“This is the very first time in my life that I am on the same stage as Wladimir Klitschko, Eric Catona and Ronaldinho. It is a privilege, but it could also be a risk.”
With light and pondering words, Michel Barnier, European Union’s Chief Negotiator for the United Kingdom exiting the European Union, opened his speech at the Web Summit on Tuesday (5), highlighting that to share the spotlight at the annual technology conference held in Lisbon with an Ukrainian boxer, a former French football player, and a former Brazilian football player, was anything but ordinary.
The unconventional nature of the attendees was not out of the ordinary, though. Now close to its 10th anniversary, the event which brings together Fortune 500 companies, ground-breaking start-ups and world-class speakers to Portugal, has been far from conventional since its first edition, held in Ireland in 2010, totaling a modest audience of only 400 people.
A decade later and the conference has grown from strength to strength.
This week the Web Summit welcomed over 70,000 attendees and 1,200 speakers, including top executives from companies such as Facebook, Uber, Shell, Fuji, Microsoft, Burger King, Volvo, BBC, Procter & Gamble, Google, Nokia, Philipps, Amazon. Not to mention, a representative from the American White House also attended.
This is the fourth year in which the event has been hosted in Portugal after leaving Ireland and, since then, the growth of the technology sector, coupled with the strength of start-ups, has led several European cities to show interest in hosting the event, including Valencia, which reportedly bid approximately € 170 million, in 2018, to become the event’s host for a decade. However, after negotiations with the Portuguese government, which pledged an annual budget of 11 million Euros to expand the arena hosting the event and the number of participants, the Web Summit has ended up staying in Lisbon.
Despite sporadic presentations that can sound more political than technological – such as Barnier’s one – the event firmly focused on what the future holds for companies and users, with brands such as Samsung considering how innovation will be part of our homes in 2025, Uber talking about its road ahead, BBC and Reuters TV debating if is there is a future for TV, and Amazon mapping the evolution from keyword searches to Artificial intelligence-enabled conversations.
New technology as a current topic also gave Facebook a chance to plug its virtual currency, Calibra; the audience, though, didn’t seem too keen to mix finance with social media in times of scandals involving social networks’ leaks and unauthorized sales of user data.
So, when it came to social media, activists and ‘The Vampire Diaries’ actor Ian Somerhalder, fared much better when talking about influence, building an online community and using social platforms such as Instagram and Facebook to engage followers with projects that can change the world.
Besides talks featuring world leaders, the WebSummit also hosted hundreds of start-ups from around the world exhibiting over five connected pavilions.
One of these companies was Piipee, which sells a biodegradable solution to replace the water which is used to flush after, you guessed it: peeing.
“It is an environmentally friendly option that works on the physical and chemical characteristics of urine, removing its odor, changing its color, odorizing and sanitizing the bathroom, all without using water. The idea came by chance in 2010 and, when I started to study the feasibility of this, I found studies showing that 80% of the water consumption of a toilet is only to eliminate urine. In São Paulo, for example, in Serra da Cantareira, one of the largest water treatment systems in Latin America, approximately 40% of this water is used for flushing toilets. These numbers caught my eye and I began to wonder if it really makes sense to treat water and then use it to flush toilets? – asks Ezequiel Vedana, the 31 years old Brazilian inventor of the eco-solution.
“It took five years before I could get the project off the ground because I don’t have a background in biochemistry; But I developed the idea, nevertheless. Being at the WebSummit is an opportunity to showcase ‘Piipee’ and to see what is new within the sustainable area across Europe and around the world. ”- celebrated Ezequiel
Although the product is still only available for sale through its own website, with the smallest spray bottle costing around $7 and lasting approximately 400 toilet flushes, Vedana is adamant that paying for a chemical additive, rather than simply flushing, is cheaper than the cost of water.
“Today our focus is on serving large companies, as it will take time for mass communities around the world to be fully aware of how important it is to save water. It takes a real change in culture and that change takes time because, for those who have access to it, water is relatively cheap. The product already makes sense in areas where there is a water shortage, as flushing a toilet consumes about 10 litres. However, even if it takes a few more years for people to use water wisely, the change has already started.”