From Edward Snowden’s new vision for the internet, to Europe’s tech scene post-Brexit, Web Summit 2019 was rife with meaningful and fascinating discussions. Here are my five biggest takeaways from this year’s conference.
1) Welcome to the 5G Playground
With companies like Huawei, Verizon and Vodafone pushing 5G forward, and over $1.5 billion already invested in integration, there’s very little that can hinder the rise of this potentially game-changing technology.
5G can enhance technologies like AI, VR and AR, and open up countless use cases and applications. The result will be a playground of opportunities for a new era of 5G-enabled startups.
VCs and Angel Investors are standing ready to invest in the next big thing. Early pioneers in this space will end up taking up a sizeable chunk of the available capital. Whether this will create another dot-com investment bubble, or whether VCs will be taking a more cautious route, we’ll have to wait and see.
Either way, exciting times lie ahead.
2) Edward Snowden Wants The Internet 2.0
The eagerly-awaited interview with Edward Snowden, who streamed in from Russia, did not disappoint.
The famous whistleblower talked about conflicting obligations between his oath to the NSA and loyalty to the US constitution. Then he asked the public to think about what happens when the most powerful people are also the least accountable.
But Snowden’s main point was that data isn’t abstract when it’s about people. We should all take more care about data is being collected about us, and not rely too heavily on laws and regulations like GDPR.
So what should we do when so many business models are based on acquiring and abusing trust? Snowden has a pretty simple idea: re-design the internet. Snowden envisages a new kind of internet where people don’t need to rely on trust. Where privacy is universally protected, regardless of a company or organization’s intentions.
A new internet. No big deal!
3) Attendees Were Keen On Green
From discussing water scarcity on the opening night, to devoting a main-stage talk to planet:tech, to countless panels and debates about meat-free diets at HealthConf, Web Summit 2019 didn’t shy away from important and uncomfortable conversations about our environment.
Smartly, the conference left no room for debate. ‘We are in a climate emergency’. That was the presumption on which many discussions, from technologies tackling ocean plastics to Airbus sharing its ‘efforts’ towards sustainable air-travel, were based.
The tech industry needs to bear its share of responsibility for what is – and there are no two ways about this – a worldwide crisis. Thankfully, the tech industry can also be instrumental in developing new green technologies that will prevent, and maybe even reverse, some of the damage we’re causing.
But the Greta Thunberg in me is still asking whether just having these conversations and cheering steps in the right direction is enough. Do we need to challenge the existing solutions and push for more? In my opinion, yes!
4) The Dangers of Brexit
No one can avoid the looming spectre of Brexit. Not me. Not You. Not Web Summit 2019.
Web Summit is the largest tech gathering in Europe. The UK is one of the biggest incubators of tech startups. The question of what the European tech scene will look like with/without/half-with-half-without the UK was always going to be top of mind.
From Tony Blair to Michel Barnier, the B-word kept rearing its ugly head. Fortunately, it seems that politicians and tech firms are broadly in agreement about the dangers Brexit poses to the continent. If Europe wants to keep up with North America and China as a centre for disruptive tech, European nations will have to work together.
Yes, more international investments may have flown into the UK since Brexit, but it’s the early-stage, pan-European schemes and grants that keep early-stage startups alive. I’ve seen this all too well during my time at GrantTree.
5) Founders Must Plan Long Term
From the main stage to the satellite tracks, the main message of this year’s Web Summit was loud and clear: Start. Planning. Long. Term.
It’s not a new message, admittedly, but the truth is that if you’re running a startup, you’re also running against time.
When trying to bring a product or service to market before the cash runs out, many founders will get sucked into survival mode, prompting them to make short term decisions that are harmful to the long term health of the company.
Take fundraising. Finding investment is one thing. It’s quite another to find investors who can also serve as valuable advisors that will help entrepreneurs drive their business forward. From VCs and founders that have ‘made it’, the advice was to develop foundations for a long-lasting business.
As always, Web Summit was simmering with edifying discussions and wondrous technology. Bring on Web Summit 2020!
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