ICT Spring Europe: Industry Expo or Startup Conference?

Jun 24, 2013
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Luxembourg bridge

Last week I spent two days in Luxembourg attending the ICT Spring Europe event. The event featured talks from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, EA and Digital Chocolate founder Trip Hawkins, as well as at least 30-50 startups pitching and exhibiting in the giant LuxExpo exhibition hall. Speakers, exhibitors, and other distinguished guests were invited to a private (700 people) dinner, a keynote of which was given by the Mayor of Luxembourg, among others. Mangrove Capital’s resident Luxembourgian Michael Jackson was at the event, alongside at least 15 other VCs from T-Ventures, Earlybird, and other notable funds.

Having never attended the event before, I had the enjoyable experience of discovering its past, present, and future while participating in the event. Walking into LuxExpo, a giant basketball stadium-sized showcasing hall located in Luxembourg’s corporate park, I distinctly got the feeling that I was walking into an IT Industry event – this is ICT Spring’s past, which it has not managed to shake off in one go. Old-fashioned grid-style stands, a large dining area meant for networking, and giant overhead signs pointing to bathrooms and stages – and yet, something was off. Where I would’ve expected KPMG, there was Flashiz. Where I expected PwC, there was …. well, PwC Accelerator, but still, that’s a step in the right direction.

The conference itself attracted many great startups from Europe and Asia (notably, Japan). The network and reputation that ICT Spring has built up as an industry event meant that anyone looking for investment or corporate partners was curious to attend the event startup competition. The real question is: Where is this event going?

ICT Spring taught me quite a bit about Luxembourg, mostly through talking with Luxembourg-based businessmen like Mangrove Capital’s Michael Jackson. I learned about how Luxembourg has worked to complement its financial and legal reputation as a tax haven for European companies with an equally powerful technological advantage. The country, home to only 550,000 Luxembourgians, has invested heavily in what is now Europe’s fastest, most secure data center. Through this, Luxembourg now includes companies like Apple and Skype who call Luxembourg home in Europe, and hopes to attract further talent with its legal and financial prowess, complemented by its IT infrastructure.

Still, while Luxembourg is squarely positioned in the middle of Europe’s Tech ecosystem (literally, not so much figuratively), it’s hard to imagine legal & financial woes being so high a priority on startups’ list of things to worry about that they would actively invest in understanding more about Luxembourg’s advantages. Nonetheless, ICT Spring intrigued me enough insofar as it was different from any other startup conference I attended, and so I’m sure I’ll be going back next year, if offered the opportunity.