Tech entrepreneurship just got sexy.

Fresh from the Web Summit in Dublin (or not-so-fresh given the myriad parties that went alongside DWS), it's time to reflect on the state of entrepreneurship in Europe. And it’s in a fine state.

This post was written by Claire Lee, Business Development Strategy Analyst and Director of Partnerships, STRATEGIC & EMERGING BUSINESS TEAM

There was a time when all the press, whether broadcast media, or the niche tech press online, was all Doom and Gloom in Ireland and across most of the European sub-continent. Not now. The glow and glamour of technology startups has spread like a virus by leading Irish, European and global media outlets, including TNW and TechCrunch. Someone got the message and last week around 4,000 individuals, influentials and inspirational leaders, movers and shakers descended on the fair city. There was not a hotel room to be had, and the whole country paused to cover the goings-on originating around the RDS and the Four Seasons, that spread throughout the city by night. What buzz. 

Like others, I was a little overwhelmed by the full agenda, covering two days. The week evaporated. Inevitably, I was running between the main stage keynotes and the themed stages, spending time with the startups and with our team at the Microsoft area with the new Windows 8 devices (which was mega busy).

  

Someone needs to invent cloning technology, and soon.

Dublin Web Summit 2012 can legitimately claim to be Europe’s largest tech event, attracting an incredible 200 high-profile speakers and thought leaders, featured on four stages, watched by a crowd of 4,025 -- which is a record for a tech event -- who conspired to introduce too many devices on the crippled Wi-Fi network. Connectivity was so bad, we had to talk to each other in person.Having arrived on Tuesday in time to prepare for my judging duties at the finals of the Spark of Genius startup competition on the first morning, I researched some of the 100 finalists that represent the best of web startups in four categories: social, consumer, mobile and enterprise. 

We’ve been to a lot of these competitions. Anyone in the industry knows we suffer from competition fatigue and see a fair proportion of crocks. One tweet in the #websummit stream said: “I know what this reminds me of – a school fair. Where 90% are crackpot ideas that won’t go anywhere, and 10% are genius ideas that will be game changers”. 

 The quality of the startups at DWS was outstanding. 

From over 1,000 applicants, here are all the 100 finalists plus the ones that made it through

My faves: in the Mobile category that I was judging, I am intrigued by Ether Books from the UK, and think they’ll go on to great things. Awesome founding team. As judges, we were unanimously impressed by 45 Sound (Irish startup, who went on to the next round). Hard not to like Farmflo (farming in the cloud!) and fellow BizSpark member startup and friends from Seedcamp, Nuji.

 

Three notable finalists Vibease, Ovelin and Tictail received €100,000 in cash, having emerged from the quick-fire rounds that took place simultaneously on two stages on the Wednesday, and the Thursday morning. It was a chore, keeping up with all the innovation. 

And it's hard not to remember Vibease and the founder from Singapore who, with wit and wisdom, told us that couples can stay intimate by using their app and – er – “personal massager”. The theory is that a woman hands over control of the ‘device’ to be activated by her partners’ smartphone, though they are separated by distance. Thus reducing the divorce rate. Eureka!  Buzz, indeed. 

Then, among what was very stiff competition (fnar) – SmartThings emerged as outright winner. They make your life more awesome.

 

It’s got to be tough for folks pitching to what is a very sophisticated crowd. I always feel a degree of nervousness, on their behalf. Nowhere to hide under the bright lights of the RDS. Here’s last year’s winner Datahug co-founder Connor Murphy (also a BizSpark member startup) with his advice and tactics for pitching

Bumped into Connor (who does give good hugs) as we exited the Leaders Lunch held across from the Founders Lunch at the same venue.

Well done to Natasha Sherling for suggesting and organizing this one. Sometimes you feel in the minority as a girl at tech conferences. Not this one. Hundreds of us, in one room. Sometimes, these ‘diversity’ events can be a bit – how shall I say – less than impressive. But the speakers and the panel were really good. Marcy Simon suggested “next year this should be on the main stage” – good idea. Diversity is not the right term here. Inclusion, might be. 

Change Makers

Ireland has a solid record attracting established IT companies (including Microsoft) and is well-regarded as one of the leaders in foreign direct investment. Enterprise Ireland and the IDA do a lot together to support this effort.

For me, one of the highlights around Web Summit has to be the focus on indigenous Irish/European innovation, and on young people – specifically the programs that inspire them to choose a path in the technology industry and to create products and services, and build a business. Never before have we seen such a spotlight on youth entrepreneurship and on social entrepreneurship as the one that surrounded DWS.

James Whelton, renowed activist and hacker, was named Ashoka Fellow. Fantastic.

Here’s Josh and Michael from Microsoft Ireland (photo below) with two of the young rock stars that form part of the Coder Dojo movement in Ireland and literally comprise the next generation tech startups. I’m so pleased to see Microsoft behind this initiative. We have a huge focus on Students Startups and Growth Startups through ‘the Sparks’ – DreamSpark, BizSpark and now YouthSpark.  


On that note – I have to commend the local Microsoft team for delivering a great event partnership.

Last but not least, we wanted to continue our investment in Ireland and in Irish Startups – so we just announced a campaign with NGen Ireland. Get nominating today. Let’s keep the momentum from Web Summit in Dublin and spread the love.

See you next year!