Global Lessons Learned on Innovation at #SXSW: From China & Latin America to Europe & Africa’s Interior


There was once again a great international presence at the SXSW Interactive and Film Festival this year in Austin. See one of my SXSW Interactive overview from last year’s as well as one that touches on the strong global presence and what Silicon Valley can learn from our international counterparts.

Some of the panels I attended and took in during my stint in mid-March included discussions around innovation, business and technology in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

Building Successful Teams in Latin America: 

Latin America is among the most dynamic emerging markets in the world, resulting in a tremendous amount of opportunity for startup success. Building teams in Latin America presents a unique set of challenges, from identifying and hiring remote talent, to scaling company culture, to creating successful workflows with off-site teams. Presenters included: Bedy Yang, Diego Saez-Gil, Pedro Torres Picón, Sebastián Valin.

Survival Strategies for Brands in China

Whether companies like it or not, China is the new battleground for brands that want to succeed on the global stage. Foreign brands are increasingly challenged to expand their presence in the East and create competitive advantages to help them establish strong footholds in China.

At the same time, more and more Chinese brands are looking to expand beyond China and capture market share in regions around the world, including Africa, Europe and of course, North America. Those that fail in their overseas ventures will increasingly become vulnerable in their home markets, regardless of their countries of origin. How can global brands prepare themselves as they enter this next cycle of disruption? Presenters included: Emily Chong, Mario Van der Meulen.

Imitation as Innovation: Lessons from the Shanzhai 

From watches, bags and shoes to touchscreen tablets, fast food and electric cars — you can find thousands of knockoff brands in China.

Large, highly coordinated networks of innovative companies take the products and services we love in the U.S., alter them relentlessly and make them … better.  Then they speed them to one of the world’s largest consumer markets and sell them at devastatingly low margins.

The problem with U.S. innovation? Our broken business models. American companies were built to be predictable, not adaptable.

Trends like mobile, social and the cloud are major disruptive forces and businesses are struggling to keep up. Instead of fearing the Shanzhai, we can look at their 4 core tenets to reorganize the way we do business:

  • Build nothing from scratch
  • Innovate process at small scales
  • Share as much as you can
  • Act responsibly in the network

By adopting the philosophy of the Shanzhai “copycat culture,” companies can innovate faster and remain competitive. Presenters included: Kris Gale and Lyn Jeffery.

Latinos y Mobile: A Silver Bullet?  

As the numbers of Latinos in the US continues to grow, we have heard that mobile will solve the digital divide in empowering the Latino population but what does that mean are we making the correct assumptions? Our panel brings in experts from all sides to explore the impact of the Hispanic voice on technology and, in turn, the impact of technology on the Hispanic voice. The panelists

Much like the consumer today can choose between various tablets and smartphones for functionality and personal identification the Latino Community is not one size fits all community. The Latino community in the U.S. today is one of the most dynamic and diverse of all communities from a socioeconomic, racial, political and country of origin perspective. Presenters include: Brent Wilkes, Estuardo Rodriguez, Kety Esquivel, Lou Aronson.

 Teaching Cheetahs: Disruptive Education in Africa

The discussion focused on bringing to light some of the innovative ideas being put into practice on the African continent to build leadership and management capacity thus enabling African to fully take advantage of its accelerating growth trajectory. Creating and expanding opportunities for youth engagement, education and empowerment is especially important in Africa since it is the youngest continent on the planet, with over 70% of its population under 30.

The panel brought up examples of institutions and initiatives with unique and innovative approaches to closing Africa’s education gap. Leveraging tools that range from text message based test prep to ‘pay-it-forward’ funding for higher education, these organizations will provide the audience with a glimpse into the rapidly evolving landscape of African education and how it will affect the continents leadership going forward.

The $100bn Mobile Bullet Train Called Africa 

Innovation in Africa is the purest form: innovation out of necessity. Not Angry Birds, the innovations emerging from Africa allow farmers to check where they can get the best price for their produce, fishermen to be warned about storms, people to check whether medicines they are buying have expired, and rural cellphone users to send mobile money to each other using text messages. Even the pay-as-you-go payment system was pioneered in Africa.

