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AI, policy challenges and a ferry service: The Next Web 2023

Photo: Martijn Vrijken

It’s a simple, old-fashioned innovation in a city built on water, but this year’s visitors to The Next Web conference in June will be able to reach the venue via a dedicated ferry service from Amsterdam’s central station.

The new service, which can carry 1,000 people per hour, is one of a string of improvements the TNW team is introducing to help delegates get the most out of the two-day event on the Zaandam waterfront.

Last year’s event played out against the backdrop of the end of the coronavirus pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This year, says TNW chief executive Myrthe van der Erve the market has changed again. ‘We realise more than ever that the role that we play is key. The power of connections is what drives business and the success of the ecosystem.’

The Dutch tech sector has been very much in the news over the past few days, with the government’s announcement that it will continue to the TechLeap initiative for three more years, although funding is being almost halved and the focus tightened.

The government has also just cleared the way for the Nxtgen Hightech initiative to kick off. Nxtgen will have some €1 billion to invest up to 2030, including a €450 million grant from the economic affairs ministry’s growth fund. The focus on the project is on six key areas, including robotics, healthcare technology, lasers and super-fast chips.

“There are a lot of changes that are happening at a policy level around start-ups in the Netherlands, and that shows even more strongly the need for a mutual, independent platform, for the good of the ecosystem,” says TNW events director Zach Butler.

This year’s conference includes new themes, expanded meeting areas and a 20% increase in exhibitors. In total, some 10,000 people from across the world of tech are set to attend the event, from executives at international companies to policymakers, startup pioneers and those with an interest in technology in general.

Artificial intelligence

The increasing use of AI and the bad guy role that some people are ascribing to technology will be very much a part of the conference as well.

“We’ve always been such enthusiastic supporters of tech,” says Van der Erve. “Yes, now there is some negativity around it, but we still believe in tech and that tech can overcome the world’s biggest problems, whether that is to do the climate, efficiency, or progress in general.”

In fact, the TNW team were advised to make generative AI a key part of their  campaign for the 2023 event.

“But one of the things that make TNW stand out is our human approach to technology and the heart we put into what we say and do,” says Butler. “So we ended up deciding that we did not want AI powering our messaging. We are using generative AI for some of our branding and visuals but not for our content and editorial.”

This year, TNW is bringing back its Assembly sessions, a closed door, invite-only gathering for policy makers, government officials and startups to exchange views away from the rest of the conference.

There are some really big policy challenges that startups both benefit from and suffer from, Butler says. “There is a real need for these kind of meetings on the policy side. It does not happen enough. So we are providing the space for that.”

“TNW is not only a tech festival,” says Van der Erve. “We have to make sure that tech is not only within that small, inner circle of Amsterdam and the south, but also in the outskirts. How can we involve that bigger group of people that represent Amsterdam and expose them to and involve them in tech? That is also part of our role.”

The Next Web conference takes place on June 15 and 16 in Zandaam. Buy your tickets here, with a 20% discount for Dutch News readers

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