Slush 2014 – Lazers, Smoke, Slush!

SlushBlog1-3They had my heart at the door!

How many active users do you have?

How much revenue have you generated?

What is your viral coefficient?

The start-up game is all about numbers. So what better way to reflect on my experiences attending one of the worlds largest start-up conferences than to begin by talking about the numbers.

Let’s kick this off with 114,000. That’s the total square meters of space within the Messukeskus venue hall.

Next is 14,000. That’s the number of attendees at Slush 2014.

Followed by 4 – the number of stages hosting thematic streams of presentations from product launches, to success stories, and speaker panels.

Finally, the number 2. Not one but two full days from 10am – 6pm, all complimented with an immeasurable number of side events, meetups, and parties.

These numbers are even more impressive when one considers the fact that the entire conference is organized and run by a massive crew of 1000 university students and volunteers.

In short, Slush is one of the most intense technology conferences I have ever been to. The Messukeskus venue was transformed into a science fiction fantasy land filled with every laser in Northern Europe. The four stages were spread throughout the cavernous interior. Despite the venues size there was just was not enough room for the mass of bodies that gathered at the Silver Stage for the kick off of the conference*.

*WARNING: Video contains mind boggling laser effects. May trigger a number of medical conditions. Best viewed from a safe distance. And with sunglasses on.

To paraphrase a popular internet meme, one does not merely walk between stages at Slush. There is too little time with too many great sessions going on. You hustle. The frenzy of action is reflected by the frenzy of emotions one feels. I beamed with pride as Nisha Ligon shared the journey of Ubongo Kids and the realities of establishing an education technology start-up in Tanzania. I watched in awe as Alex Klein showcased the Kano microcomputer, a project that I had been following since it’s first Kickstarter campaign. I buzzed with excitement as Aape Pohjavirta launched the Funzi, a new mobile learning service, that Kinu has partnered with. Watching Richard Stallman speak on his work fighting for freedom in the digital world cemented my migration to the open source realm. And I was a little perplexed when Rovio Entertainment’s big announcement turned out to be gender colour coded school uniforms.

SlushBlog2-1Aape Pohjavirta, Chief Evangelist of Funzi, launching their new mobile learning service

After the heady two days of Slush, the trip continued with opportunities to explore the Finnish start-up ecosystem, including  meetups with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accelerators, and venture capital firms.

As compared to the Tanzanian start-up ecosystem, where stakeholders are still largely operating in silos, the Finnish ecosystem is akin to a basket of eels; where ministries, industry, universities, research, and start-ups work together to drive the economy forward. Launched at Slush 2014, the Business with Impact (BEAM) initiative, championed by Tekes and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, is an example of this approach. BEAM will disburse fifty million Euros over five years with the aim of enabling “Finnish companies, research organizations and NGOs to expand into new markets and solve development problems with new innovations”. It seems clears that the Government, and it’s organs, fully appreciate the role that they have to play in growing the economy. The BEAMefits for Finnish stakeholders are clear.

For stakeholders within the Tanzanian start-up ecosystem the opportunities for knowledge transfer could potentially have a huge impact. As a co-founder of an innovation space in Dar es Salaam that aims to grow and accelerate Tanzanian start-ups, I would urge careful consideration when engaging ‘aid for trade’, or as I prefer to call them ‘traid’, funding mechanisms. With the vast differences in the health of the startup ecosystems between the two countries, importing Finnish start-ups into Tanzania could negatively impact the growth of home grown initiatives. As such the litmus test for me is focused on two points:

1) As with any relationship, partner selection is extremely important. To hit the often illusive win-win point, Tanzanian organizations and startups need to engage with appropriate partners that compliment the work that they are already doing. Chasing Euros will have a negative impact on the future of the local ecosystem.

2) Technology that is being imported needs to be open and hackable. There is no need rebuild the wheel in each ecosystem. If there is a Finnish start-up with the right tool for the job then by all means let’s kick the service provision into high gear, as long as there is a way for Tanzanian start-ups to connect to the technology and build complimentary services and products.

The meetings with the Finnish accelerators and venture capital firms were not as productive as I hoped they would be. One of the first things that they admitted was that they just did not understand the context or ecosystems that we came from. In the end no harm, no foul. The experience of pitching in front of a different audience was well worth the time spent practising. Pitching, like any other skill, requires copious amounts of practice. In addition, the conversations did solidify my resolve to raise a local fund, backed by investors that understand the market.

