We love to share our experiences especially since they bring great memories to us anytime we do an introspection. Winning the Seedstars event at the regional level paved the way for us to make it to Lausanne for the global summit. Of course, we were anxiously looking forward to being a part of this much talked about summit.
The beautiful Swiss Alps and lake greeted us while we were still airborne. Once on Swiss soil, I had to constantly remind myself we weren't in town for tourism but to work. It would have been great if it was the reverse.
Starling Hotel, Lausanne turned out to be an impressively nice hotel located on the EPFL campus in Lausanne. We were greeted by two neatly folded blue hoodies that said “Seedstars”. We had seen these much coveted hoodies in previous summit pictures but were now proud owners.
Later that evening was the welcome dinner that had the usual Seedstars fun vibe all over it. We met a lot of the other startups and also finally got the chance to put faces to the several Seedstars team members we had communicated with but never met. The opening dinner was kind of like those public holidays that fall on Mondays. You know there’s work the next day so you deliberately prevent yourself from having too much fun.
Preparing For The Big Day
The first three days leading up to the big day were packed with several activities. Domain group sessions, mentor one-on-one sessions, talks from some industry players and investor meetings.
Meeting Mentors & Investors
AgroCenta found the mentoring sessions and investor meetings to be super helpful. The summit attracts the best startups but we also soon learned the mentors present were also masters in their domains (at least the ones we met) and investors who showed up were in for business. If they’re interested they tell you. If they’re not, they try to be a bit diplomatic about it but you can tell they’re not feeling your business. There were no time wasters and window shoppers.
Work & Happinness
I see a big smile, a selfie stick, Redbull and a beer. This can’t be work. Well, we had to eat and cool off a bit. This wasn’t a NASA space launch meeting. We had a good mix of work and play actually. Long enough coffee breaks during the day and dinner happened early enough so we didn’t starve. Again, it was always a good opportunity to network. I bumped into someone new everyday. Africans who were freezing, Asian dudes who were constantly in happy mood, Europeans who were looking at the rest of us like — guys Europe isn’t boring at all.
For some reason I believe this day had more than 24 hours. It felt so long. As usual, the Seedstars team kept it really Swiss but the pitches seemed never to end. One great startup after another took the stage. Every startup made it more difficult to predict who a clear winner would be. All the teams were sharp and on point. GiftedMom took it so lightly when his clicker didn’t work and got some love from the audience. Sayurbox also had clicker issues but managed to finish her pitch before the 5 minutes were up. For a moment I thought I was at an Apple product launch after Evecalls did a live Siri-ish demo. ‘My sister’ from Medsaf, Nigeria was so super synchronized she ended her pitch just when the timer said 0.00.00. I was like damn, girl you’re smooth. The startups in the fintech category were trying to seduce us with the numbers they were throwing all over. This race was tough and it was honestly really had to make any winner guesses at this point. Coffe Break.
I have never been this anxious in my life. The startups we were up against were super good. Great businesses, great teams, eloquent pitches. The prize involved was HUGE. 500 freaking K, USD. Jeez! The anxiety heightened when other prizes were being announced and other African startups were sweeping their share. Then came the big announcement. “And the winner of this year’s Seedstars Summit is…”…. AAH — hearing AAH wasnt enough because there was a startup called Aquilando so the second syllable was very important at this point… “AAH-GRO-CENTA from GHA-NAAAA”. I still don’t remember how I got off my seat but somehow I did. I was with a couple of other startups at the very back of the auditorium and a hug from Erikson, Tupuca almost broke my back. Somehow I got on stage and before I could finish hugging one Seedstars team member the whole stage was flooded with startups from especially Africa. The experience cannot be explained with words. This was a big win for Africa and you could see the unity as other African startups got on stage and took the celebration very personal (especially our Zimbabwean brother from myRunner).
The Seedstars team and volunteers were ‘awesomest’. It was always big smiles and high fives. Having participated in quite a number of large events, I was super impressed with the organisation and fluidity of this global Seedstars Summit. Ask a volunteer any question and they’ll either get you the right answer or the right person with the answer. I think these Swiss (or Swiss based companies) are just great when it comes to organising large events because I was also super impressed with WEDF17 organised by the ITC in 2017.
Keeping It Swiss
Everything was on time and — on time. That should tell you the level of precision. These guys were so precise with time, I am sure they could have measured how many times we inhaled in a minute if we gave them the chance. Makes sense, especially if TagHeuer is a global partner.
Session, session, session — coffee break. The sessions were nicely interspersed with coffee breaks that allowed startups to interact among themselves as well as with the mentors and investors who showed up on day 2 and 3. We had two of our investor meetings deliberately tied to lunch and a coffee break so we had to grab lunch with the investor. Nice move. The investor ended up eating while we did all the talking. How I envied him.
You can’t blame the Seedstars guys for playing more African music throughout the summit. Arguably we have the best music floating around the world right now. The Latinos also got some air play but we all know they probably borrow their beats and rhythms from Africa. I bet my latino friends are screaming “how dare you” right now. #iRun 🏃🏾♂️🏃🏾♂️🏃🏾♂️
At 3am we were all packed and ready to catch our 7am flight out from Geneva. In order to make it in time we booked an Uber and boy were we impressed with the ride that showed up. A smooth Mercedes E-Class pulled up in front of the hotel. I double checked the registration number to make sure that was reaaaaally our ride.
The feeling was awesome. Startup founders from 4 different teams sitting in a sleek Mercedes talking about different things felt like ‘the life’, especially with Alquilando wearing the expensive TagHeure watch he won. Fourty minutes later we had to get out of our day dreams and into the airport queue.
The global Seedstars Summit is very respected and well known for bringing together topnotch startups operating within emerging markets. Winning the global Summit has provided us with several investment opportunities and has also validated AgroCenta within the investor community. We have also received several requests for speaking engagements as well invitations for partnerships in a couple of countries. Our website feedback page has never been this busy.
If you are a startup building something awesome in an emerging market, jumping on the Seedstars wagon will be a good thing to do. Just make sure you are not half-baked because you’ll be going up against some really tough startups from around the globe.
Ok… Enough riding of the superstar high (borrowed this phrase from my Rwandan brother @ Pikiwash). It’s back to work and back to 35 degrees of West African sunshine. There are more farmers to signup and more offtakers to chase.