Mobile phones are one of the great success stories of the world, and nowhere is this more evident than in Africa.

They are the 21st century equivalent of the railroad. Except it’s a bullet train. Africa is the world’s fastest growing telecoms market, second in size only to Asia. More people in Africa have a mobile phone than electricity. Africa is a mobile-first continent, but it really is a mobile-only continent. Presenters included: Gareth KnightFounderTech4Africa and Toby Shapshak, EditorStuff/The Times.

 The China Innovation Boom: Can the US Keep Up? 

China is on track to become the world’s largest economy – and a huge driver of that growth comes from innovative new companies. Technology startups aren’t just “copying” US companies anymore, but coming up with China-specific models that work first in China, secondly overseas. Come hear from one of the most experience investors in China about the outlook in the China-US innovation race. Can China really create a Google or an Apple? Can US technology companies gain a bigger foothold in China?  The presenter was Jeff Richards of GGV Capital.

 Progress & Tech in the Middle East: Friend or Foe? 

There have been many attempts to emulate Silicon Valley, but this year we’ll see a tech mecca spring up in an unlikely place: the Middle East. Brilliant entrepreneurs pack up their lives and move to San Francisco in pursuit of its “secret sauce,” but the recipe does not always lie in Silicon Valley. The Middle East is becoming a popular place to turn startups into Fortune 500 companies. Middle Eastern entrepreneurs have created innovative companies – an app gamifying prayer and a panoramic photo app creating a Zen-like experience for users – that are bringing wealth and prestige back to their countries. One company, PITME (“Progress in Technology Middle East”), is fostering this movement by finding and motivating strong companies with product and traction that are ready for global markets.

 Branding on the Moon: Marketing in the Middle East 

Landing in The Middle East is the natural progression for brands as they seek to take advantage of this increasingly consumerist society. But this melting pot of cultural contradiction – that just 30 years ago was little more than harsh desert – poses challenges the likes of which brands have never before encountered.

In an industry that is renowned for provocation in the most liberal of markets, how can advertising thrive in a conservative meritocracy whilst pushing the creative envelope? And how is the evolution of digital communications in The Middle East presenting opportunities to circumnavigate these constraints? The presenter was Guilherme Rangel of Creative Dirgyro.

 Growing a Business in a Submerged Economy (Greece)  

The Greek economy was one of the hottest global news topics of the past year. While international media sparked constant fears of the Euro fallout, local residents faced the instability of transitioning governments and unemployment surpassing 22% (50% for youths under 25!). Despite these staggering statistics, the recession was actually a source of opportunity for several young Greek entrepreneurs and companies, including ours – Daily Secret, the world’s smallest and fastest growing multinational digital media company. Started as a positive energy initiative to spread our love for Athens, Daily Secret has grown to over 550k members across 4 continents in over two years.  The presenter was Nikos Kakavoulis, CEO Co-FounderDaily Secret.

Asian Entrepreneurs Struggle with Fear of Failure  

To many young Asian entrepreneurs, starting a company is an act of rebellion. It means defying the lessons of parents, teachers, and culture, who say: Be proper. Find a stable job. Don’t take risks. It means – in many cases – feeling uncertainty, shame, and fear of failure. It’s a struggle that will continue as these entrepreneurs gun to compete with US companies, get funding from US investors, and partner with US corporations.  This panel discussed where fear of failure comes from, how it affects Asian startups today, and what it means for the future of Asian innovation.

 Africa or Bust! Content, Monetization, Opportunity   

A huge opportunity exists for content creators, service providers, brands, and media companies on the continent. In Africa, more people than ever have access to the internet, to the tune of 140 million, but this only represents 13% of the population.

By 2020, internet penetration in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to reach 24.7%, outpacing internet penetration rates across the globe and representing a virtually untapped market with unlimited potential.

Africans are using their newly acquired connectivity to engage each other, launch tech starts, develop apps, create content and organize grassroots movements. From mobile money to “smart’ water pumps that send SMS messages when they need repair, Africans are using the web to solve local problems and diversify their economies.

Renee Blodgett
Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.

She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.

Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.

Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.
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