Highlights from Day 3 of Web Summit 2023

matthew's avatar
A person stands on stage, pictured from the waist up. They are smiling. They're wearing a headset mic, gesturing with both hands, and holding a presentation clicker in their right hand. The Web Summit logo is visible in several places behind them. This is Centre Stage at Web Summit.

AI saving the planet, psychedelics saving our health, and conspiracy theories destroying society. All this and more from the final day of Web Summit 2023.

That’s a wrap on this year’s Web Summit! It was a record-smashing three days in Lisbon, with 70,236 attendees excited to discover the future.

And, while a massive 2,608 startups exhibited, there could only be one winner of PITCH. Congratulations to São Paulo-based Inspira and its co-founder, Henrique Ferreira.

With plenty of action on a busy Day 3, here are some of our highlights.

Will the machines save the planet?

Melanie Nakagawa, Microsoft’s chief sustainability officer, offered a vision of the near future in which AI could help us to solve the climate crisis. One might reasonably ask how, given that the computational power required for expanded AI is already putting extreme pressure on emission-producing electrical grids.

Melanie was the first to acknowledge that this is a problem, stating that “next-gen AI comes with increased resource demands, and carbon-free electricity and efficiency will meaningfully impact demands on those emissions”.

But, according to Melanie, “AI has the power to unlock enormous possibilities in sustainability”. The chief sustainability officer outlined several recent examples seen at a demo in London in recent months, including AI-powered audio tech that can massively reduce municipal water loss and wastage, and an AI solution for reducing loss in power across electrical grids, meaning that more can be produced with less.

This is your brain on drugs

Psychedelics are having a massive moment in medicine. And, though there is remaining scepticism about its benefits, support for drug therapy is steadily increasing.

So says Ekaterina Malievskaia, co-founder of Compass Pathways, a biotech company focused on patient access to innovative technology in the mental health sector: “The perception of psychedelics has changed with the introduction of fMRIs and technology. We can actually see the neurophysiological processes and what happens in the brain, so it’s not some kind of ineffable voodoo experience.”

A person sitting in an armchair, speaking to an off-screen person to their left. The background is a large circle, and a large triangle.
Compass Pathways co-founder Ekaterina Malievskaia on HealthConf during Day 3 of Web Summit 2023 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, Portugal. Image: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Web Summit (CC BY 2.0)

But it’s not just taking these drugs that has improved the lives of patients – it’s the combination of drug consumption and talk therapy.

“Clinical trials with MDMA have shown that the MDMA does not have anywhere close to the same effect on PTSD when taken just as a pharmaceutical without the therapy,” said Sherry Rais, co-founder and CEO of Enthea, a healthcare company offering psychedelic therapies as workplace benefits.

“The therapy that happens after [drug ingestion] is pivotal to that healing and to cementing the learnings.

The results of these drug therapy sessions have been so overwhelmingly positive, in fact, that Enthea has “seen an 86 percent reduction in PTSD symptoms after a course of ketamine therapy,” according to Sherry.

QAnon: The other pandemic

Journalist and author James Ball shone a light on the darker recesses of the internet, with insights into the QAnon phenomenon. A decentralised system of conspiracy theories, many revolving around a messianic dedication to Donald Trump, Q constitutes a second pandemic, according to James.

A person sits in an armchair, speaking and clasping their hands together. The background is a large circle on a solid background.
The New European columnist and interviewer James Ball on Book Summit during Day 3 of Web Summit 2023 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, Portugal. Image: Lukas Schulze/Web Summit (CC BY 2.0)

While stating that QAnon is “stupid” and “really dumb”, James said that “no one should think that they’re too clever not to fall for a conspiracy theory … and QAnon trains you to radicalise yourself”.

The strength of it lies in the fact that it is leaderless, suffering from “tall poppy syndrome” in which any emergent leader or dominant figure is cut back down to size, while also being adaptable as “the conspiracy theory that ate all other conspiracy theories”.

It should not be underestimated as a fringe conspiracy theory, according to James, given that “it is very firmly embedded in the US Republican base”. Perhaps more notably, it has even now deeply infiltrated the echelons of the UK’s governing Conservative party.

