From June 15 to 16, The Next Web (TNW) Conference took place in Amsterdam, attracting more than 10 000 people from across the globe and hosting panel discussions on anything ranging from the future of fintech to alternative funding options and, of course, AI.
While Luxembourg’s rainbow tram is a great example of public transport, nothing beats travelling to a tech conference by ferry with an open deck on a sunny day. Expecting long queues to receive my press badge, I was positively surprised when all I had to do was scan my QR code for my badge to be printed and off we were.
One of the first things I noticed upon entering the conference grounds was how user-friendly and fun the entire conference layout was. With maps everywhere, outdoor stages, a padel court, a 1:1 garden meeting area, ping pong tables, hammocks and an array of vegetarian food trucks, there was little left to be desired.
Opportunities and challenges for fintech
Since the Financial Times had acquired a majority stake in TNW in 2019, it only felt fitting to start the conference with one our their talks titled Europe’s fintech sector – surviving the impact of a global economic downturn.
While the outlook of the panel members verged from cynical to fanciful, one thing they all agreed on was that while money was getting increasingly harder to raise, “the promise of AI” could help many fintechs get through these turbulent times.
Interestingly, Mark Mullen, CEO of Atom Bank, suggested that many fintechs active in payments were increasingly turning into banks for financial reasons.
“There’s a reason so many fintechs are trying to get a banking license because they’re realising that to make real money, you have to lend money,” he said.
Although there’s something to be said about the value-added services of digital-first neobanks, the question of how they can differentiate themselves from traditional banks in the future remains to be seen.
Beyond VC funding
With interest rates at their highest since the 2008 financial crisis, many founders are looking at alternative financing options for their startups.
Paul Becker, co-founder and CEO of re:cap, pitched his platform which enables startups to trade recurring revenue streams for upfront capital but suggested that startups “don’t just go for one funding option, but take a combination of the ones that work best for you.”
Equity crowdfunding is also on the rise and was suggested as a viable funding round for startups which have a high public interest. However, as Tessa de Flines, founding partner at Mastes of Scale said: “If you do equity crowdfunding, don’t throw it [equity] away like candy, otherwise it will come and bite you later.”
Last but not least, founder and investor Erik Huberman warned against raising VC money under the wrong circumstances, saying: “There’s a high cost to raising money that people often forget. You should only raise money to grow faster, not to go to market in the first place.”
Net zero and AI
As many, including the Luxembourg government, have suggested before a digital and sustainable transformation are possible and in fact two sides of the same coin.
While most companies have already been looking at reducing their footprint through digitalisation, the challenge of net zero requires a different approach.
As Intel’s Chief Product Sustainability Officer, Jennifer Huffstetler said: “We have already reduced our emissions by 80% over the last decade but the last mile [of our emissions reductions journey] will require a lot of innovations and cross-industry collaborations.”
Raquel Espada, VP of Sustainability Strategy at Schneider Electric, suggests that AI will play a crucial role in achieving net zero. She said: “AI will be a great enabler in finding new ways to produce sustainable products and reduce our carbon emissions to net zero.”
Reflecting on the first day of TNW Conference on the return ferry, two things stood out to me. Firstly, although we’re living in turbulent and uncertain times, technology, and especially AI, might still yet provide some relief to our problems. Secondly, leaving a tech conference by ferry with a chilled glass of wine is the way to go.