This year, I marked my second participation in the Web Summit and my first in-person experience. My initial encounter in 2020 was virtual. Being there physically offered a distinctly different experience.

The Scale of the Event

The event’s magnitude was astounding, with over 70,000 attendees, 2,600 startups, 900 investors, and representatives of 30 countries. In Lisbon, every corner buzzed with Web Summit participants. For comparison, I grew up in a city with fewer than 60,000 residents.

AI Adoption: The Central Theme

Unsurprisingly, AI was the focal point. Discussions covered implementation areas like marketing, healthcare, retail, gaming, sustainability and more; challenges like hallucination issues, regulation, and copyright; and various approaches including LLMs, fine-tuning, prompt engineering, and cloud versus on-premises models. Investors seemed keen on AI-first companies, indicating a still-evolving landscape for optimal AI integration strategies.

One critical issue was identifying viable business cases that offer real value, survive technological advancements, and remain cost-effective. Another was the surprisingly low service pricing by some startups, particularly those leveraging cloud-based LLMs. This raises questions about sustainable business models despite potential on-premises solutions. Bigger players have spotted the same challenge – Microsoft is losing between 20 – 80 USD monthly for each user that is using GitHub Copilot.

The Struggle for Differentiation

Many startups used similar LLMs, risking a lack of uniqueness in their products. I didn’t speak with anybody who trained its own model. The focus was more on fine-tuning for quality, performance, and reducing hallucinations rather than innovation. Using the same and universal LLMs generates the risk that the created product and value will be average.

Searching for the “WOW” Factor

Despite numerous innovative applications, a groundbreaking product that could revolutionise daily life was elusive. I have huge expectations here – I was waiting for “WOW effect”. Actually, it was hard to find such a product during the Web Summit. Please do not get me wrong – there were a great number of startups that were building excellent applications and products. They connected different technologies to achieve success. I was expecting to find something that would revolutionise our daily life.

One notable example was Daye, offering a CBD tampon and an at-home vaginal microbiome screening tool. The latter especially represents a significant advancement in women’s health.

Embracing Sustainability

A pleasant surprise was the minimal use of brochures and gadgets, a refreshing change in tech conferences. Information was accessible digitally, enhancing sustainability.

Reflections and Decisions

Was attending worthwhile? If your objective is knowledge acquisition through sessions, it might not be the best use of time due to generalities and logistical issues. However, for networking and startup insights, it’s invaluable. Next time, I would prioritise networking and skip the opening ceremony and sessions, opting for a more focused approach.

Conclusion Yes, the Web Summit was worth the visit. It provided insights into emerging technologies and their challenges, inspiring future directions. I’m eager to see how simple ideas I used during workshops that I conducted are evolving into customer-driven products, and I look forward to attending next year. After the event I have a though if AI / GenAI so massive topic, a huge rising star, that is covering other topics. I am leaving this doubt without answer.