Highlights: 3rd MEST Africa Summit comes to a close in Cape Town

We’ve reached the end of an incredible and engaging 3 days of conversation, debate, networking and inspiration at the MEST Africa Summit in Cape Town! Sponsored by Facebook, MTN, Merck, Dalberg, Distell, Kenya Airways and Covington, 330 guests participated in the Pan-African tech conference of the year, bringing together global investors, leading entrepreneurs and corporate partners to discuss the most important topics impacting the African tech space.

As well, we’re proud to announce MEST awarded $50,000 to Nigerian startup Accounteer who emerged as the final winners of our Pan-African pitch competition, the 2018 MEST Africa Challenge!

Night 1 included an energetic evening of cocktails and conversation at the MEST Incubator in Cape Town, as well as a performance by artist Toya Delazy. The next day, conference MC Larry Madowo, Business Editor Africa at BBC, kicked off the main event at the Avenue on Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront.

Here are some highlights from the Summit’s panel discussions, pitches, roundtables and more.

Do all roads lead to Lagos?

The conference portion of the Summit began on day 2 with an incredibly engaging debate — The United Nations of Tech — asking which African city is best to launch a startup.

Representing Accra was MEST Africa’s own Eyram Tawia of Leti Arts, with Lungisa Matshoba of Yoco taking the stage for Cape Town, Kevin Lorenz of Africa’s Talking representing Nairobi, and Jason Njoku of iROKO TV arguing on behalf of Lagos.

According to Njoku, if you’re here to work, Lagos is the place to be. “You can start in Accra, you can start in Nairobi, but you will come to Lagos. It’s just a matter of time. The market size is everything.”

Lorenz argued in favor of the multitude of talent accessible in Nairobi, claiming, “The best points of Nairobi are the talent you have; you have a lot of hungry young people who want to do something entrepreneurial.”

Eyram Tawia of Leti Arts spoke about the corporate-startup cooperation that is a part of the culture in Accra: “Accra is the only place where corporates think to partner with startups. Key players are looking at how to make the digital space cool.” As well, he notes, Accra is more accepting of failure. It lets you try and try again.

In favor of Cape Town, Matshoba argued, “There’s definitely an edge that Cape Town has when it comes to creative space. Creatives in Cape Town are incredible, and there’s a strong design culture here.”

Day 2: Inclusive tech, digital cities and how to build a for-profit business with an impact focus

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a male or female; the most successful entrepreneur is the one who is going to put their head down and work the hardest.”

Aisha Pandor of SweepSouth and fellow female founders, including Singularity’s Lexi Novitske, WomenInTech Academy’s Baratang Miya, InnoCircle’s Ellen Fischat and MEST Africa’s Victoria Jackson took the stage to discuss how female founders like themselves got to where they are today and what we need to do to bring other women up with us.

Day 2 continued with engaging conversations around how for-profit companies can find an impact focus, as well as the innovations in fintech that are enabling financial inclusion across the continent. Sponsor Dalberg led packed breakout sessions after lunch on the emergence of digital cities, and what the future of work looks like on the continent.

“Investing in someone to help them change their circumstances and looking at it as an investment point of view instead of aid, empowers people and helps entrepreneurs to take control of their destinies.” — Bridgit Evans, SAB Foundation

The final panel moved into the creative space, where journalist Toby Shapshak moderated a full panel including Qisimah’s Sakhile Xulu, artist Toya Delazy, Leti Arts CEO Eyram Tawia, Quartz Africa editor Yinka Adegoke, MTN’s Herman Singh and NicheStreem’s Catherine Luckoff, who discussed the intersection of creative and tech.

“As a continent we can create digital content that goes beyond our borders, shared by the virtue of the network effect.”

Day 2 concluded with a keynote from MEST Africa Summit sponsor Facebook’s Proud Dzambukira, followed by a fireside chat between Quartz Africa’s Yinka Adegoke and Facebook’s Julien Decot.

Day 3: Agritech, blockchain, Rethinking Silicon Africa and Cracking the Corporate Code

Day 3 kicked off with panels on agritech and blockchain, featuring some of the top minds in the space.

“If you enable farmers you enable Africa.” — Niki Neumann of AFGRI

The blockchain panel discussed how access is one of the largest barriers in Africa. “Zero fees is how we’re going to solve the financial inclusion problem. There is a large population of underbanked — consumers who don’t use banking by choice,” said Wala’s Tricia Martinez. Alternatives like Wala and Zito Rewards may be the future of banking, as they’re far more inclusive than traditional banks.

After an in-depth VC roundtable led by Facebook over lunch, the main investor panel brought to the stage a number of big hitters to discuss the future of Silicon Africa. Moderator Julien Decot was joined by MEST & Meltwater Founder & CEO Jorn Lyseggen, CRE Venture Capital’s Pule Taukobong, IDF Capital’s Polo Leteka, Silver Tree’s Manuel Koser, Knife Capital’s Keet van Zyl, Uprise Africa’s Vuyisa Qabaka and Spark.ng’s Bastian Gotter. The panel discussed whether the traditional VC model is fit for the African market and what needs to happen for the market to really come to life.

“Capital is just a service; people tend to think of venture capital as the be all and end all but it is only an enabler” — Pule Taukobong of CRE Venture Capital said.

Leteka continued, “We need to define what a VC is in our own context. It’s important to learn from best practices globally, but we need to try to localize as much as possible; our problems are very different here.”

Lyseggen discussed moving away from Silicon Valley’s ‘unicorn obsession’ to chase a different animal: “The hunt for the unicorn is a flawed obsession. What makes Silicon Valley unique is their massive consumer market which allows them to create tremendous successes. Every market has unique opportunities which need to be pursued accordingly.” What does Africa’s version of the unicorn look like? According to Leteka, “The concept of a gazelle — a high growth, sustainable company, that creates jobs.”

Day 3 concluded with some incredible pitches from MEST portfolio companies, including Asoriba, Leti Arts, Amplify Pay, Qisimah, TroTro Tractor and AF Radio.

Finally, the MEST Africa Challenge finalists took the stage to compete for $50,000 in equity investment from MEST — the first portfolio company who did not go through the MEST training program — and Nigeria’s Accounteer was welcomed into the MEST family.

Massive thank you to all who attended and made this event what it was, to our sponsors, to our volunteers and to the MEST Africa team! #MESTPower #MESTAfricaSummit

See more photos from the event here! Don’t forget to follow MEST on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more updates — and we look forward to seeing you at next year’s Summit in Nairobi!

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The largest Africa-wide technology entrepreneur training program, internal seed fund, and network of hubs offering incubation for startups: www.meltwater.org