“We did it…again”, IESE MBAs at Web Summit 2020

2020 has seemed like the year where everything has gone wrong. As MBAs looking for both learning and networking opportunities, we were looking for a bit of solace. And what better way to turn our year around than with one of the largest tech conferences on the planet?

In 2019, IESE students organized the first ever career & networking ‘trek’ to Lisbon to attend Web Summit and visit some local companies. We wanted to take advantage of this amazing event again.

However, in 2020 we had to face some exceptional challenges, the most glaring one was of course Covid-19. For a conference as large as Web Summit, we knew that attending in person would be impossible. In 2019, IESE was a sponsor of the conference and this relationship gave us access to a small number of free tickets. Conferences of this magnitude can hold a pretty hefty price tag, and would have been a significant hurdle for graduate students with no steady income. On top of everything, the dates of the conference changed from November to December. Normally Web Summit occurs during IESE’s annual treks when students do not have classes, but with this date change, students would have to juggle their normal class schedule with attending the conference.

As IESE students always do, we saw these challenges and decided to overcome them. We knew how awesome Web Summit was last year, and we wanted to not only match, but improve IESE’s presence at such an influential event.

We did it…again

We are very excited and proud to say that in total we recruited a group of 28 IESE students that attended the Web Summit! We had immense support from the Women in Business and Tech Clubs as well as the Career Development Center. The Clubs fully sponsored 10 tickets for women interested in tech and the CDC partially subsidized the ticket fees for another 15 tickets. Between that and our shameless promotions, we convinced 3 more people to attend totaling 28! With 10 students attending in 2019, this is a 180% increase in attendance!

The event was impressive

104,000+ attendees from 160+ countries, 1,100+ speakers per day, 2,000+ startups, and 1,000+ investors. These numbers alone explain how massive this event is. The speakers ranged from Deepak Chopra, to Ursula von der Leyen (President of European Commission), to Gwyneth Paltrow (Goop), Ryan Gellert (CEO Patagonia), Malala Yousafzai, Jane Goodall, and countless more. Web Summit is the place where you can see Samsung’s Chief of Strategy interviewing the CEO of Mobileye, bringing the talk to another level!

“I did not expect this many speakers and this many talks – I could not even pick which one I wanted most because of all the choices given to us.” – Marga Salazar (IESE 2022)

What was even more impressive was how successful Web Summit was with its virtual setting. There were 5 ‘stages’ that were constantly streaming expert level talks and panels, as well as additional interactive roundtable discussions and Q&A sessions. Of course, it is not the same as seeing speakers in person, but for a conference that was entirely online, we think the Web Summit team should be proud of their accomplishment.

Left: At home set up to attend Web Summit – Ale Scherk IESE 2022, Right: Nicole Quinn and Gwenyth Paltrow speaking about the business challenges within Goop

The conference is an important complement to our IESE learning experience. Not only do we have the opportunity to listen and connect to amazing speakers from all over the world, but they also bring an X factor. An example of this was the guided meditation by an artificial intelligence version of Deepak Chopra and later a panel called “Unlocking human potential with AI.” In this panel, Deepak Chopra, and Lars Buttler (Co-founder and CEO at AI Foundation) highlighted that “everyone will be able to have their own AI person very soon” talking on a time horizon of less than a decade – No one said the future will not be strange!

Left: Artificial Intelligence presentation by Microsoft, Right: Digital Deepak Chopra leading meditation

On the panel “Launching your own AI Program with Microsoft’s Azure”, Chris Coraggio (IESE 2021) said “It was very practical, explaining how to even think about using AI in a business (…) plus it included some interesting use-cases”.

“It opened my eyes to new technologies, I realized that even though we are going through difficult times there are tons of opportunities coming up to solve humanity’s challenging problems” – Tanya de Andres (IESE 2021)

Web Summit also gives us the opportunity to connect with companies that would not normally come to IESE’s campus (Huawei, TikTok, HubSpot, Spotify, Zipline, Impossible Foods, Frog Design, Paypal, Waze, among others), as well as gain more knowledge about companies that we are more familiar with (Samsung, Google, Amazon, LinkedIn, and Microsoft).

Overall, the conference gives a supercharge to the already robust IESE network and makes us more aware of the different technologies around us and how we can use them for a better good.

Web Summit “gave me insight into how to combine sustainability and technology. I had never thought of it this way before, and it is extremely relevant to what I want to do, which is contribute towards building a sustainable future where technology is used for people, and not at the expense of people” – Patricia Royo (IESE 2022)

We had fun, too.

Web Summit isn’t only about listening to experts speak – it’s also about connecting with other people.

One of the highlights of the online conference was “Mingle”. This is a feature that  uses an algorithm to match you with a conference attendee for a one-on-one networking session. Each session was limited to 3 minutes, and then you would be automatically matched with another attendee. It was a very exciting feature that led to some very interesting conversations. One of the students, Michael Gross, got matched with the CEO of Web Summit, Paddy Cosgrave, and had a lovely conversation that ended with Michael trying to offer Paddy a job. Technically, he hasn’t declined the offer yet 🙂

“Mingle as a feature was incredible. I got the opportunity to make some great connections with people from all over the world.” – Mitali Gadekar (IESE 2022)

Recreating our own version of “Night Summit”
From left to right: Scott Kemp, Lucas Barreto, Sonia Vaz, James Sainty, Evandro Casto, Michael Gross

When the conference was in person, there would be a nightly gathering for drinks and general networking. Obviously, this year was different, so we thought it would be fun to make a Barcelona version of the ‘Night Summit.’ A group of us got together at a local bar to have a couple of drinks and talk about what we thought of the conference. After a caña or two, the conversations turned away from the conference and towards hopes and dreams, which in true MBA fashion, allowed us to create deeper connections with each other.

Conclusion

We had high expectations for Web Summit but we were also uncertain how it would be delivered in an online format. Not only did we have an amazing time, but also almost everyone that attended this year said they would attend again, giving us the reassurance that we should repeat it this next year.

In 2019, “it was always impossible until it was done” and this time “we did it again”. Moving forward, we can only hope that things will get better, that no matter what, Web Summit will continue to be a cornerstone for IESE MBA students looking for a career in tech.

IESE Students joining up to share stories and energy on the different days of the conference. It would not be an event in 2020 without a Zoom photo shoot!

Written by Sónia Vaz, President Tech Club & Michael Gross, VP Conference Tech Club (IESE 2021)

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Camille Chow View more

Associate Director, Admissions (MBA '16)
https://www.linkedin.com/in/camille-chow/

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