This year, Africans have participated in different international tech conferences and competitions, which hitherto were not open to Africans or had low participation from Africa. One of such conferences is the 2019 Web Summit.

Founded by Irish entrepreneur Paddy Cosgrave in 2009, Web Summit convenes the people and companies redefining the technology industry across different continents. The Submit has been described by Forbes as "the best technology conference on the planet" and by the New York Times as "a grand conclave of the tech industry's high priests".

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Compared to the participation of Africa in previous editions, which is essentially negligible, the 2019 Web Summit features a total of 40 African representatives, thereby making it a record high in the 10-year history of the Web Summit. A further breakdown shows that 30 startups and 10 thought leaders from Algeria (1), Angola (5), Cape Verde (1), Egypt (15), Ghana (2), Kenya (3), Nigeria (5), Rwanda (3), South Africa (2) and Tunisia (3) represented the continent at the Summit.

What you should know about Web Summit

Web Summit, which held at Lisbon on November 4-7, 2019, is a choice event for startups seeking to raise funds and entrepreneurs that want to get their companies off the ground. Over the past decade, startups such as OnePlus, Stripe, Uber, Nest, Careem and GitLab have found refuge at Web Summit when they were looking for funding and partnerships to scale.

By connecting the biggest investors and most-promising companies, Web Summit "represents the largest accumulation of VC funding in one place at the same time in the world", Paddy said. "As we've grown from a 400-person or so gathering in 2010 to 50,000+ people, we like to think that we haven't compromised the quality of startups we invite to our events."

Startups that participated in the 2015 Web Summit had raised over $1 billion by October 2016.

While it could be said that the annual tech conference provides great value for its tickets, there was confusion when it started selling its swags for the 2019 Web Summit at high prices. A handknit sweater for €850 (₦341,417), jumper for €780 (₦313,301) and kids' hoodie for €240 (₦96,400).

Paddy, however, tried to justify the pricing. He said, "There is a story here. The €850 sweater is handknit over approximately 40 hours...and it's been on sale in Brown Thomas for the best part of two seasons".

Meanwhile, the event is also streamed live on Youtube and transcripts of some sessions are available on Otter.

Africa's representatives at 2019 Web Summit

The 40 African representatives are spread across exhibiting startups and those participating in the PITCH competition and Startup Showcase, as well as speakers. There are two categories of speakers: Top Speakers and Growth Summit.

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The Top Speakers category featured:

  • Tunde Kehinde, Co-founder and CEO of Lidya—a financial services platform that gives loans to small- and medium-sized enterprises. His session, titled, "Debunking the Unbanked: Bringing payments to the masses", explored how to best provide financial services to people in emerging markets, beyond banking.
  • Fouzia Adjailia, Ambassador of Women in Artificial Intelligence, Algeria. Her session, titled, "Our future does not have to be a boring dystopia", discussed what a future inundated with machine learning and artificial intelligence might look like, without the misery.
  • Siyabulela Mandela, Lecturer and PhD candidate at Nelson Mandela University. He is also a grandson of Nelson Mandela. His session, titled, "The Long Walk to Peace", looked at how to shorten the path from conflict to peace.
  • Jesse Moore, Co-founder and CEO of M-KOPA—a Kenyan solar energy company servicing Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria. His panel session was themed, "Powering the future", and it explored what farewell to fossil fuels means for the future of power and the role of consumers, who are now part of the supply chain.

The Growth Summit, which brings together the founders and leaders of the world's highest growth companies—in this case, the African companies defining the future of technology in the continent, featured:

  • Tosin Eniolorunda, Founder of TeamApt. He discussed his plans for expanding TeamApt.
  • Olaedo Osoka, CEO of Daystar Power—a Lagos-based West African solar power company. She spoke on "Bridging Africa's power gap: The disruptive power of clean energy technology", and outlined Daystar Power's growth trajectory in bridging Africa's power gap with clean and reliable power.
  • Amir Barsoum, Founder of Vezeeta—an online medical care scheduling service in Egypt. He spoke on "Vezeeta's formula for growth: Landing quick wins", and underscored the valuable lessons learnt during their venture in Egypt and across the region.
  • Olugbenga "GB" Agboola, Co-founder and CEO of Flutterwave. His address was titled, "Scaling digital payments across Africa", and it outlined how and why they have built the payment service company.
  • Grant Brooke, Executive Director of Twiga Foods—a Kenyan B2B marketplace platform. He shared insights on the factors responsible for the success of the platform and its challenges.
  • Mostafa Kandil, Founder and CEO of Swvl—an Egyptian transportation company. He spoke on "Building a unicorn in 48 months", and outlined his vision for the company.

On the startup side of things, an Angola startup, Appy, was selected as one of the 135 startups to participate in the PITCH competition.

Meanwhile, seven African startups participated in the Startup Showcase. These are: Bonako Games (Cape Verde), Complete Farmer (Ghana), Expat.com (Ghana), Nafasi (Kenya), Takestep (Egypt), Botme (Egypt) and Ovarc (Egypt).

It's noteworthy that Egypt has the highest number of delegates at the Web Summit. It presupposes that Andela's expansion into the North African country is timely.

Also, 16 African startups exhibited at the 2019 Web Summit. The startups are Swvl (Egypt), Versus (Nigeria), Trella (Egypt), Jobartis (Angola), Get It Done Now (Nigeria), Miniapis (Morocco), 5dVR (Egypt), Academia (Rwanda), AvidBeam (Egypt), Datavora (Tunisia), Digified (Egypt), Garment IO (Egypt), Gridnex (Tunisia), Gruupup (South Africa), HistorIAR (Tunisia) and Kubinga (Angola).