The Future is Pan-African: Unpacking the MEST Africa Summit 2019

MEST Africa
Jun 21 · 11 min read

This post was written by MEST Marketing Manager, Veronica Mulhall.

“Many still think you need to go to Silicon Valley to get the best engineers in the world to build successful software companies, but that is no longer true. I believe it is only a matter of time before Africa becomes a software superpower.”- Jorn Lyseggen, MEST Africa founder

Since 2015, the MEST Africa Summit, an annual Pan-African tech conference, has taken place in Accra, Lagos, and Cape Town. This year, the fourth edition was held in Nairobi, Kenya. It brought together over 300 leading African entrepreneurs, investors, executives and ecosystem players from across the globe. Partners, led by Microsoft, also included Lori, Flutterwave, Oracle, Intel, Liquid Telecom, Stratlink, Ethiopian Airlines, and Africa’s Talking.

Day 1
June 10th: Welcome Cocktail, Nairobi Garage
From 6pm to 8pm the MEST Africa team, along with panelists and VIP guests, set the tone for MAS 2019. The night kicked off with a welcome speech by MEST and Meltwater CEO and Founder, Jorn Lyseggen, followed by introductions by the MCs of the event including Maggie Mutesi from BBC Africa and Joe Muchiri from KFM. The drinks proved to be a great networking opportunity for all those in attendance and led seamlessly into day one of the summit.

“We wanted to create a summit that is Pan-African, connecting the continent, creating big, scalable companies that will really make an impact.” -Jorn Lyseggen, MEST Africa founder

Day 2
June 11th: Conference Day, Radisson Blu Hotel
At the Radisson Blu Hotel in Nairobi, attendees from across Africa and the globe engaged in panels, networking and learning opportunities, while exploring the latest innovations in the tech and startup space on the continent. Our partner Oracle introduced attendees to their latest robotics innovations in an engaging display set up during the event.

BBC Africa journalist Maggie Mutesi, welcomed everyone to the Summit, discussing her own experience with Africa’s technological leapfrogging, as she compared the near ‘cashless’ lifestyle she enjoys in Kenya to her experience in other areas of the continent which have seen far less development. MEST and Meltwater Founder Jorn Lyseggen then took the stage to share his own reasons for starting MEST Africa in 2008.

Jorn deeply believes in the role entrepreneurs have to play in society. “Society is not harmonic unless there are plenty of jobs, and we aim to give Africans the opportunity to create their own.”

Chris Lwanga, Senior Director of Software Partnerships at Microsoft, delivering a keynote

Chris Lwanga, Senior Director of Software Partnerships at Microsoft, delivered a keynote next. “Innovation is the birthright of everyone in Africa,” he stated, and he went on to emphasize the importance of focusing on youth and enabling them the opportunity to have an impact.

The Great Debate: Which is the most startup and scaleup-friendly nation?
The first panel was an encore from last year’s Summit: “The Great Debate: Which is the most startup and scaleup-friendly nation?” The panel was moderated by Fola Olatunji (Co-Lead, Africa for Google’s Launchpad Accelerator), with panelists Tosin Eniolorunda (CEO & Founder of TeamApt), Meghan McCormick (CEO & Co-Founder of OZÉ), Nithen Naidoo (CEO & Co-Founder of Snode Technologies), Claire Munene(Chief Commercial Officer of mSurvey), Fred Zamble(CEO & Co-Founder of Seekewa), and Bilha Ndirangu (CEO of Africa’s Talking). Watch the full debate on the Facebook LIVE recording.

The Great Debate: Which is the most startup and scaleup-friendly nation?

From employable talent to access to the global market, available funding opportunities and good governance, multiple topics were explored when discussing what exactly determines which country is the best to start a business. Here are some of the key takeaways from the debate:

South Africa
“A lot of successful South African startups aren’t doing well across Africa — but they’re doing well globally. We don’t look to imitate; we innovate. I think we should be asking how we can get our companies to penetrate global markets.”-Nithen Naidoo, CEO & Co-Founder of Snode Technologies

Nigeria
“I’m Nigerian, so can I just drop the mic? We might not have electricity and our government is not serious, but you can’t beat our sheer size and the spirit of a Nigerian determined to do something.” -Tosin Eniolorunda, CEO & Founder of TeamApt

Ghana
“What makes Ghana a unique and great ecosystem is its stability. You can count on stable elections. The Cedi does better than other regional currencies. It’s not as difficult to bring in outside capital and source talent locally.” -Meghan McCormick, CEO & Co-Founder of OZÉ

Côte d’Ivoire
“The Ivorian tech ecosystem is very young — we’re working on it. While I agree that we should be looking at scaling globally as a goal, I think local, Africa-focused businesses are extremely important, too.” -Fred Zamble, CEO & Co-Founder of Seekewa

Kenya
“Kenya’s talent is so great, and in a small amount of time, new advancements and policies have driven digitization and provided the opportunity for education and growth in this country.” -Claire Munene, Chief Commercial Officer of mSurvey

All participants, however, saw value in creating Pan-African growth. As Fred Zamble, CEO & Co-Founder of Seekewa, said, “We should dream big and conquer the world, but Africa has 1.2 billion people. China has proven that you can develop solutions focused on local markets to massive scale.”

