AI, start-ups and sustainability: What to expect from Web Summit 2023

Attendees take their seats at center stage before the opening of the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon, Monday, Nov. 5 2018.
Attendees take their seats at center stage before the opening of the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon, Monday, Nov. 5 2018. Copyright Armando Franca/Copyright 2018 The AP.
By Pascale Davies
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Despite some tech titans withdrawing from the event due to Web Summit’s ex-CEO’s controversial Israel-Hamas comments, start-ups are set to take centre stage.


Web Summit, one of Europe’s top technology events, kicks off on Monday in Portugal’s capital but it is not without controversy after its founder stepped down from his role as CEO following a backlash to comments on the Israel-Hamas war.

The tech titans such as Meta and Amazon, as well as celebrity speakers such as Gillian Anderson, withdrew from the event as a result.

Despite the fallout, the event could hark back to its early days when it was a smaller affair with once-upon-a-time start-ups such as Uber securing massive investment deals.

Here is what to look forward to at the 2023 conference.

A new CEO

Following the resignation of Web Summit’s former CEO Paddy Cosgrave, a new CEO has taken the reins.

Former Wikipedia boss Katherine Maher has assumed the role and it will be her first big event since being in the position for just over a week.

“I believe in Web Summit’s mission to connect people and ideas that change the world. In a present where technology is interwoven into every aspect of our lives, and in a future where it represents our greatest hope and our greatest disruptor,” Maher said after her appointment.

“Web Summit’s role as a place for connection and conversation is more urgent than ever. Our immediate task is returning the focus to what we do best: delivering dialogue among all those connected with technological advancement”.


The event will exhibit 2,600 start-ups, which is a record for Web Summit’s flagship event in Lisbon.

Almost one-third of those start-ups are founded by women from more than 85 countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, Lichtenstein, Peru, and Ghana.

There will be more than 900 investors present for start-ups to showcase their companies, as well as multiple pitching competitions.

Web Summit is again launching its Impact initiative, which will bring together more than 250 start-ups that are working to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

AI is a big theme

Artificial intelligence (AI) will be a big topic with many start-ups and experts voicing their concerns and optimism.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales will discuss why ChatGPT is no threat to Wikipedia, Signal’s President Meredith Whittaker will debate whether AI is the real deal, MIT research scientist Andrew McAfee will discuss how to regulate AI, and Alibaba’s Kuo Zhang will be talking about the use of AI in online retail.

This year there is also an “AI Academy” stage, which will explore the latest trends.


The event itself aims to become more sustainable and says the stages are built using sustainable and reusable materials. The main stage, for example, is built using 450 repurposed agricultural water storage tanks that are redistributed and reused post-event.

And for the 70,000 expected attendees, there will be 200,000 recyclable cardboard water cups.

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