Slush 2014 was a spectacle. Akin to the games at the Roman Colosseum, the razzmatazz was off the Richter scale. But the show is balanced by a strong imperative to constantly tinker with the system to achieve greater outcomes. During a presentation on the Green/Impact stage, the speaker lamented the failures of the Finnish education system. The very few students that received less than a perfect pedestal to excel as individuals, were of such great a concern that the value of the entire system was being questioned. And this despite the fact that the Finnish education system has consistently been rated as one of the best in the world.

This sentiment extends past policies, legislation, and organization. It is part of the very mindset of the Finnish people. On the last night, after experiencing a traditional Finnish sauna followed by a plunge in freezing waters, we were led to Doner Harju by Finnish friends who had lived in Tanzania and were well acquainted with my passion for food. The restaurant had ‘Star Wars Episode One’ levels of great expectations, considering that I was told for the first couple of weeks there was a line around the block to get in. Thankfully, Doner Harju not only lived up to the expectations but blew right past them, unlike the aforementioned unfortunate misstep in the Star Wars legacy.

SlushBlog3Doner Harju founder displays Finnish humility hiding behind the newspaper article.

I tend to try limit the use of grandiose statements like ‘the best I ever had’ when speaking about food, owing to a personal view that a great meal is an experience that that memory alone cannot recreate. But the lamb and chicken plates at Doner Harju were just that. I cannot think of a single other doner kebab experience that came close to the intricacies and balance presented that night. I had the good fortune to speak to one of the founders, whose passion for the food they created exemplified the strive for perfection. He explained that the reason they had not moved on to a larger premises and grown the business past the one location was because the doner recipe just ‘wasn’t perfect yet’.
This drive for perfection through prototyping, iteration, and results monitoring is possibly the greatest cultural export that Finland has. Past all the hype, the basket of eels is taking great strides to prove, that for start-ups, not all roads lead to Palo Alto.

- Johnpaul Barretto, Kinu

http://www.kinu.co.tz/

SLUSH – My true life opportunity

It has been a wonderful experience to participate at SLUSH event in Helsinki Finland this year, we met international investors, executives and accelerators, and they opened my eyes to the new ways of thinking. I got a chance to network with people from other African countries and Europe, I saw how the other part of the world is doing things especially with technology, and real they are moving, moving and moving. I saw how technology has transformed life in Finland.

Among things I learnt concerning startups is that people do not wait for the Government support to push them up to start implementing their ideas, rather they start on their own and external support will find them while they are on the move already. Startups in Finland and other European countries seem to operate in a very strong Ecosystem which prepares them to scale easily to the global market in terms of operation and investment.

I believe there are so many people with bright ideas here at home but the problem with most of us is lack of confidence to start without cash on hand. A network of right people is more important than cash at early stages of idea or business growth, cash will come from people you have already in your network, that’s why SLUSH was formed to widen chances of networking.

I hope everyone now is celebrating personal improvement attained from SLUSH, but this could mean a lot if we are willing and committed to share with our fellow guys. We have to join hands together and see how we can bring together hubs, universities, incubators, private and public sectors to create an ecosystem that will provide chances for many entrepreneurs and startups to meet right people and grow their networks.

For sure, the battle ahead is very big and challenging, to fill the gap we need not only to be committed and hard workers but also very creative and innovative. We need a “SLUSH-like” conference in Tanzania for our startups to have big impact in the home society and the global.

The time is now, let’s decide and draw the map.

Abdul Bashiri,

CEO,

Bashicom Enterprises Ltd

10610676_10202487881033300_8915494436710791932_nAbdul Bashiri (third from left) enjoying snow with Rene Petersen Parker (RLabs), Johnpaul Barretto (Kinu) and Godfrey Magila (Magilatech).

Slush lessons by Godfrey Magila: Tanzanian Power!

I learnt a lot from our trip to Slush. Surprisingly my biggest lesson did not come from Slush itself – but it came from our Tanzanian team! I learnt important things that have impact in life and also to the business side.

WP_004166Godfrey Magila pitching Mobile Parliament to international investors.

I also had fun with the team like experiencing snow and ordering food without understanding a word first time in my life! I’m thankful for the opportunity that Finland has given me and I’m convinced that it will have effects even after a long time.

Godfrey Magila, Mobile Parliament

http://mparliament.com/index-sw.html

Findings from Slush by Taha Jiwaji

Slush definitely lives up to its hype of a tech conference not to be missed. In my opinion its somewhere in between a rock concert and a

proper conference. Laser lights and stage smoke were just a few of the effects you’d see on a daily basis. There’s also serious stuff off course with lots of intense startup pitches, frenzied networking and amazing talks covering topics ranging from fundraising, gaming to leadership and impact investments.