MEST Africa’s Entrepreneurs-in-Training weighed in as well. Watch their debate points here:

IOT, AI, and Machine Learning: How they are impacting the workforce in Africa
The next panel discussion was moderated by Frankline Sunday (Journalist of Standard Media Group) with panelists Solomon Chiedo (ACR Leader of Oracle), Uyoyo Edosio (Abidjan Program Task Manager of the African Development Bank), Michael Onyango (AI Taskforce Global Fellow of Kenya Ministry of ICT), Philip Thigo (Africa Director of the Thunderbird School for Global Management), and Dr. Bitange Ndemo (Entrepreneurship Professor at the University of Nairobi).

IOT, AI, and Machine Learning: How they are impacting the workforce in Africa

Overcoming Infrastructure Challenges: From solar energy to electric vehicles
“With over 600 million Africans still without electricity, the opportunities to help fill that gap are endless” — Snehar Shah, CFA/GM of Azuri Technologies. This panel, focused on how African startups are overcoming some of the continent’s infrastructural shortcomings, was moderated by Rey Buckman (Africa Lead of Airbus Bizlab) with Tisham Dhar (Chief Architect of Lori Systems), Snehar Shah (CFA/GM of Azuri Technologies), Irfan Mirza (CEO & Co-Founder of Trend Solar,) Juha Sujaonen (CEO & Founder of Ekorent/Nopia), and Mikael Gange(Founder & CSO of Opibus), weighing in.

“Our pay-as-you-go model takes away the barrier to entry that a large amount of Africans face when deciding whether or not to spend money up front on physical hardware. It’s important to consider affordability in the market.” -Irfan Mirza, CEO & Co-Founder of Trend Solar
“We have the funding, but we need governments to help provide the bare minimum support. Having tax deductions on things such as electric vehicles can help incentivize growth in the energy industry.” -Mikael Gange, Founder & CSO of Opibus on infrastructure challenges in Africa

MEST Africa Showcases
Running parallel to the panels, the MEST Africa team ran showcases of the MEST Africa training program and incubator to give attendees a closer look into the three core pillars of MEST Africa: entrepreneurial training program, seed fund, and incubator. The showcases were lead by MEST Africa’s Felix Darko, Technology Fellow, Ashwin Ravichandran, Director of Portfolio Support and, Katjana Kammin, Portfolio Manager.

MEST Africa Showcases

“We are creating a support system where each portfolio manager has one key skill (OKS) such as finance or market, so our portfolio companies always have a specialized portfolio manager to assist their growth.” -Ashwin Ravichandran, Director of Portfolio Support of MEST Africa

Next Generation Agritech: The future of one of the continent’s most prolific sectors
In the afternoon, panels continued with “Next Generation Agritech: The future of one of Africa’s most prolific sectors” as experts explored how technology is disrupting the industry’s value chain. Panelists spanned across the agritech sector, with Faith Kaoma (Action Manager of Restless Development International research), Grant Brooke (CEO & Co-Founder of Twiga Foods), John Kieti (COO of Ashoka), Tosh Juma (Nairobi Managing Director of IDEO.org), Kwaku Owusu-Achaw (Business Development Advisor of Shell Foundation), and the panel was moderated by Ashwin Ravichandran( MEST Africa Director of Portfolio Support).

“Talent is one of the top bottlenecks in Kenyan agriculture right now. We have the land and finances, but we need to work to create the would-be farmers who can manage and bring the land to production.” -Grant Brooke, CEO & Co-Founder of Twiga Foods

Data & the New Credit Score
Moderated by Charles Gitona (Journalist at BBC) with Panelists Chris Czerwonka (Co-Founder of Mosabi), Ngozi Dozie (Co-Founder of Carbon), Niraj Varia (Investment Director of Novastar Ventures), Tosin Eniolorunda (CEO & Founder of TeamApt), and Sandra Locoh (Africa Head of Origination of Lendable) discussed how the creative use of data is enabling financial inclusion at a micro level.

Data & the New Credit Score

MEST Africa Challenge Final Pitches
The day concluded with the second annual MEST Africa Challenge (MAC) final pitch, following a keynote from Josh Sandler of Lori Systems, in which he spoke of the challenges and opportunities for companies looking to become truly Pan-African.“I think being a Pan-African company is necessary. The winners will be those who open up their systems to innovation.” Josh said.

