Web Summit tale: When a tech conference is not (only) about tech

By Asier Segura Elorza - I started writing this article on Friday during my flight back to Schiphol Airport after attending what some people say is the largest tech conference in the world.

With over 2500 startups and dozens of major corporations showcasing their latest innovations, tech development was implicitly at the core of all conversations. However, many of the sessions and workshops gravitated around topics such as diversity, impact investing, European entrepreneurship and tech regulation. These topics can potentially be more crucial for our entrepreneurial ecosystems than tech development itself. As a result, this article aims to provide a glimpse of the discussions that took place at the Web Summit – including my thoughts.


Some (not very) fun facts: In Silicon Valley, 91% of venture capitalists are men, 98% are white or Asian, and almost 90% of their funding goes to white-male-led ventures. There is a systematic bias well ingrained into our unconscious – and, in all fairness, it is not exclusive to American entrepreneurial scene.

However, it seems that there is little collective work to solve it, although we all know the many benefits of diverse and inclusive work-cultures: they attract and retain a wider pool of talent, tend to have better growth opportunities, and exhibit a higher level of innovation, creativity, and problem-solving. Additionally, VCs that invest in diverse founding teams generate higher returns than homogeneous teams.

In a nutshell, investing in diversity is very valuable but often ignored. However, to create diverse teams both among startup founding teams and VCs we also need to create the right environment. That’s why I found Hattie William’s effort to create socially diverse angel syndicates in England so inspiring and Sarah Millar’s words so revealing: we need to look into the full spectrum of whom is underrepresented, which is not limited to race and gender, but includes socioeconomic status, disability status and sexual orientation as well.

Impact investing

Investors invest to make money – fair. But there is a somewhat extended misconception that impact investing and financial return don’t go hand-in-hand. And that’s simply not true. Perhaps, the returns from impact investing are slightly lower than the market average, but impact-driven investments usually garner higher returns during down cycles. Therefore, I found Hattie Williams’ words “the more money you make, the more impact you deliver” to be very much on-point. On top of that, impact investing has proven key in the advancement of solutions such as health-tech and climate-tech that will not only impact the current generations but the ones to come as well (a.k.a. our children and grandchildren).

Tech regulation

Tech is advancing much faster than we could have ever imagined, however, legislation is a very slow snail incapable of keeping up. This lack of legal frameworks leads to a high level of uncertainty, and when the Big Tech says they want regulation in topics such as AI, it might be time to do something about it – though they only want regulation that doesn’t put any burden on them.

But now getting a bit more serious, as expressed by Mick Mulvaney, co-chair at Actum, when technology is not regulated, tech companies don’t know if they operate within the boundaries of the law or not. This has been the case with crypto for the last ten years in the US, and AI seems to be bound to the same (lack of) outcome. In addition, tech regulation is a major necessity not only to prevent bad practices but also to incentivize tech and entrepreneurial activity and ensure market competitiveness.

So, how should regulators act to keep regulations and policies updated? We could write a whole new article revolving around this question, but they should work alongside tech and industry experts and learn from them. In a few words, this collaboration between policymakers and industry experts should be done consistently to keep regulations and policies updated.

Europe as an entrepreneurial hub

What place do you associate with the word startup? Probably Silicon Valley, or maybe San Francisco or California for that matter. I would personally answer Delft, but mainly because I work there. But I don’t think you said that.

We are all aware that the quality of research institutions in Europe is exceptionally high, however, innovation and commercialisation is, instead, exceptionally low. And I think that Sacha Michaud words during the Summit summarise what we actually need to bridge this gap: capital (of all sorts: public, private, national, foreign), attract more talent, and implement more regulation and policies. In addition, these three elements lead to network effects. However, it comes as no surprise that we can’t leverage any of it at this moment. There seems to be a well (too) rooted risk-averse mentality throughout the Old Continent. And if we don’t fix it, we won’t be able to transform startups into high-growth companies and unicorns. 

In any case, is not all bad news. There are strong ongoing efforts to transform Europe into a fertile land not only for startups but also for scale-ups. This is evident in the case of Sweden, with a strong presence of later-stage investors. And Paris is also regarded as a tech haven following the €30 billion investment plan “France 2030” set out by the French government.

Summing up …

These are all hot topics that have a direct impact on our entrepreneurial ecosystems, and issues on which we need to work harder to ensure the development of the latest tech innovations. The situation is far from ideal, but it could definitely be worse. We all play a key role in this, whether we work at an incubator, VC, government agency, or startup. And, for the better or for the worse, it is our joint responsibility to solve it.


To top