By Axel Bugge and Sergio Goncalves
LISBON (Reuters) – Web Summit, Europe’s biggest technology conference, is helping to stoke a “reboot” of Portugal’s capital city as a start-up hub as the country continues its emergence from a crippling debt crisis, the event’s founder said.
The Lisbon summit has put the city on the world technology map, with various visiting businesses settling here after being lured by modern infrastructure, the local tech cadre and warm climate. Local authorities estimate that the week-long event generates about 300 million euros (262.7 million pounds) in hotel and other revenue for the city.
Founder Paddy Cosgrave signed an agreement this year to keep the event in Portugal for another ten years, marking a huge boost for Lisbon’s ambitions as a start-up hub.
The 34-year-old Irish entrepreneur started the event in Dublin eight years ago with only 400 people in attendance and has massively expanded the conference to this year’s 70,000 paying participants and guest speakers, including the United Nations Secretary-General.
“This is a city going through a rebirth, it’s a start-up city, it’s being rebooted,” Cosgrave told Reuters a few hours before the annual summit opened its doors on Monday evening.
Cosgrave said Web Summit will create 100 jobs in Lisbon in the next two years, adding to the growing number of tech companies opening offices in the area, including Google <GOOGL.O> and the technology divisions of Mercedes <DAIGn.DE> and BMW <BMWG.DE>.
He said a lot of people had cast doubt over the wisdom of moving Web Summit to Lisbon from Dublin in 2016, eschewing major cities such as Paris, Berlin and London.
“Portugal went through a dark decade of being hammered, like Ireland did,” said Cosgrave, referring to the eurozone debt crisis that started around 2010, requiring bailouts for both nations. “But we made a decision which I think has turned out to be the right decision.”
While some critics say Portugal’s tech ambitions may not last or ultimately prove as successful as some larger technology centres, Cosgrave said the recent emergence of Portuguese businesses valued at more than $1 billion will ensure sustainable growth for Portugal’s digital economy because the founders of those so-called “unicorns” become backers for the next generation of start-ups.
(Editing by Andrei Khalip and David Goodman)