The second annual Tech4Africa conference kicks off in a few weeks in Johannesburg and founder Gareth Knight is hoping the event will help create momentum for technology start-ups across Africa.
“In the US, these kinds of events create huge momentum in the industry,” Knight says.
Speakers at this year’s event, for which TechCentral is again media partner, include Softtribe cofounder Herman Chinery-Hesse, Steve Watt of Hewlett-Packard, Josh Spear of New York-based marketing consultancy Undercurrent, Cennydd Bowles and James Box of UK user experience design firm Clearleft, Simone Brunozzi of Amazon.com, and Vincent Maher and Nic Haralambous of Cape Town-based start-up Motribe.
Knight says the most difficult part of putting together an event like Tech4Africa is securing sponsorship. “When you say you’re doing a conference people expect something plenary with suits and ties. They expect a formal affair, and we’re totally the opposite. Our focus is on learning and interaction. Tech4Africa is an ‘unconference’ in that sense.”
Knight says the inspiration to start the conference came from a visit to the South by Southwest (SxSW) festival in Austin, Texas in 2006. “I got to chat to [Twitter cofounder] Evan Williams for half an hour,” he says. “We want to bring that personal element, and inspirational speakers, to SA.”
He says the first Tech4Africa, held a year ago, was “bootstrapped” and he “booked the first speakers before we had a venue or sponsors”. The first conference required enormous risk on Knight’s part. He paid for keynote speaker Clay Shirky on his personal credit card.
Two initiatives spearheaded by Tech4Africa — its start-up awareness campaign called Ignite and its Innovation Award, presented to a company solving a uniquely African problem be it via Web, mobile or an emerging technology — have helped big companies appreciate the value of the event, Knight says.
“I think it’s difficult to get people to have the necessary perspective on events like this,” he says. “The community seems to get it, but the people with the money don’t. We’re starting to change that slowly.”
Knight says there’s “latent talent” in Africa, and particularly in SA, that’s not being harnessed. Africa could be as large a market as China, India or Brazil but there’s a pervasive mindset that needs to shift.
He hopes next year’s event will be event bigger with more international speakers. Within five years, the aim is to have 1 500 people attending from across Africa.
Tech4Africa wants to make its awards a permanent fixture and raise money for scholarships to put “talented youngsters through university and build the next generation of Shuttleworths”.
“I get e-mails from so many kids doing interesting things who need guidance. Tech4Africa’s the kind of event that connects those with the guidance to those in need of it.” — Craig Wilson, TechCentral
- Tech4Africa takes place on 27 and 28 October at The Forum at The Campus in Bryanston, north of Johannesburg. More information is available on the Tech4Africa website.