join together in Dublin to informally share ideas, network, and perhaps most of all, just have fun.
I have had the honour of attending both prior summits and some of the Government’s Farmleigh events. The parallels and contrasts have been obvious, but perhaps partly captured by Paddy’s early ambition that “geeks can come free but the suits pay!”.
Since then, many professional services organisations feeding the tech sector – legal firms, management advisories, recruitment agencies, venture firms, investment bankers – have competed to pay handsomely to host events for the geeks attending what has become globally known as the “tech Davos”.
This year, some 20,000 individuals will attend the summit, hosted at the RDS. This is an unbelievable number of visitors, making the summit one of the most, if not the most, important technology conferences worldwide. The sheer numbers create challenges of course: can Dublin’s transportation cope with the volume of trips to and from hotels and entertainment venues to Ballsbridge ?
How do you efficiently offer lunch to 20,000 visitors to the RDS? Actually, a simple answer: invite Ireland’s food industry to lay out its best to a captive international audience who may not have previously sampled Irish cuisine. Thus the food summit was born last year.
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