9 Events every tech startup should add to its diary

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South Africa’s tech scene is on the rise and tech entrepreneurs from the country are finding their way to Silicon Valley with products worthy of the world’s attention. Some of these entrepreneurs are now mentors and have a wealth of knowledge that they’re willing to share with their fellow countrymen.

Two of the most common themes among startup mentors, coaches and founders whose companies got acquired, are to learn continually and to increase the quality of your network. You can do both at industry relevant events, so I took a moment to find out which South African tech events some of the top local agencies and their founders attend.

27 Dinner
The team at communications agency Cerebra organise a networking dinner where they get some top industry speakers, who are entrepreneurs themselves. I asked Mike Stopforth, the CEO of Cerebra, why they started the 27 Dinner. This is what he had to say:

“Simply because I noticed that there was a void between geeks, creatives and business people. I believe these two groups need to mix more, and better, because they enable each other’s business.”

A lot of the influential people on Twitter, in the South African tech industry, and social media are very likely to have attended the 27 Dinner. They feature some of top speakers including Yola Co-founder Vinny Lingham and the former Country Manager for Google SA, Stafford Masie.

The 27 Dinners also feature a diverse audience from geeks, creative professionals and business people, in the more traditional sense. In case you are still uncertain about whether you should attend, Stopforth adds that:

“The content is often biased toward startups and entrepreneurs, as this is a common thread of interest for many attendees. The dinners provide an opportunity to meet and network with individuals you may not do so with informally.”

Heavy Chef
Heavy Chef was started by the World Wide Creative team around the idea that no one trusts a skinny chef. As a person in digital marketing, therefore, you should taste and try your own ingredients before recommending them. This gave rise to a need to learn more about digital marketing.

Fred Roed, CEO of World Wide Creative let me in on why they started the event:

“It started as a genuine need to learn from within our agency. We wanted to invite people who would be able to enlighten us about topics in digital marketing, and who really know their stuff. It started in our studio more than six years ago, then expanded into what it is today. There are over 300 people booked for the next session on March 28th.”

Most startups understand the need to network and learn, but with the innumerable gatherings at any given time; why should you attend the Heavy Chef?

According to Roed: “Entrepreneurship is a long road of constant learning, which ties into the Heavy Chef’s philosophy. We are focused entirely on learning. Heavy Chef is not about networking, drinks and a meal, with a speaker. It’s about picking a salient topic then getting the best possible person to unpack that topic. We keep it focused and relevant, yet fun and approachable.”

Heavy Chef events tend to book out fast, so you have to move quickly if you’d like to join them at a session. You can sign up on their website.

When you want to meet relevant industry thought leaders, do you ever wonder which industry related conventions they attend? Well, I do. So I asked Roed.

Roed also mentioned the following as his favourites and with reasons for each:

  1. The Discovery Invest Leadership Summit, which I was lucky enough to attend last year. We were exposed to a mix of truly world-class national and international speakers.
  2. Endeavor SA also holds really great entrepreneur functions.
  3. Silicon Cape is a worthwhile cause, and represents all the tech and digital industry heavyweights in the Cape.

My Biz Expo
The National Small Business Chamber also hosts an expo in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. They offer free entry for pre-event signups.

Tech4Africa
Tech4Africa is an annual conference that brings global perspective to the African context, had its debuted in 2010 and has become a calendar event that is well worth attending.

I was fortunate to attend both the 2010 and 2011 events, where they had speakers who are changing the game. The speakers ranged from author, Clay Shirky to the co-founder of Ushahidi, Erik Hersman. 2011 saw a captivating talk by Herman Chinery-Hesse, who is also known as “The Bill Gates of Africa” and encouraged startups to “hack it ’til you crack it“.

The speakers and delegates shared their insights with me in 2010, where they had a startup contest that exposed local talent to the community. In 2011, they hosted another that connected startups with investors, mentors and thought leaders. This presents startups with an opportunity to build platforms that can be presented at the conference.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of events, but a start toward networking, learning and testing your idea. What events do you attend? Share your favourites in the comments below and let us know why you like them.

Net Prophet
Since 2009, Net Prophet has very rapidly made it into the annual calendar of the local tech community. It brings in a wide range of speakers to a diverse audience from the fields of creativity, innovation and business.

The conference organisers have set high expectations and have raised the bar in recent years. The conference has been free, yes FREE, since 2009 and the date for 2012 is 8 May. Keep an eye on the website for updates and to register.

Mobile Monday
Mobile Monday is a global community of mobile and digital influencers which also holds events in Joburg and Cape Town.

*Watch out for our global list of tech events worth attending

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