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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 December 2007, 10:03 GMT
Europe can 'lead web technology'
By Ewan Spence, in Paris

Dopplr is a British web firm which has just opened to the public
Europe remains a vibrant centre for web technology development, a conference in Paris is hearing.

More than 2,000 web developers have gathered for the LeWeb conference, organised by blogger and businessman Loic LeMeur.

LeWeb is "about making Paris and Europe the centre of the web world for two days," said Mr LeMeur.

However, start-up firms on the continent lack the access to investment enjoyed by counterparts in the US.

The west coast of America is regarded as the place to be for entrepreneurs and technologists to create the websites and innovation that drive today's web.

Making connections

The LeWeb conference has brought together the digital population of entrepreneurs, managers and investors from around Europe to collaborate on new projects, present success stories and discuss the impact Europe has on the Internet.

Now in its fourth year, LeWeb has become a fixture on the technology conference calendar.

Mr Le Meur said: "It's about the people here, making connections, taking their ideas and turning them into reality."

With so many of the new ideas on the internet based in the United States and California's Silicon Valley, LeWeb provides a strong annual reminder that Europe is just as heavily involved.

Not everyone at LeWeb is from Europe, but this illustrates the "communities without borders" that have grown up around internet companies.

"I like the companies I invest in to be close by so I can drive to them and be a hands-on advisor," said Jeff Clavier, who runs investment fund firm Soft Tech, in San Francisco.

The firm helps fledgling companies get started by not only providing seed funding, but also practical advice from his experience and network of contacts.

Success stories

Ebay headquarters, San Jose
Some of the net's biggest brands are based in Silicon Valley

In the web space, location can be just as important a feature as the staff of a company or the core idea itself. Taking in money from investment funds also means taking on the investor into the team. Mr Clavier himself has invested in 32 companies, the majority of them based around San Francisco.

Europe has its success stories as well as the Valley. Last.FM was sold to US media company CBS Corp. for $250m this year and many think Dopplr, a social network for business travellers, will be the next big company from the continent.

Dopplr announced at LeWeb that it will let anyone who wants to use their service to register for free, shifting from an invitation only basis.

By telling Dopplr who your friends are, and where you are travelling, it will tell you when you and your friends are in the same city.

To globetrotters who attend conferences such as LeWeb, the service has proved popular, and by opening it up to allow anyone to register, Dopplr is entering its heavy growth phase.

With investors from Japan, America, Spain and the UK, and an operational base in Finland, chief technology officer Matt Biddulph said Europe was the only location where Dopplr as a community could survive.

"There are too many distractions in Silicon Valley, and with a relatively small pool of developer talent, ideas and thinking is starting to become homogenous," he said.

Economic crash

An EasyJet plane
Cheap flights mean more business can be done

Europe is not only full of fresh thinkers, but the volume of short haul flights that are undertaken by business travellers fits with the goals of Dopplr, he said.

"Easyjet and Eurostar are helping people do more business and spend more time together, and Dopplr makes useful meetings and networking more likely to happen," he added.

Conor O'Neil, chief executive of Irish-based Louder Voice, which takes reviews written on personal websites and indexes them in a central place, said that when looking for investment from US funds he was advised to look closer to home.

While there are many entrepreneurs in Ireland ready to start new projects a government start-up scheme matching 50% of investment funds raised has helped innovators get started.

But major finance in Ireland is much thinner on the ground. The investment market is not yet taking the sort of risks that are seen in Silicon Valley, where a high number of ambitious start-ups do fail.

The investors are still worried about an economic crash in the technology markets.

Think big

"They perceive anything dot com as being very risky," said Mr O'Neill, "but that attitude is changing."

The feeling at LeWeb is that Europe has just as many good ideas as the US, but the investment side of the equation is still a few years behind America.

European funds are currently looking for companies that have proven business models, which are already raising revenue, while US funds are more confident to take on risky ideas to see what can grow.

That view of pragmatic venture capitalists is shared by Jason Calacanis, the man behind human-powered search engine Mahalo.

"Most Europeans, both the entrepreneur and the investors, don't think big," he argues.

Calacanis said this view of the world was stopping Europeans taking risks and leaving Silicon Valley's "go big or go home" style of company to take the lion's share of the press.

"But ultimately," he said, "I don't subscribe to the idea that where the venture capital money is will be where the ideas succeed.

"The best team - with the best idea - in the right location for that idea will win through."

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