By Sandro Rego
Everyone knows that Portugal is trending. I have already commented on this Portuguese rise on the world stage in previous articles here on “Also in Portuguese”. It is noteworthy that one of the movements that contributed to this success has name and surname: WebSummit The 2019 edition – which took place in early November in Lisbon – gathered over 70,000 participants from 163 countries. Most of the visitors came from the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, and Brazil. This year, the main highlight was the growth in the number of women at the event: 46.3% of the audience was female. In all, 1,206 speakers went through 22 stages, and 2,526 journalists covered the event. More than 1,500 startups presented their solutions and projects in the four days of the summit.
Those who look only at the numbers have no doubt: the fourth edition of WebSummit in Portuguese lands was, once again, a success. But some say this year’s event had a flop. The main point of the critics was the audience below expectations, and that would not have justified the investment of more than 20 million euros that the state and the city of Lisbon made at the summit. Several local newspapers also stressed that the impact of the overseas event “was almost nil” and that “televisions and newspapers outside ignored” the technology conference. Critics also claim that there is no hard information to indicate what the real benefits of WebSummit are for Portugal.
Not quite. With WebSummit, Lisbon has become one of the main centers of news and activities related to technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Hundreds of side events and meetings have been organized, many designed to attract venture capitalists that help fund start-up companies, for example. The government announced “200 M, co-invest with the best”, a program that will make a total of € 400 million over the next two years available to Portuguese native companies that are strongly committed to innovation. WebSummit’s promoters have also said they want to grow the event to over 80,000 attendees and expand the space they currently occupy.
The return is not just for the image of the country in the world. The event is expected to contribute 300 million euros to the Portuguese economy. Early figures indicate that WebSummit attendees spent more than € 70 million during the four days of this year’s event, on food and lodging alone.
Events like WebSummit are also important for Portugal to stop being seen as an isolated country on the edge of Europe. Today, the technology sector has all the elements to continue developing rapidly. WebSummit is a kind of “cake icing” that began to be baked in 2010 and 2011, still amid the financial crisis. Faced with an 18% unemployment, Portugal underwent a profound cultural transformation, which would be the seed for the ensuing technological affirmation.
The last to take the main stage of the 2019 edition was the President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. In a very short speech, constantly interrupted by applause, he pointed out that it was at WebSummit that big themes for the world were anticipated. He recalled when UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for multilateralism when so many spoke of protectionism. He highlighted Brexit, climate issues, and, particularly this year, privacy and data protection issues. “We are way ahead in many challenges,” said the president. Sousa also defended stronger institutions, democracy, and rules to address these problems.
WebSummit was born in 2010 in Ireland and has been held in Lisbon since 2016, when it won the dispute with cities such as Madrid, Berlin, Paris, and Valencia. The event will remain in the Portuguese capital until 2028, bringing investors, startups, executives of large companies and, above all, money and attention. As the president pointed out, Portugal has changed with WebSummit, and we all hope it will continue to change, always for the better.
This is my last column of the year. Have a wonderful festive season and we will meet again in 2020!
Sandro Rego is CEO of Priori, a communications agency in Portugal dedicated to social impact causes and projects. He was general manager of FleishmanHillard agency and communications executive at Banco Safra, Boticário Group, Bunge, and Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional (CSN). He was “Communicator of the Year” at the Aberje 2014 Award. He currently lives in Portugal and is the editor of BRpr’s “Also in Portuguese” section.