On Wednesday, 20 April 2016 the City of Johannesburg unveiled details of the DEMO Africa Conference, taking place at the Sandton Convention Centre from 22 to 26 August 2016.
This is the first time the annual Pan-African conference, now in its fifth year, will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa. The conference provides a platform for African technology start-ups to pitch their ideas to both local and international investors in a bid to secure funding. In 2015, Demo Africa participants raised US$8 million (over R110 million) in funding.
DEMO Africa is the most important event of its kind in Africa and hosting the conference is a triumph for the City of Johannesburg. Ruby Mathang, Member of the Mayoral Committee from the Department of Economic Development for the City, says: “The City of Johannesburg wants to position itself as the number one entrepreneurial hub on the continent. This requires that we play a significant role in the African technology innovation ecosystem.”
Mathang is upbeat about the work Johannesburg is doing around technology and innovation. “We have a number of projects that support entrepreneurial development and we believe that DEMO Africa adds to that portfolio,” he says.
“We believe that Johannesburg has some of the best technology companies in operation anywhere in Africa. We have a great community of technology professionals and IT skills. A number of companies have their IT and data centres in Johannesburg.” Mathang singles out IBM’s new R700 million innovation centre in Braamfontein and General Electric’s multi million-rand innovation centre in Houghton.
The City of Johannesburg also intends to use DEMO Africa as a way of mobilising the City’s private wealth and encouraging individuals with means to invest in start-ups. “In Johannesburg we have the largest community of High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI) in any city in Africa. Global consultancy Cap Gemini says one in seven of all HNWI in Africa live in Johannesburg. We want to mobilise this private wealth to start being active in investing in entrepreneurship,” says Ravi Naidoo, Executive Director: Department of Economic Development.
Not only does DEMO Africa showcase potential investment opportunities, but, says Naidoo: “The forum also allows investors to network with each other, giving [them] an opportunity to interact with fellow investors; enabling them to share information on opportunities, best practices and concerns about a investing in start-ups.”
Investors this year will be both local and international in flavour. “Last year the first annual meeting of the African Business Angel Network was held. It is a network of individual African investors,” says Naidoo. “The European Business Angel Network has always been a participant of DEMO Africa, but now African investors are coming together.”
Getting start-ups partnered with these investors is the ultimate focus of DEMO Africa. In 2015 30 out of 600 start-ups who applied made it through to the conference. Naidoo explains the process: “What you see at the event is the climax of quite a long process throughout Africa. The programme runs over several months where the DEMO team scours Africa for interesting start-ups. Successful start-ups are mentored and taught how to package their businesses for investment and how to pitch to investors. They go through a rigorous training programme.”
Mathang cannot say how many start-ups will make it to this year’s conference, but he is confident that they will not disappoint. The conference covers a variety of industry sectors including agriculture, health, education, manufacturing, retail, media and entertainment, communication, transport and logistics, energy, finance and banking, water and sanitation, and waste management and recycling.
The conference is open to the public, who can attend as conference delegates. “A lot of people attend in order to network,” says Mathang. “They are often entrepreneurs who want to share the space with leading investors in technology in Africa.” The cost for the public will be announced closer to the event.
DEMO Africa is sponsored by the South African Department of Science and Technology along with long-standing supporters such as Microsoft, non-profit organisation Lions@frica and the United States Department of State.
Demo Africa is one of the largest flagship initiatives of LIONS@AFRICA and aims to connect African startups to the global ecosystem. DEMO Africa is the place where the most innovative companies from African countries come to launch their products and announce to Africa and the world what they have developed.