Dubai-based ride-hailing firm Careem, which in March was acquired by Uber as part of a $3.1 billion deal, was initially ridiculed for trying to compete with its global rival but it has now “proved pretty much everybody wrong”, the CEO of the world’s fastest growing technology conference told Arabian Business.
Paddy Cosgrave, the CEO of Web Summit, currently runs Lisbon’s Web Summit, Hong Kong’s Rise and Toronto’s Collision, with the three tech-focused events attracting more than 110,000 delegates annually.
Web Summit was founded in 2009 and Cosgrave said Careem was among one of the first Middle Eastern start-ups to exhibit at the event.
Uber’s decision to buy Careem in March was rubberstamped by United Arab Emirates authorities last week.
The largest technology transaction to ever take place in the Middle East, Cosgrave said the firm is a prime example of why the region should be put under the spotlight of international investors and venture capitalists more often as when Careem originally arrived on the scene many were sceptical it would survive competing with such a large global rival.
“When this little car-sharing app called Careem showed up, everybody thought the idea they were going to take on the might of someone like Uber was ridiculous. That they could compete with these global firms that already had such a head start just seemed ludicrous, but it turned out they proved pretty much everybody wrong,” he said.
"They built a great company in the Middle East and exited to Uber for a pretty stupendous amount of money, proving it’s very, very possible to build incredible companies out of the Middle East. People are doing it and many of them are coming to Web Summit, and to Collision, and to Rise. So, I think the region is thriving.”
Cosgrave also announced that his company is in talks with the UAE government over plans to bring a global tech and innovation gathering to the country by 2022.
“The Middle East is massively in our future,” he said. “Already at Web Summit, we have massive participation from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but also from Oman and Saudi Arabia, and the number of start-ups participating from the region has been growing year-on-year.”
An estimated 70,000 participants from more than 170 countries are expected to attend the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal in November.
While admitting there is “no shortage of events in the Middle East,” Cosgrave believes his firm can bring something new and help boost the region’s standing on the global tech field.
“I don’t want to build something regional for the Middle East. I want to build a global event in the Middle East. That’s a great opportunity for countries in the region, in that they don’t have far to travel to showcase all of the good going on there.”
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