The Pandemic Accelerated the Dependence on Digital Technologies, Highlighted the Life-Saving Benefits of Connectivity

Web Summit Day Three: "Internet access and digital advances have kept people connected and societies running," said UN Secretary General.
Susan Fourtané
Web Summit, Lisbon, Portugal Stephen McCarthy/Web Summit

Web Summit 2020 has been a marvelous three-day virtual event packed with enough startup content to keep us busy until the end of the year. Since the weather has been miserable, the comfort of a home office was the perfect setting. Working from home and remote work were topics which startup founders widely discussed during the conference. 

Basecamp's founder Jason Fried noted how productive people become working from home. Talking about the changes at Basecamp, he said that "if now there is a need for a meeting, we do them in small, two or three people, small groups, and small teams because it's more effective. Managers need to give people space and trust," he said. 

Without any rush to walk lengthy distances from stage to stage, and with everything at the click of a button, the Web Summit's proprietary conference platform offered an extraordinary attendee experience. 

Here below, you can find a summary of highlights from Web Summit Day Three. If you missed the previous ones, you can find them here: Web Summit Day One and Web Summit Day Two

In a message to the Web Summit, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the pandemic has exacerbated the digital divide. “The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated our dependence on digital technologies and highlighted the life-saving benefits of connectivity. As societies have locked down and sent people into isolation, Internet access and digital advances have kept people connected and societies running.” 

However, Guterres also noted that the pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated inequalities of all kinds, including the digital divide. “Those without access to digital technology —almost half of the world— are denied opportunities to study, communicate, trade, work, and participate in much of what is now normal life for the richer half of the world,” he said.

“Disinformation, the proliferation of online hate speech, and the withdrawal into social echo chambers will continue to undermine social cohesion and reduce trust in science, in institutions, and in each other,” he said.

FedEx President and COO, Raj Subramaniam, talked about how the company is working with major pharmaceutical companies and the United States' Operation Warp Speed to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine. He discussed the logistical revolution the company has created and how they are investing in the future of healthcare delivery.

Subramaniam announced SenseAware ID, which is “specifically targeted for healthcare shipments and perfect for the vaccine. Why is that important? Because it tracks multiple parameters, it gives you not 20 [or] 30 times a day of scanning, but hundreds of times a day,” he said.

European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager talked about how Europe's failure to build a single market has become one of the reasons that the United States and China dominate the global tech industry. Vestager said that Europe needs to improve its own market rather than try to rein in U.S. and Chinese companies.

The winner of Web Summit's PITCH competition was announced on Friday. The winner was Lalibela Global-Networks, an Ethiopian medtech startup. 

Lalibela Global-Networks has developed a product which digitizes hospital management processes in order to help save African hospitals hundreds of thousands of dollars in paper supply per year, alleviate process friction, and enable efficient care for patients in Africa. In Ethiopia, the startup has already digitized 1.2 million patient records.

In a very emotive short speech, Dr. Wuleta Lemma, co-founder and CEO of Lalibela Global-Networks, said: “We are honored to win PITCH. I have worked to change the African healthcare system for the last 28 years. I am determined to make sure that even the poor in Africa can get the services that most of us can get in western and eastern countries.”

Lalibela Global-Networks won against Rheaply, from the U.S., and the U.K. based swIDch.

Revolut founder and CEO Nikolay Storonsky spoke at Web Summit about regulation and competition from the east, and from the western banks.

Founder and CEO of Impossible Foods, Pat Brown, talked about the future of the meat industry, and how he believes that they can replace the use of animals as a food technology by 2035. “It’s not enough for us to be just as good [as meat]; we have to be more delicious, more nutritious, and more affordable to guarantee our success, and we will,” he said.

Interviewed by Laura Reilly, a business of food reporter at the Washington Post, Pat Brown said that “it’s game over for the incumbent industry—they just don’t realize it yet.” Impossible Foods is a company that makes delicious, nutritious ‘meat from plants’ to satisfy meat lovers, with a goal of transforming the global food system away from the negative impact of animal-based agriculture.

“The whole reason we took the approach we did is that we’re depending on making a product that consumers who don’t care about climate change will choose —because it’s delicious, and for its nutritional value, affordability, convenience. And sustainability is just a bonus. Our mission is to completely replace the use of animals as a food technology by 2035,” he said.

Announcements from partners and speakers on Web Summit Day Three included:

  • PitchBook and Web Summit partnered on their third venture investor survey to examine investment activity as the coronavirus pandemic persists. Here are the findings.

  • Cementing, Europe’s leading influencer marketing platform, announced first-to-market developments to its technology that will ensure the highest quality content for its advertiser partners.

  • Bain & Company announced the opening of a Milan Digital Innovation Hub –-a space dedicated to exploring disruption and helping clients build new products and experiences that will accelerate their digital ambitions.

  • Project SMART wins the first edition of the AI Moonshot Challenge.

Startups making announcements on Web Summit Day Three included:

  • Singular Places launched an equal-opportunity and value-driven sustainable booking platform championing female entrepreneurs and imperfect positive progress.

  • Databank launched the world’s first deep-learning based autograder.

  • Aikido Finance announced the launch of its high-performance investing strategies.

Web Summit announced the return to an in-person conference in November 2021 in Lisbon, Portugal. In 2022, the company will host a brand new event: Web Summit Tokyo. 

Web Summit Tokyo will take place in September, followed by Web Summit Lisbon in November. Web Summit will also come to Brazil in 2022. The cities pitching to become host are Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre. 

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