Thought Leadership

Web Summit 2017

At this year’s Web Summit in Lisbon, the tech industry converged for three days of debate that celebrated the industry's potential whilst also acknowledging its many challenges.

Marie Stafford

European Director, The Innovation Group J. Walter Thompson


Web Summit 2017

At this year’s Web Summit in Lisbon, the tech industry converged for three days of debate that celebrated the industry's potential whilst also acknowledging its many challenges.

On Centre Stage, speakers wrestled with some tough topics: the promise and perils of AI; the challenges of malign influences on social media and the unfettered powers of big tech, not to mention the ongoing sexual harassment furore. Transforming the planet for the better was also a prominent theme, whether it was disrupting transportation, making fashion sustainable or tackling climate change.

Across four vast exhibition halls, two thousand start-ups vied for elbow room to share their innovations, which spanned everything from sensory reality pods to digital divorces.

Meanwhile across multiple stages hosting 25 different conference streams, talks and debates tackled diverse topics ranging from cryptocurrencies and machine learning to intelligent healthcare and autonomous vehicles.

Here are brief highlights of a few talks which captured the spirit of the three-day Summit.

Bolt Threads_GoldMoMA Dress
Bolt Threads GoldMoMA Dress
Rosario Dawson, left, Actress & Founder, Studio 189, and Sara Sampaio, Model, Victoria's Secret, on the Centre Stage during day three of Web Summit 2017 at Altice Arena in Lisbon. Photo by Sam Barnes/Web Summit via Sportsfile
Photo by Sam Barnes/Web Summit via Sportsfile

Fusing Technology with Fashion: The Next Level

Speaker: David Breslauer, co-Founder, Bolt Threads.

  • David Breslauer believes our clothes are killing us. The environmental costs of the fashion industry are substantial, due to synthetic fibres that take nearly two hundred years to decompose along with toxic sludge from the dyeing process. Fashion cycles drive disposability: Americans alone throw out 70lbs of clothes every year.
  • Breslauer is a proponent of biomimicry, an innovation process that emulates nature using technology.  Biology, he says, “is the most powerful technology on the planet. It self-reproduces, self-heals and integrates itself back into the planet.”
  • Bolt Threads spent eight years developing a process to synthesize spider silk using a liquid protein. The resulting yarn has the same properties as silk from spiders or silkworms: it’s biodegradable, anti-microbial and incredibly strong. Designer Stella McCartney collaborated with Bolt to create a gold shift dress using the yarn.
  • “By learning how to copy nature’s blueprints” says Breslauer, “we now have a way forward [..] that may allow us to leave the earth the way it was when we got here.”

A New Way Forward for Self-Driving Cars

Speaker: John Krafcik, CEO, Waymo

  • John Krafcik, CEO of self-driving car business Waymo, told delegates that the company is “not building a better car, we’re building a better driver.” Human error is responsible for 94% of the million-plus fatal car accidents in the world each year.
  • Fully autonomous cars were predicted to hit the roads by 2020, but Waymo’s fleet is already on the roads, having clocked up 5.5 million kilometres of driving.
  • Building trust with passengers will be crucial for the success of self-driving cars. Waymo’s fleet uses in-car graphics and messaging to keep riders informed on the decisions the car is making and why.
  • Krafcik predicts that self-driving cars will revolutionise vehicle design in the future. No longer will cars be designed around a driver. Instead, we’ll see them optimised for working, socialising, dining and even sleeping.

The Rise of the Celebrity Activist

Speakers: Rosario Dawson, Actress & Founder, Studio 189; Sara Sampaio, Victoria’s Secret Model. Moderator: Matthew Garrahan, Financial Times.

  • Social media has given celebrities an unprecedented platform which they can leverage to speak directly to followers. Model Sara Sampaio says that social media has given her a voice she feels compelled to use. With direct contact to an audience of millions, she sees it as a responsibility.
  • Actress Rosario Dawson, who founded the civic organisation Voto Latino in 2004, claims that people try to demean and devalue the voice of celebrities, because it’s dangerous: “Now with social media, we are powerful," she says.
  • At the same time, celebrities must be careful how they present their message since it can so easily be misconstrued. It also does little for your career. Sampaio says speaking out comes at a cost since it rarely drives engagement, and this is what determines her value as a model.
  • Dawson did not pass up the opportunity of the Web Summit platform to ask tough questions, asking why, when there are thousands of climate refugees, a robot has been granted legal citizenship (referring to Hanson Robotics’ Sophia, recently awarded citizen status in Saudi Arabia).

PITCH: Powered by Mercedes Benz

Speakers: Glyn Cotton, founder Watr; Rain Takahashi, founder, Jauntin’; Uwe Diegel, founder, Lifeina.

  • After three days of intense competition, three early stage start-ups battled it out on Centre Stage for a prize of €50,000 and the chance to be crowned the best of 2017.
  • Third-placed Watr provides a simple and cost effective way for businesses to monitor water quality, using a simple device that feeds data to an app. Originally conceived for fish farms, founders are finding customers in corporations, charities and even consumers.
  • Runner-up Jauntin’ is disrupting the insurance category, kicking off with travel. The app offers one-time registration and details are stored for future use, dispensing with lengthy applications. Users pay only for the insurance they use and are even reminded to switch cover on and off when they pass through airports.
  • This year’s winner, Lifeina, has created the world’s smallest fridge to safely store medication. Why? Because 5% of the worldwide population uses medication that has to be stored in the fridge at all times. Effectively this either imprisons people in their homes or creates problems of non-adherence. The device comes with an app which monitors the temperature, battery life and sends notifications when medication is due.

Visit the Web Summit website to find out more.

Guest Author

Marie Stafford

European Director, The Innovation Group J. Walter Thompson


Marie joined J. Walter Thompson in 2004 and leads the European division of the Innovation Group, delivering trends, insights and thought leadership to the agency's clients.