Web Summit faces crucial week in attempt to move on from Paddy Cosgrave’s exit

New chief Katherine Maher says event returning to connecting investors, founders, companies and entrepreneurs

This week’s four-day Web Summit in Lisbon was the first without former chief executive and co-founder Paddy Cosgrave opening the event.

Instead, it was new chief executive Katherine Maher, formerly of Wikipedia, who delivered the opening address of the 2023 event, alongside luminaries of the political scene, Lisbon’s mayor Carlos Moedas and Portugal’s economy minister Antonio Costa Silva.

The message was clear: the Web Summit is under new management, and it is getting back to what it does best, what the company refers to as its core mission — connecting investors, founders, companies and entrepreneurs.

The only way to tackle the lingering elephant in the room though was head-on. In her first appearance on the main stage as chief executive, Ms Maher made it clear where she stands. Web Summit was about facilitating the difficult discussions, not being the subject of them. Everyone, everywhere, has the right to express their views on what is happening in the world, she said. This was greeted by a round of applause.


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There was an upbeat tone to the event. There was audience participation as people were encouraged to stand up and introduce themselves to three people around them; Ms Maher got involved with the crowd. All the right notes were being hit — apart from referring to the former chief executive on one occasion as “Cosgrove” not Cosgrave.

Although Mr Cosgrave has departed the running of the company, he remains a majority shareholder, and his shadow looms large over the Lisbon conference. Everyone is watching. If Web Summit is to persuade people who have withdrawn from this year’s conference that things have changed, then the next few days will be crucial.

But Ms Maher has a real challenge ahead of her. Feelings are still running high about the social media posts made by Mr Cosgrave around the Israel-Hamas conflict, and persuading Israeli-linked companies and investors who have boycotted the event to return will not be easy. Neither will it be a simple task to get the multinational partners back on board.