Web Summit 2014 was attended by Peter Thiel, Bono and Eva Longoria - so why do celebrities invest in startups? - CNBC Comment

Will.i.am is just one of many celebrities to have turned their hands to startup investing
If you attended Europe’s largest tech conference, held in Ireland last week, you probably wouldn’t have known that the continent had just gone through one of its worst periods in financial history. Startups – big and small – headed to Dublin for Web Summit, in order to market their companies and find potential investors, many of whom flew over from Silicon Valley.
Several attendees told CNBC that this was one of the best times to be an entrepreneur, since the economic downturn provided a chance for smart individuals to come together and brainstorm ways of helping individuals struggling as a result of Europe’s slow recovery. That should be welcomed by European consumers, who are faced with the threat of deflation and slowing wage growth.
But while Europe’s entrepreneurial spirit may be well and strong, that doesn’t mean it is an easy place to grow a company. Alex Depledge, chief executive of UK startup Hassle.com – described as Hailo for cleaning services – admitted that, despite strong interest, raising capital in Europe was challenging. However, putting together a razor-sharp business plan made fundraising easier, said Depledge – Hassle.com recently raked in $6m from Accel Partners.

CELEBS FLOCK TO DUBLIN

Plenty of startups showed their commitment to expanding across Europe – including hotel booking service HotelTonight, and YPlan, the “going out app”. The latter has gained popularity thanks to investment from actor Ashton Kutcher. YPlan founder and chief executive Rytis Vitkauskas told CNBC that Kutcher and fiancé Mila Kunis had used the YPlan app while in London and had “loved their experience”.
Kutcher was one of the first media personalities to dabble in tech investing. Since then, Pharrel Williams, Will.i.am, Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber have all been lured in by the startup world.
At Web Summit, pro-skateboarder Tony Hawk told CNBC that he had already invested in Blue Bottle and Nest (which was acquired by Google for over $3bn this year). Hawk said that he did not consult a financial adviser on which companies to invest in. He simply asked his friends.
Hawk wasn’t the only celebrity that caught the attention of Web Summit attendees. Adrian Grenier, star of the Entourage series, also took the stage. He discussed the future of music and Wreckroom, a startup incubator for emerging music artists, in which Grenier has invested.
The question is – do these celebrities have the smarts to invest in the right startups? Only time will tell.

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