Startups, did Web Summit mess up?

Dr. Kevin Cunningham, who teaches statistics at the Dublin Institute of Technology, helped lead a huge survey effort at Web Summit 2016. Dr. Cunningham has run surveys and polling around the world. Dr. Cunningham worked alongside Dr. Aaron Meagher, formerly of Berlin Technical University, who works full time for Web Summit and managed all on-site surveying and post-event analysis. Dr. Meagher explains the findings with regards to startups.


Over 490,000 startups have started the application process for our ALPHA programme for early-stage startups from around the world over the last four years. Of these, 6,200 have exhibited at Web Summit – approximately 1.3 percent of applicants. In 2016, more startups exhibited at Web Summit than any other conference in the world.

Of startups who exhibited at Web Summit, 78 percent are already planning to return; 70 percent were visited by investors at their booths; and 83 percent had a one-to-one meeting with an investor, speaker or partner as part of our Office and Mentor Hours schemes.
86 percent of the startups rated the experience at Web Summit four stars or higher. Put another way, 48 percent rated it five stars and 37 percent gave it four stars.

In conclusion, the experience for the vast majority of startups at Web Summit is very positive.

A very clear picture

But what of startups that were selected for ALPHA, our early-stage startup programme, and declined. The data paints a very clear picture as to the barrier to entry at Web Summit: cost.

When you survey startups that we selected to be part of ALPHA but declined in 2016, the reason was cost in 77 percent of cases. That reason increases to more than 95 percent in cases where a startup is based in the developing world. Of startups that declined, 81 percent are based in the developing world.

Together these two broad observations could lead to one of two decisions in terms of the direction of Web Summit 2017.


On the one hand, Web Summit could very legitimately increase the price further for startups, as it is an excellent product. However given the variance in price sensitivity between those in the developed and developing world, this would have the immediate effect of further reducing the participation of startups outside of the western world.

For example, in 2016, 46 Indian startups participated. If the price increased further their participation could be expected to fall at a far faster rate than by startups from, say, Germany. Relatively speaking Web Summit is inexpensive for a German startup but expensive for an Indian startup.

Alternatively, Web Summit could reduce the cost of participation. While startups everywhere would benefit, the more pronounced impact would be to increase the rate of participation of startups from the developing world at a faster rate than from the developed world.

While Web Summit 2016 had attendees from 167 countries, absolute participation rates plummet dramatically in the case of African nations. If Web Summit wants to deepen participation from this and similar regions, and become a truly global technology gathering, then reducing relative barriers to entry, while maintaining quality, is advisable.

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