A Chat with Michael Chaffe, CEO at International Tech Event: Wolves Summit

Wolves Summit is the largest tech event in Central and Eastern Europe. Founded in 2015, today it is best known for its matchmaking platform, fostering collaboration between angel investors, VC funds, corporations, and the most promising startups in the CEE region invested in creating real, positive value in the world.

We attract over 2500 participants from 80 countries providing 100+ hours of immersive educational content, keynotes, and startup pitches.

As CEO of Wolves Summit, my passion lies in making the Summit the innovation bridge between the Central & Eastern European region and the tech powerhouses of the world. We are here to build a truly flourishing startup ecosystem on an EU and international level.

Our reach spans from San Francisco to Shanghai and our mission is to empower the innovation ecosystem of Central & Eastern Europe by showcasing cutting edge solutions from the region to the global audience.
Wolves Summit in Poland | Interreg Europe

How did it originate and what has driven its development?

In 2015 Wolves Summit started out as a 200 delegate conference in the baltic coastal city of Gdynia, Poland before moving to Warsaw and quickly becoming the CEE region’s largest innovation conference; taking place every March & October.

As the CEE region’s impressive technology startups began garnering interest from the global VC community, Wolves Summit brought over prominent global investors like Accel, Balderton Capital and Index Ventures to the CEE region.

Wolves Summit is a marker of the growing impact of the CEE startup ecosystem. Since its inception it has supported nearly 5k startups, attracted over 2.5k investors and facilitated over 33k 1:1 meetings between participants from over 80 countries.


How has it evolved during the pandemic?

I’m not your typical CEO of an events business. Prior to acquiring Wolves Summit I acted as an investment broker at a London based angel syndicate, helping founders with investor introductions and support in closing their seed rounds of typically £250k-£2.5m.

However, before that I spent a decade in the Oil & Gas industry working up to 250 metres under the surface as a saturation diver. I have many incredible edge-of-your-seat stories to share ranging from a vessel losing one of its thrusters, resulting in me and my buddy being dragged along the seabed, in a subsea Olympics 400m pipeline hurdle race… Being pressurised inside a chamber from surface to -30m in less than 10 seconds by a heavy handed individual who decided that eardrums are non essential anatomy in the 21st century. – the list goes on…!

Suffice to say that when my youngest child was enroute to planet Earth and I decided to quit my high-risk occupation to join the VC industry, I breathed a sigh of relief, comforted in the knowledge that my days of “adventure” were behind me… How wrong I was.

The first half of 2020 as an event organiser during COVID are days that I never want to repeat. As an eternal optimist I can tell you that COVID tested my mindset close to breaking point. Looking back 18 months onwards, I chuckle to myself that what I presumed to be a certain death knell, turned out to be a silver lining in the dark clouds of COVID.

In March 2020, when the Covid situation in Poland deteriorated to such an extent that the government banned all mass gatherings, we were left with an unenviable choice: cancel our 11th edition of the Wolves Summit conference (just eight days away) or rise to meet the moment with ingenuity and focus.

Thankfully, I have a team that is (almost) as crazy as I am, so we chose the latter.

Within a week, we managed to transform a physical conference of 1,000+ to a virtual event.

We had our first demo with Hopin CEO Johnny Boufarhat the weekend before the event. (It’s fair to say we had an intensive onboarding session.) Ultimately, that collaboration with Hopin helped us become one of the first events to make a successful pivot to virtual—and we received overwhelmingly positive feedback from partners and participants.

Soon after, Hopin and Wolves Summit embarked on a new collaboration, through which we supported Hopin customers with A/V and production requirements. This marked the start of our digital events agency, Wolves Digital.

Since then, we have produced 37 external events for organizations such as Panasonic, MIT Enterprise Forum, Accelpoint’s AccelUp Demo Day, British Embassy, European Innovation Council, GTR Ventures, SEKTOR 3.0, Vienna Energy Forum, and others.

These have ranged from exclusive events of up to 100 attendees to more than 1,500. We have paired a global perspective with industry-specific insights covering three continents, 10 countries, and 20+ sectors.

What can we hope to see from Wolves Summit in the future?

The next phase in the evolution of Wolves Summit is going to be the birth of “CEE Tech Week” – a five day innovation festival taking place every June in Wroclaw, Poland. Throughout the week we will address topics such as fundraising, corporate innovation, HR & recruitment, business services outsourcing and University startups & spin-offs

Now aside from the development of CEE Tech Week, I will be launching a personal initiative in 2022. Through the trials and tribulations of steering an events business during COVID, I recognised that a functioning business model is only one factor in determining the success of your business. In the fast-paced impatient world that we live in, it’s all too easy to overlook your own mental health in the pursuit of “success”.

Geared especially for founders of high-growth startups & scaleups, I’ll be leading quarterly founder retreats to the Czech mountain ranges where all electronic devices will be stowed away for the week and we will concentrate on reconnecting with ourselves in nature, whilst forging valuable relationships at the same time.

Those that wish to (and under the guidance of leading researchers & psychologists in the field) there will be an opportunity to experience something that is very close to my heart – psychedelic therapy and personal development.

In the meantime, I am very glad to share that Wolves Summit will be returning as a hybrid event on 19-21 October 2021. Taking the best of what we have learnt from in-person and online, this next edition will be organised as an online and offline event so that more startups, scaleups, corporations, executives, investors, partners and sponsors have the unique opportunity to reach the global tech community and meet in person – whether ‘IRL’ or through our online portal.

After such an ‘exciting’ pivot, we really are excited to bring the best of both worlds together and set the stage for success for even more founders this year.