Although the focus was mostly on Scandinavian and Eurasian startups, key takeaways for African startups including Bongo Live was the think global mindset since almost all of our economies are fairly small as independent markets. Finland only has 5 million people, so their startups have to think global or atleast cover Europe from day 1.

Overall I personally learned a lot about the Finnish tech scene, particularly in gaming. I also got to experience their work hard, play hard attitude which kept Slush both serious and enjoyable like tech conferences should be.

To summarize some more thoughts:

The pros:
Talks were to the point and didn’t go longer than 30mins. Some were just 5-7mins.
Good mix of large enterprise/corporations and smaller startups showcasing their products/services.

The cons:
upto 12,000 attendees. making it extremely hard to stand out.
The African startup landscape was very unfamiliar to almost everyone I met. So there was a lot of educating to be done.

Taha Jiwaji, Bongolive.

http://www.bongolive.co.tz/

taha

Towards establishing mini fabrication lab at Buni hub.

“What I like about Buni is the fact that the space equips us with skills that you can’t get from any other place in Tanzania” Michael Kimollo, active member of Buni maker community and graduate of Buni internship programme.

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3D printer at Buni hub.

Six months ago, group of 20 to 30 Buni members developed interest on forming a maker community at the hub called Make Fellows. The motivation came from the existing few individuals, who were working with the current senior mentor of the community Victor Augustine on their university final year projects. When the lady from Romania, Stefania Druga visited Buni and pitch about her project called Afrimakers, we felt there was a need to start and develop our own maker community in Dar es Salaam.

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Interns working on the water level system project.

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Testing the water level system prototype. The system can send SMS notifications to the users.

From that time number of makers meet-ups have been organized at Buni hub mostly in Saturdays. The community is made up of individuals who are dedicated towards making different innovative electronics prototype. From the sessions people learn the basics of electronics up to working with micro-controllers and making circuit boards. The community has been using Arduino and other technologies on creating and developing new prototypes, the recent projects being FM transmitters and liquid level control systems using sensors. The liquid level control system was used by the students in Buni internship programme to develop water level system for water dams and wells. The sensors also can be used to check the amount of humidity in the soil and it can be incorporated in digital irrigation systems. The project is already developed by the other mentor of the maker’s community, Jacqueline Dismas.

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Matthew assembling the 3D printer at Buni hub.

Having the community of makers at the hub has created a lot of opportunities to the hub users and individuals looking for maker communities in Tanzania. 3 months ago 3D printing technology pioneer, Matthew Rodge visited the hub and meet with the local pioneers of making things. Matthew met with the director general of COSTECH,
Dr. Hassan Mshinda and explained the concept of 3D printing to him and its potential for rapid prototyping especially for developing countries.  Having community of individuals interested and passionate in making things, it was very easy to suggest to them the concept of 3D printing and the potential of the technology.

“3D printing will revolutionize the manufacturing industry especially in developing countries” Dr. Hassan Mshinda.

The maker community at the hub were offered free 3D assembling and operation training by Matthew pioneer from the organization called techfortrade. Matthew left the hub with assembled 3D printer that to be used by the hub. The printer is currently operational and is being used at the hub.

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Jacqueline facilitating 3D printing training session.

From the successes of the maker community and adoption of 3D printing technology by hub mentors, Dr. Hassan Mshinda held a meeting with all the stakeholders and suggested formation of Mini FabLab (fabrication laboratory) at the hub with more focus on 3D printing technologies. The first project was assembling an e-waste 3D printer from the hub and second project being, researching for possibilities of recycling the plastic bottles into 3D printing filaments. Both of the projects are currently on progress. Matthew has been successful on implementing both of the projects in other developing countries and through the support of local makers, he is looking to achieve the same in Tanzania. The scope of the project is to have a working prototype of an e-waste 3D printer and recycled plastic filaments before rolling them out through vocational training institutions or other local production industries.

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Bonguino board made by Victor Augustine, senior mentor of the community.

The first step towards achieving the aim, COSTECH has decided to establish a mini FabLab inside Buni hub for the maker community to be able to work with the tools for rapid prototyping and bringing their technical ideas into life. Currently the community has two mentors Victor Augustine and Jacqueline Dismas, the second being the care taker of the 3D printer and the maker community. As part of the first step the hub is planning to focus more on electronics maker community before moving forward to other sides of making things.

The community mentor, Jacqueline visited the University of Nairobi fabrication lab. The about to be formed FabLab will be working closely with the university’s FabLab and already the mini FabLab is in the process of joining the global FabLab network.
The journey continues, by early next year we believe the the first FabLab will be opened in Dar es Salaam inside Buni hub.