“You’ll see even a relatively mainstream government say things that are quite adjacent to QAnon,” said James. “Doing a fairly shameless bit of flirting with conspiracy that makes no sense at all – and I don’t think works for them – are the Conservative party who are in government in the UK. At their annual party conference, they made a big thing of banning so-called ‘15-minute cities’ that would stop you leaving the area where you live. Which no one has proposed. And also, they are the government – they would be the sinister power behind it.”

According to James, QAnon isn’t going away anytime soon, and those who know nothing about the group may soon find out more than they would like.

Social media with a purpose

Toxicity and polarisation have been a feature of many social media platforms for years, even despite multiple exposés, scandals and promises of change. But a new startup aims to change the way we think about social media by building meaningful content from the ground up.

A person speaking and gesturing with their hands sits on the left, with another person sitting to the right. The Web Summit logo is visible in several places behind them.
From left, Whyzzer co-founder and CEO Benjamin Buthmann, and actor and Whyzzer investor Kelly Rutherford, on Centre Stage during Day 3 of Web Summit 2023 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, Portugal. Image: Tyler Miller/Web Summit (CC BY 2.0)

“As much as I love social media, I really felt something was missing: the nourishing aspect,” said Kelly Rutherford, actor and investor in social media startup Whyzzer (pronounced ‘wiser’). The company promotes education in its social media community of people keen to learn from and teach one another – but “not in a boring way” according to founder and CEO Benjamin Buthmann.

Both Kelly and Benjamin believe that Whyzzer can capture the new trend in social media: people’s boredom with the old division. “We’re over quick-fix content,” said Kelly, while Benjamin added that “the founders and companies that are growing have purposeful content. Not pure entertainment, but something with insight.”

No doubt everyone would benefit from a social media on which users learn to love something rather than hate something.

Inspira wins PITCH 2023

Inspira has been named winner of PITCH, seeing off more than 100 rival businesses to secure the Web Summit startup prize.

The final, held on Web Summit’s Centre Stage on Day 3 of the event, saw the Brazil-based legal software business crowned as the 2023 winner. Cognimate, a health startup from Cyprus, and Kinderpedia, a childcare solutions business from Romania, finished as runners-up.

Inspira aims to disrupt the legal market through the use of technology, democratising legal information to make it more accessible for everyone.

Coming all the way from São Paulo for the competition, Inspira co-founder Henrique Ferreira hailed the “spectacular event”, claiming the victory is enormous for his company plans.

Having attended Web Summit before as an attendee, Henrique returned this year as an ALPHA startup with his three co-founders. “It is beyond words,” said Henrique. “If you see people shouting and screaming, it’s my co-founders.”

“We’ve been seeing huge growth of the legal ecosystem in terms of investment,” said Henrique. “And, for us, just being here is a dream come true. Lisbon is important. If you think about the business side, it’s a way of entry to another market. If we expand, Lisbon is the shortest flight.”

Leaving the earth cleaner than you found it

The climate crisis is one of the most pressing issues we face. And, while advancing technologies are often detrimental to the environment, new tech might be the only way to clean our oceans and, in turn, save our dying planet.

“We need to invest in solutions that help us stop depleting the ocean’s resources. Every single technology that helps us catch [fewer oceanic creatures] will pollute less,” claimed Climate VC Stephan Morais.

Filmmaker Craig Leeson believes purifying the ocean is central to attacking environmental pollution and safeguarding our own health.

“We’re at the top of the food chain. So, ultimately, if we pollute the ocean, it’s not only affecting other species, but it’s affecting us. And we know that’s coming back to bite us in cancers, diabetes, hormone disruption and endocrine disruption problems,” Craig said.

Make sure not to miss out on Web Summit 2024. Pre-register for your ticket today.

Main image:Web Summit

Cut out images of four speakers (from left to right): Sheila North, former MKO Grand Chief of Bunibonibee Cree Nation, Ayọ Tometi, creative entrepreneur, tech advisor and co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Sage Lenier, founder and climate activist at Just & Sustainable Future, and Sara Sabry, founder, CEO and astronaut at Deep Space Initiative.

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2024

On International Women’s Day, Web Summit celebrates the remarkable achievements and invaluable contribut...

March 8
An image of a crumpled plastic water bottle against a solid background with a hexagonal shape placed directly behind the bottle.

Why recycling is not the answer to our plastic epidemic

Why is the fight against plastic pollution more urgent than ever...

January 22