The five finalists, Seekewa (Côte d’Ivoire), OZÉ (Ghana), Snode Technologies (South Africa), AMPZ.tv (Nigeria) and WayaWaya Ltd (Kenya), emerged from nearly 1,000 applicants and more than 40 semi-finalists of this year’s competition. In a surprising turn of events, the judges selected not one, but three startups as winners! They have all received a $50,000 in equity investment from MEST Africa and $25,000 of credit from Microsoft, along with full support at the MEST incubator of their choice. Read more about the 2019 winners of the MEST Africa challenge here.

Day 3
June 12th: Ecosystem Day, Nairobi Garage
Following Day 2 which centered on engaging discussions and key takeaways surrounding relevant topics involving tech on the continent, Day 3 consisted of purpose-built workshops from our partners, designed for entrepreneurs and developers — including Microsoft, Intel, Oracle, ALX and Stratlink. .

Key takeaways from Ecosystem Workshops:

“There is no point in gathering data from numerous places if you can’t use it to make informed decisions for your business. Microsoft 365 is a powerful tool that helps you optimize that data and build amazing workflows”- Lawrence Muthoga, Breadth & Community Manager at Microsoft

“AI is not a replacement for a lot of our day to day processes, but it can augment the experience. Currently, over 1m developers use Microsoft Azure’s pre-built AI services for their vision, speech, language and search functions.” -Lawrence Muthoga, Breadth & Community Manager at Microsoft

Ecosystem Day

“Don’t allow your work to become redundant because the systems you have are outdated. You have to keep up and adapt!” -Jason Bowers, Director of Presales and Transformation at Oracle

The Investors’ Perspective
Teresa Mbagaya (Investment Principal of Omidyar Network), moderated an engaging panel featuring Andreata Muforo (Partner of TLcom Capital), Yacob Berhane (CEO & Co-Founder of Pariti), Muthoni Wachira(Investment Director of Engineers Without Borders Ventures), Michele Castegnaro (COO of Kuwekeza Holdings Ltd), and Bruce Nsereko Lule (Investment Principal of Chandaria Capital) as they discussed investor readiness at all stages of business.

Here are some key takeaways :
“When looking at potential investments, we look at the industry potential before anything else. Many times the industry is too small. Sure, your problem is a problem, but it’s not a problem for enough people.” -Andreata Muforo, Partner of TLcom Capital

“Entrepreneurs need to understand that getting an investment is a process. Start having conversations with investors as early as possible, even before you’re ready to fundraise, so they’re familiar with you and your ideas. Plus, it’s free feedback”-Muthoni Wachira, Investment Director of Engineers Without Borders Ventures

“The same way investors backchannel and talk about startups, startup founders need to gather their own intel and communicate about their experiences with investors. It’s a two-way street-find out if they’re someone you want to work with as well” -Yacob Berhane, CEO & Co-Founder of Pariti

Healthtech: How Tech is Playing its Part in Tackling Africa’s Healthcare Challenges
After a networking filled lunch, panels continued with a healthtech focus panel formed of Gideon Berhane (Junior Advisor of Make-IT in Africa), Vivan Nwakah (Founder of Medsaf), Ravi Akella(Practice Head of Information and Digital Technology of IQVia), Nicole Kayode (Co-Founder of Medixus), Herve Kubwimana (Africa Head of Accelerator of Merck), and moderated by Adelaide Odhiambo (CEO & Founder of Bluewave Insurance).

Healthtech: How Tech is Playing its Part in Tackling Africa’s Healthcare Challenges

“Free trials just don’t work… find customers that value what you do enough to pay for your service (or product). You will get a lot more engagement and buy-in.”-Nicole Kayode, Co-Founder of Medixus

Cultivating a Pan-African Tech Ecosystem: Voices from Africa’s Leading Tech + Startup Hubs
Moderated by Njoki Gichinga, (Senior Strategic Partnership & Business Development Specialist of Safaricom Alpha), a panel of Agnes Muthoni (Director of Pre-Fellowship at Andela), Chris Lwanga (Senior Director of Software Partnerships of Microsoft), Toby Hanington (Co-Founder of the Baobab Network), and Martin Karanja (Market Engagement Director of GSMA) closed the day with fruitful conversation on what’s next in the Pan-African tech ecosystem.

Martin Karanja, Market Engagement Director of GSMA stated, “We need to find a way to educate investors to…invest in local tech startups…while also giving attention to less developed ecosystems (on the continent).”

We look forward to seeing you at MEST Africa Summit 2020
And, that’s a wrap! A big thank you to all of our attendees and sponsors, especially Microsoft, for an amazing MAS 2019. A community is only as strong as the people involved and we are proud to be building a Pan-African tech ecosystem with YOU!

MEST Africa

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Celebrating 10 years training, supporting and investing in Pan-African tech entrepreneurs: https://meltwater.org/

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