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Geneva tech conference gives start-ups a lift

The Lift conference in Geneva swissinfo.ch

Cyberpunks, bloggers, internet start-up entrepreneurs and anthropologists have been rubbing shoulders in Geneva this week for the third edition of Lift 08.

This content was published on February 8, 2008 - 21:56

Some 650 people from forty countries attended the annual event that explores "the social impact of new technologies" and aims to give budding entrepreneurs a helping hand. That was twice as many as attended the first edition in 2006.

Over three days, visitors took part in a series of workshops, lectures, discussions, art events and a 'Venture Night' for start-ups.

"Lift's aim is to inspire and connect people. We want to show important ideas that are changing society right now and meet the people behind them," Lift's founder and director, Laurent Haug, told swissinfo. "We want people to leave Lift with new ideas and contacts."

The event has evolved considerably since its humble beginnings in 2006, growing in size, focus and status in the European tech community. The initial SFr60,000 ($47,000) budget has risen to SFr400,000 for the 2008 edition, thanks to support from partners – the private sector, academics and the federal and cantonal authorities – and Haug is now backed by a professional team of 25.

"It's very eclectic and very unlike most other tech conferences. I particularly like the social and cultural aspects," said British entrepreneur Matt O'Neill from Cordovan Digital.

Meeting people involved in social media at the 2006 event, "absolutely changed the shape of our business" from an e-training, e-learning business to one dealing with event blogs, social networks and online communities, he said.

"It's booming. They're going to have serious scaling problems," said opening keynote speaker and technology guru Bruce Sterling. "It's a classic toxic success story."

"The conference has grown in stature and is seen as important on the European scene," agreed British cyborg Kevin Warwick, famous for implanting a microchip into his left arm to link his nervous system to a computer and the internet.

Warwick, a researcher at Reading University who is working on an intelligent brain stimulator to help people with disabilities such as Parkinson's disease, gave a speech outlining his experiences exploring the boundaries between man and machine.

Other presentations covered a wide range of current trends including online environments, new media and social software, technologies in Asia, user experiences, gaming, entrepreneur success stories and failures, and activist blogging in the Balkans.

But Sterling, one of the founders of the cyberpunk movement, was less impressed with this year's line-up.

"I come here to do trend-spotting, but it's not a particularly good year. It's becoming more of a seasoned community. The first Lift was about tech-bloggers getting together. It usually takes about seven years to play out – people accumulate out of nowhere, find central interests, get backing and professionalise," he said.

Start me up!

On Wednesday evening eight young tech start-ups - five Swiss and three foreign – selected from 50 candidates by a panel of experts including Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble, won the opportunity to present their fledgling projects to the general public.

'Venture Night' was co-sponsored by the ICT Cluster, a network belonging to Geneva's Office for the Promotion of Industry and Technology, to "put promising ventures in the spotlight". The winners' products and services ranged from online file-sharing to reducing the costs of real-time video game production.

For Didier Mesnier of the ICT Cluster, Geneva, the fact that Swiss companies did so well and three of the finalists were from the Lake Geneva region underlined the extremely dynamic Swiss business environment, especially in western regions.

"There are academic centres such as the EPFL and EPFZ [the federal institutes of technology in Lausanne and Zurich] which are very dynamic in the research and development of expertise and the creation of spin-offs. The region also invests sizeable resources in supporting and accompanying companies in their strategic development," he explained.

swissinfo, Simon Bradley in Geneva

In brief

Lift is an international conference that explores the challenges and opportunities of technology in society.

The third edition, Lift08, takes place in Geneva from February 6-8, 2008. The event has grown from 350 participants in 2006 to 650 in 2008. Entry costs SFr850.

Lift comprises mostly entrepreneurs, investors, media professionals, designers, international workers from non-governmental organisations and the United Nations system and researchers, with around 60 per cent coming from abroad.

This year's keynote speakers include: science-fiction author Bruce Sterling, cyborg Kevin Warwick, "Blue Brain" project leader Henri Markram, Google's Kevin Marks, Nokia's head of design strategy Francesco Cara, Skyrock's CEO Pierre Bellanger and Nespresso co-inventor Eric Favre.

The event also includes workshops, open talks, artistic projects, a Venture Night for young start-ups and special session "Watt Watt" on technology, energy and sustainability.

Later this year Lift will expand into Asia with an event in South Korea from September 4-5.

Similar tech conferences include Web 3 held in Paris and Web 2.0 Berlin.

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Venture Night five Swiss winning companies

Cocomment

Holistis

Mixin

Pixelux Entertainment S.A.

Wuala

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