Web Summit, Europe’s biggest and one of the most influential conferences, has just wrapped up in Lisbon, Portugal. With 70,000 attendees from all over the world, it gathered minds and ideas to define the future. Here’s how Estonia, a land of unicorns, contributed to the scene and gained new fans at the conference and its own side event, Digital Spirits.
Estonians at Web Summit. A mighty power
Estonians were heavily present, ranging from speakers to startups in the demo area, investors and general attendees. What lessons they have learned and delivered?
Markus Villig, a co-founder and CEO of Bolt, a transportation unicorn, was interviewed on the scene on the first day of the conference.
With the tech market downturn, the theme was set around operational efficiency. “The culture of frugality and being very thoughtful on how we spend our money has always been with us”, – said Villig, who started the company at just 19 years old and bootstrapped it in the first few years without significant external funding. His next bet is staying operational efficient at a pan-European scale and beyond, with market consolidation going on in ride-hailing, delivery, scooters and other verticals.
Another Estonian founder, Martin Kalamees of Werk, participated in the Breakout startups discussion, which features the most promising startups selected by Web Summit. Werk aims to reinvent the world of construction worker relocation, simplifying the process for all sides by automating paperwork and visa documentation. It picked up a $1.3M pre-seed round in May 2022.
“For us being able to tell Werk’s story on centre stage and later being contacted by people who valued the mission was probably the peak. I’d say that if your goal is to get inspired and network with like-minded people, Web Summit is a must”, says Kalamees.
Among other notable speakers was Kaidi Ruusalepp, the founder of Funderbeam. This platform allows startups to raise funds in multiple rounds from different geographies and then trade their equity on a secondary market. This is an innovative way to get more people involved in early-stage investing and to give startups more visibility and options.
Another star speaker from Estonia was Timmu Tōke, CEO and co-founder of Ready Player Me, a cross-game avatar platform for the metaverse, delivering advice on the effective fundraising processes and the future of web3. His company recently raised a $56M round led by Andreessen Horowitz, one of the most acclaimed venture investors in the world.
There were also dozens of Estonian startups participating in the conference, showcasing their solutions to the audience. “We were part of Alpha programme and got a really good value. Had a stand in the exhibition area and got a chance for a showcase on the stage”, says Kaido Saar, founder of mifundo. His company develops an AI-based platform for effective cross-border bank lending. “For future attendants: please keep in mind Web Summit is really crowded event, and it is essential to stay focused on your goals, even simple logistics take a lot of time”, advises Saar.
Still, the challenges are worth it, says Mariliis Retter, Head of Marketing at AlphaAR, an Estonian AI-powered automatic 3D content creation platform. “It was absolutely buzzing with innovative thinkers and new ideas, which for us, as a platform that helps brands innovate their customer experience via immersive 3D content, was an amazing opportunity to build those relationships with like-minded people”, she says.
If one wants to get the maximum out of Web Summit, the best approach would be to follow a set of rules, argues Juhan Härm, CEO of Estonian startup VOOL, which develops smart EV charging solutions. His are the following:
- Set clear goals for attending the event. Why are you going there, and what will success look like?
- Be proactive and agree on meetings beforehand. Web Summit has its own app that allows you to find and contact exciting people. Make use of that.
- Take care of your profile on Web Summit App so that others can find you. All companies have cool names, but some of us did a clever naming hack by adding a short description to the company’s name. VOOL became VOOL Smart EV Charging and got contacted by a leading European car manufacturer because of that.
- Don’t place your results into hands of others. After meeting, ensure you have their contact data and interest in your business. When arriving back home, make sure to reach out with a personal, not automated, note.
How Digital Spirits blended fun, networking, and innovation
Web Summit is equally famous for its side programme, and this year, Estonia also outperformed there with a separate event called Digital Spirits on Nov 2.
Aimed to showcase the recipe for digital success, it took place at La Distillerie. It’s a charming old distillery, that is located in the most emblematic neighbourhoods of Lisbon, just right across the famous Panteão Nacional, a 17th-century baroque church turned into a modern-day mausoleum for tombs of national celebrities.
Blending together Northern and Southern cuisines, good music and atmosphere, it offered a symbolic journey through the land of unicorns to network and made new connections. The audience only added to the charm with startup founders, investors and key industry players attending.
The event organized by Invest Estonia, e-Residency, Startup Estonia, Work in Estonia in close partnership with the Embassy of Estonia in Lisbon, Portugal Tech Week and 351 Portuguese Startup community was a huge success. On top of the networking and foodie experiences, it also offered visitors a deeper dive into the following topics:
- enabling borderless business – e-Residency
- Estonian business environment – Invest Estonia
- startup visa, scaleup visa and Estonian startup ecosystem – Startup Estonia
- pursuing a dream tech career – Work in Estonia
- and more about e-Estonia.
The history Web Summit between decades and countries
Web Summit conference was founded in 2010 by Paddy Cosgrave, Daire Hickey, and David Kelly. The first edition took place in Dublin with 400 attendees.
Just a year later, Web Summit became “Europe’s largest tech conference” with 5,000 attendees and has grown ever since, with a short stop in 2020, when the in-person event was canceled due to the COVID pandemic, but where Estonia participated through organizing two digital workshops. In 2021, the conference returned with attendance limited to 40,000 people. Now it’s in full swing again.
In 2016, Web Summit took place in Lisbon for the first time. This was not a random move — Lisbon beat out as many as 20 contenders, partly by agreeing to pay Web Summit $12.7 million annually through 2028. Why?
Well, the simple answer is that the Portuguese capital is now even more attractive to tech companies — it’s known for having a relatively low cost of living and a relaxed visa regime. Moreover, the city has a thriving startup scene and is home to a number of accelerators, incubators, and coworking spaces.
Portugal pursues a different path in nurturing the tech industry compared to Estonia. The country, with a population of around 10.3M people, has so far seen 7 startups achieve unicorn status. Estonia, with 1.3M residents, has produced ten.
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