Event Innovators 2014: Paddy Cosgrave

The C.E.O. of the Summit, Europe's largest technology conference, is expanding his unique networking events to the United States.

By Mitra Sorrells June 17, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT

Paddy Cosgrave, C.E.O., The Summit

Photo: Conor McCabe Photography

He’s already made a name for himself in Europe as the man behind the continent’s largest technology conference, and now Paddy Cosgrave is expanding his efforts in the United States. Cosgrave is the person behind the Summit, a conference in Dublin that began in 2010. He also created F.ounders, an intimate, invitation-only event described by Bloomberg as “Davos for geeks;” Pub Summit, a series of one-night events spanning 50 countries in five continents; and Collision, his first United States-based tech conference, which took place in Las Vegas in mid-May. Unifying all these events is the goal of creating meaningful networking opportunities among attendees, which run the gamut from start-up entrepreneurs and investors to executives from Twitter and Facebook.

The idea for the first Summit (originally dubbed the Web Summit) developed after Cosgrave’s sister suggested bringing Internet pros to Trinity College, the entrepreneur’s alma mater. The debut attracted 400 people; the event has grown exponentially with the 2013 iteration attracting more than 10,000 attendees and 250 speakers, including Bono and Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX. In addition to two days of presentations and meetings, Cosgrave added two concurrent programs to last year’s event: Night Summit, a celebration of Irish music and arts in venues around Dublin, and Food Summit, a showcase of Irish cuisine. He’s lined up 500 speakers for the event this November and is expecting more than 20,000 attendees.

Part of the growth has been spurred by the awareness the one-night Pub Summit events drive; the summits began in a Dublin pub in 2012 and now take place in 100 cities around the globe. Organizers invite a small and diverse group of people from the tech community and then those individuals are asked to bring three of their friends or colleagues. At the opposite end of Cosgrave’s event portfolio is Founders, with an invitation-only list of 150 successful tech start-up founders and a handful of venture capitalists. The program focuses on conversations, networking, and unique experiences: last year’s event included dinner at Dublin’s historic Christ Church Cathedral. For his latest venture, Cosgrave worked with Zappos C.E.O. Tony Hsieh to coordinate Collision, a two-day conference in Las Vegas with more than 1,000 attendees; exhibits from companies such as Google and Dropbox; a start-up competition; and speakers such as professional skater Tony Hawk and WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg.

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