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Tens of thousands gathered in Lisbon this week for one of Europe’s largest technology shows, Web Summit. The run up to the event wasn’t without its drama – for anyone who missed it, the organisation’s CEO, Paddy Cosgrave was forced to resign following comments he made on social media about the Israel-Hamas war.

A series of high profile companies, including Google, Meta and Siemens then pulled out prompting questions on day 1 of the show about the impact to the event. New CEO, Katherine Maher addressed these questions head on in her opening keynote, stating: “I think it’s important to say that I believe everyone, everywhere, has the right to express their views on what is happening in the world. But having a right to expression, and considering the weight of your words are two different things.”

Many praised the transparency of her words, appreciating the way she had addressed the issue head on which, for most who we spoke to, meant the show could very much go on.

And whilst the number of VCs attending the show was reportedly down on previous years, the number of start ups attending broke records. 2,608 start ups attended from over 150 countries. And in further good news, 43% of attendees were women, as were 38% of speakers.

AI, was by far the dominant discussion point. Signal president and ethical AI researcher Meredith Whittaker, for example urged attendess to be vigilant to the impact AI is having to “the degradation of people’s employment status” across the world, whilst Microsoft’s Chief Sustainabilty Officer, Melanie Nakagawa was more optimistic, painting a picture of the future in which AI can help us solve the climate crisis.

However, whilst keynotes, news and seminars have their value, what was most useful for us was the opportunity to catch up with people at the many side events happening outside the show. As often happens with shows like this, we were able to catch up with old friends, colleagues, clients, media and partners (well, maybe less of the old!) and connect with new ones.

We talked tech and built relationships – all against the backdrop of Lisbon’s beautiful skyline. As we reflect on a productive few days, we concluded we will definitely be back! With Lisbon’s special spirit and energy it’s no wonder it plays the perfect host to such a global tech show.

Elena Davidson

Elena is the CEO of Liberty Communications

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