Africa's tech boffins storm Cape Town

07 November 2017 - 18:44 By Farren Collins
AfricaCom is a three-day conference which is being hosted at the Cape Town International Conference Centre.
AfricaCom is a three-day conference which is being hosted at the Cape Town International Conference Centre.
Image: cticc via Google

As many as 15‚000 delegates filled the Cape Town International Conference Centre on Tuesday for the start of AfriCom – the continent's largest telecoms‚ media and technology event.

AfriCom is celebrating its 20th anniversary‚ and it did so in style by smashing its previous attendance record by 3‚000. The occasion was further marked by the launch of AHUB‚ which aims to "unleash the power" of Africa’s tech-startup ecosystem.

The delegates‚ who came from all four corners of the globe‚ were joined by 450 exhibitors and 400 speakers‚ including representatives from US tech giants Microsoft‚ Facebook and Google.

Speaking at the launch of AHUB‚ Rapaleng Rabana‚ the founder of education-technology company Rekindle Learning‚ said the initiative was important‚ because startups often struggled to get into the market unless someone opened the door for them.

"I’ve been to AfricaCom before‚ and it’s often overbearing for startups‚" Rabana told TimesLIVE.

"Market access was often a major challenge‚ and so is being able to secure external funding. Startups are expected to grow through internal revenue‚ and most fail because of the difficulty of customer acquisition in Africa. How do you find them and process payments from them? These are real challenges."

But Rabana believes it is important to bring more local startups into the market‚ because it is often they who can best find solutions to local problems.

"Local startups must ask what problems they can solve in their own backyard‚" she said.

"It’s more important to start immediately with what’s around you‚ because there are enough opportunities locally."

Two of the main themes at this year’s event were artificial intelligence (AI) and the role of big data.

Chief Innovation Officer at Microsoft‚ Clifford De Wit‚ heralded the fourth industrial revolution.

"The fourth industrial revolution will be driven by data and the power of computing‚" De Wit said. "Devices will be the third thing‚ because without them‚ data is otherwise meaningless. We have produced more data in the past two years than in the [planet’s] history of stored data."

De Wit believes that Square Kilometre Array telescope being built in the Karoo – set to be the largest single data collection point on the planet when complete – will give South Africa an advantage in big data‚ but only if it is properly exploited.

"The SKA is pushing boundaries with what big data is going to mean‚ and they are doing a great job. But new skills development is important‚ because we need enough data scientists to work with the amount of data we produce."

Government policy would inform the digital capability of South Africa‚ according to De Wit‚ who said we had "pockets of excellence‚ but we need to take advantage of [them]".

AfricaCom is a three-day conference that ends on Thursday.