Blog post
January 12, 2024
Natasha Bowers

Web Summit Insights: Digital, Design and Plenty of AI

Careers in tech
Organisation growth
Startup support

At the end of last year, Sunderland Software City attended Web Summit in Lisbon to soak up the fantastic insights and some sunshine too.

This November, four members of the Sunderland Software City team jumped on a plane to Lisbon to attend the 14th iteration of Web Summit, hosted in the beautiful city of Lisbon in Portugal. Mark Gardner, Steve Glasper, Radu Gherasim and (me) Natasha Bowers spent four days immersed in the wonderful culture of this unicorn capital.

What is Web Summit?  

Taking place in Lisbon, Web Summit is one of the world’s largest tech conferences, that brings together the people and companies redefining the global tech industry. The four-day conference has something for everyone, with a variety of talks, workshops and activities on topics ranging from artificial intelligence, digital marketing and branding to startups, blockchain and venture capital.

Web Summit 2023

This year, the conference was built up of the centre stage, 10 smaller stages, 3 pitching stages, startup stalls, country stands, investor lounges, roundtable areas and more. There is plenty to keep you occupied throughout the four days and lots of valuable insights shared.  

Over the four days, we tended to split up to head to different stages that took our fancy and then meet up during lunch and in the evening to digest the day. It was difficult to choose which talks to attend, there were so many different stages covering a whole range of inspiring, innovative and incredible things.

Our Thoughts and Takeaways

Steve Glasper  

“2023 was my first and hopefully not my last visit to Web Summit. There was a high level of anticipation and buzz around beautiful Lisbon in the 24 hours leading up to the opening night. The three days that followed exceeded all expectations. A packed schedule of speakers and panels was unsurprisingly heavily weighted in favour of AI related content. But it was the fringe topics that I found the most enjoyable and insightful.”

Steve’s Highlight: Getting the opportunity to unashamedly fan-boy and meet with (no stalking involved) some tech, design and brand pioneers and legends.

Radu Gherasim

“One thing that stood out to me was the noticeable absence of large, established tech firms instead, it was all about the start-ups - there were thousands of these up-and-comers. The spotlight on Artificial Intelligence was inevitable, reflecting its growing influence across sectors. The discussions ranged from ethical concerns to practical applications, emphasising AI's role as a driver of future innovation. Notable speakers like Wikipedia's founder Jimmy Wales, Andrew McAfee and Signal's Meredith Whittaker talked about this and gave us valuable ideas to think about.”

Radu’s Highlight: Hopping into random sessions about conspiracy theories like QAnon and innovative applications of psychedelic compounds in mental healthcare (and meeting Sol Campbell).

Natasha Bowers

“The thing that surprised me the most, was the sheer scale of the conference and the number of startups that were in attendance. I spent a lot of time in marketing and women in tech talks and took away some valuable insights, but it was also really nice to pop into something random when I had a few spare minutes either side of my planned talks. We have all come away with some fun facts that I hope will be useful in a pub quiz one day (did you know that LUSH invented the shampoo bar?). I had a wonderful time; Lisbon is a gorgeous city, and I would love to attend Web Summit again in the future.”

Tasha’s Highlight: Meeting so many wonderful, insightful and inspiring women in tech from across the globe.

Mark Gardner

“For a middle-aged cynical curmudgeon like me Web Summit 2023 was a blend of learning, innovation, and networking. Prior to joining Sunderland Software City, Web Summit was already on my radar as a must do. Being a facilitator of the pre-seed tech accelerator, I always told people to look outside their region and their country to see what was going on, find connections, collaborate, and where possible pay it forward.  For me, the heart of Web Summit lay is the human connections. Every conversation was insightful and so the four days of innovation and opportunity to learn and connect was invaluable.”

Mark’s Highlight: Chatting to as many people as possible, whether in the queue for coffee or for a workshop, (Oh, and the food).

Top Tips

We also have a few tips to share, whilst we still remember them, for future Web Summit attendees.

  • Plan your day wisely: Try to prioritise the sessions you want to see by getting to the stages early to make sure you can get a spot!
  • Use the App: The Web Summit app is a great pre-event planning tool and has a handy map if you lose your bearings.  
  • Make sure to schedule lunch: It is so easy to get carried away from talk to talk, but give yourself time to eat, regroup and take in the insights shared.
  • Networking: Don’t be afraid to speak to startups, chat with the people sat around you and make new friends in the coffee queue.
  • Attend Night Summit: The evening events are a great way to winddown and network with other attendees and admission included in your ticket (and they are really good craic). Arrive 30 mins early to ensure your entry.
  • Enjoy the city: Eat as many pastel de natas as possible and definitely ride a tram.

To Conclude

What a week! Lisbon is such a beautiful city and Web Summit is a brilliant celebration of global tech. Overall, we found Web Summit to be a valuable and enjoyable experience that gave us a crash course in the future of tech. We learnt so much about the upcoming trends, innovations and opportunities that we can see coming in the next few years. Jump at the opportunity if you have the chance to attend.

We would also like to thank Sunderland Software City for sending us on this CPD trip, it was a fantastic opportunity to broaden our mindsets and has given us a lot of food for thought as to how we can apply learnings within our own roles.

If you would like to speak to any of us about our Web Summit experiences, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.