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Latitude59 Makes Its African Debut

Latitude59 Kenya Edition is an official satellite event of Latitude59 – the annual flagship conference of the digital nation of Estonia – opening doors in the tech sector to East Africa & connecting the international tech communities.

Taking place on December 6 at Sarit Expo Centre in Nairobi, Latitude59 Kenya Edition will bring together innovators, entrepreneurs & tech enthusiasts from all over the world, for a day filled with inspiring talks, interactive workshops & impactful networking opportunities.

The program is built around topics most relevant to Kenya & its growth as an impactful player on the global startup scene, with topics ranging from sustainability, digital assets & business growth to concrete vectors such as climate tech, agritech, foodtech & fintech.

To shed some light on the driving forces behind this event and discover the essence of its impact on the ever-evolving tech and startup ecosystem, The FutureList interviewed Latitude59’s Liisi Org, CEO, and Dolores Daniel, Head of Investor Relations & Project Manager.

The FutureList: Latitude59 has built a significant history in the tech conference world. Can you share the origins and evolution of Latitude59 and its contributions to the tech ecosystem?

Liisi: Latitude59 wasn’t the name when the ecosystem started developing. It was called ItechLaw Tallinn Conference in 2008. At this time, it was primarily aimed at law companies dealing with tech. Although startup companies were already very attractive and on the rise across the world, the Estonian startup scene was still making baby steps back then. But the steps were very persistent and in 2012 it became the Latitude59 conference. The name is derived from the 59th latitude line that crosses Estonia. In 2015, the local startup ecosystem started to grow and many VCs became interested in Estonia. It was a very momentous year for Latitude59 – the number of participants rose to over 1600. Fast forward to the years 2022 and 2023, Estonia now has over 1500 startups and 10 unicorns, and Latitude59 is a conference with 3000 people from 67 countries, 600 investors from 100 funds and 800 startuppers and 55 partners. We can say that Latitude59 has been the main community gatherer in our region, contributing to our startup ecosystem and attracting people from all over the world, building a global village every day.

The FutureList: As the Project Lead for Latitude59 Kenya, what excites you the most about bringing this event to a new continent, and what are your expectations?

Dolores: Africa came to mind during our continuous discussions with Liisi when we brainstormed for new horizons for Latitude59. While putting together the 2023 Spring Conference, the peaked curiosity from different people around the world who expressed their interest and support towards Estonia, our digital presence and support of innovation made us understand that among others, Kenya has so much potential and how much our ecosystems could learn from each other. This is our first international satellite event and what excites me and the team, in general, is how we can bring these two – Estonian and Kenyan startup communities – together. Hopefully, we can introduce Estonia to the East African community and subsequently see a really good participation for our Tallinn event on May 22-24, 2024, to have a two-way collaboration.

The FutureList: Exploring new horizons can be challenging. What are some of the unique challenges and opportunities you anticipate in bringing Latitude59 to Kenya?

Dolores: Entering a new market is always challenging, especially when that market differs from yours (and boy, does it). Four months ago, we had no presence in Kenya, no one knew who we were, and we’ve been creating something amazing in a faraway land in the Nordics. We are in uncharted (for us) territory, and it takes time and local presence to understand the intricacies of each business and innovation environment. This notwithstanding, we live and breathe a startup mindset, hence, we apply this approach for the Latitude59 Kenya Edition as well. We push through the difficulties and see where we land.

We had four months in total, from the decision to the execution, to put this together. We’ve always known, from our experience, that it is all about the partners, but we didn’t understand how much that applies in Kenya. I believe this is the main takeaway. 

Liisi: Yes, it’s been quite a journey and we have already learned so much. With a month to go, we hope to attract a significant number of attendees to our Latitude59 Kenya Edition on December 6, given the strength of our program lineup and we’ll emphasize a lot on the networking part. This whole adventure has given us an understanding of how operating a startup, since it certainly seems to apply, actually works.

The FutureList: Latitude59 has an established presence in Estonia. What lessons or experiences from Estonia do you think will be valuable in Kenya?

Dolores: The strength of the Estonian startup ecosystem lies specifically in collaboration and support. We absolutely cannot rely solely on ourselves but the organisations that make up the Estonian startup support structure. Among those organisations are incubators, accelerators, venture capital funds, angel groups, science parks, and others. To support the startup’s growth, those parties need to be aware of each other’s activities. So, collaboration is what we’d like to focus on to enable startups with access to funding, ideas, network and support. In Estonia, we can’t not mention the governmental support, which is probably not yet there for Kenya. In Estonia, the small country that we are, we’ve been lucky to have the public sector’s support for innovation. The policies in place foster innovation, bring in foreign founders and create ways to be a part of the first digital nation.

The FutureList: What unique aspects of the Kenyan startup ecosystem have you discovered that will make Latitude59 Kenya special for attendees?

Dolores: The Kenyan ecosystem is definitely one to watch as it is growing so fast. With a young and tech-savvy population, the people’s hunger and creativity is something to be in awe of. The problems to solve are, of course, very different from those in Estonia, and the founders seem to be eager to go further and fast. The mindset is different and it seems that what might be important one day, can be something different in a week. What we would aim to explain and share through our stage program is the necessity to work together, share experiences, and really see the common denominators, ways to mold the puzzle pieces in a way that they’d stick to each other, creating a seamless ecosystem to foster the growth of new founders, encourage keeping an open mind and seeking help and advice from those who’ve been through the maze.

The FutureList: The event aims to bring together the Estonian and Kenyan startup ecosystems, contributing to the global village concept. Could you elaborate on why this mission is important for Latitude59 and the broader tech community?

Dolores: Our bigger goal is to have a common platform for the global innovators. The connection with Latitude59 doesn’t end when attendees leave the conference; in fact, it’s just the beginning of their connection with the community. What lies behind the global village concept is the understanding that the tech sector is what changes the world and innovators, who are connected, can build the solutions for monumental problems we’re facing in different sectors (whether it is creating access to better education, universal healthcare, increasing financial literacy and access to funds, keeping global warming in check, allowing more women and underrepresented groups access to entrepreneurship, etc.). In Estonian, we have a saying which roughly translates to “when you see a fault, come lend a helping hand”. When creating those connections, we enable innovators to learn from each other, collaborate, and find ways to build the world you want.

The FutureList: What do you hope attendees, whether founders, investors, partners, or ecosystem players, will take away from the event in Nairobi on December 6, and how can they maximise their experience?

Dolores: Our desire is for the tech community to grow and have a global reach. There is no innovation made alone. There is networking, amazing speakers, and real lighthouses of the local ecosystem who have brought their ideas to life. Be inspired, make those connections, grow your network by talking to people, listening to what others have to say, and keep an open mind.

The FutureList: How can people who can’t attend in Nairobi still engage with Latitude59 and stay connected with the mission?

Dolores: We’re proud to launch the Latitude59 Kenya Edition as our first international satellite event in Africa, but it definitely will not be the last. We’re just opening the door to new startup ecosystems and building those ties. Our partner on the ground, Tech Safari, to begin with, is a part of our network and will be also coming to Tallinn this Spring to keep that connection alive and take it further. We’re definitely aiming to come back to Africa after this December. Meanwhile, I advise to keep your eyes peeled on our social media channels, and you never know what can grow out of those relationships we build in Nairobi this time.

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