On June 6th & 7th, 2017, with a backdrop of the Caribbean sun rising over a white-sandy beach, the Global Startup Ecosystems (GSE) team, founded by Christine Souffrant Ntim, hosted the first annual Haiti Tech Summit in partnership with the Minister of Tourism, at the all-inclusive Royal Decameron Beach Resort in Haiti. Yes, Haiti.
After touring the world attending global conferences spanning Dubai, Russia, Nigeria and San Francisco, Souffrant-Ntim, a Haitian-American, noticed that ecosystems across industries were developing and drawing investments as a result of these events and gatherings. “If these conferences are serving as a catalyst for development and innovation in these communities,” she thought to herself, “why not do this in Haiti?”. With that came the vision to launch the Haiti Tech Summit with a 13-year commitment to gather the world’s most influential investors, entrepreneurs and industry leaders in Haiti – a country often characterized by economic poverty and political instability. The 10-member Haiti Tech Summit team, composed of both local and diaspora Haitians, were driven by the mission to rebrand Haiti and shift the narrative towards its potential to serve as a hub for innovation in the Caribbean.
The team humbly expected an audience of 200 local and international attendees, and instead ended up hosting over 500 entrepreneurs, influencers and speakers all gathered to discuss how technology and innovation could accelerate sectors such as education, government, health, sports, media, culture, agriculture and tourism in Haiti.
On Day 1, the Summit kicked-off with an inspiring and powerful keynote from Ben Horowitz, (Partner and Co-Founder of renown VC firm Andreessen Horowitz,) entitled “To Create Culture, Start a Revolution.” In his keynote, Horowitz, a fan of Haitian liberator, Toussaint L’Overture, paid homage and called for Haitians to change their mindset in order to fuel collaboration and ultimately change the country’s narrative. After a standing ovation, attendees then listened to keynotes and panels from 100+ influencers and speakers from over 18 countries, representing top companies such as Google, Facebook, Airbnb, Linkedin, Uber, Mastercard, Paypal, Github, Singularity, Draper University, Access Haiti, Center for Financial Investments, Hertz and many more.
The end of Day 1 was concluded by Haiti’s President, Jovenel Moise, who addressed the crowd in a moving speech calling for unity and innovation, as well as his administration’s commitment to supporting the Haiti Tech Summit team in helping to advance the nation. Other notable guests over the 2-day Summit included Roy Glasberg from Google’s Launchpad Accelerator, Matt Terrell from Facebook’s Developers Circle, and Vicky Jeudy from Netflix’s Original Series “Orange is the New Black”. Over 40 media outlets attended including representatives from Tech Crunch, NY Times, Essence, Ebony, Black Enterprise, Inc., Forbes, Huffington Post, LoopHaiti, L’Union Suite, Chokarella, Trace Media, Le Nouvelliste and more.
In reflecting on the impact of the Summit, one of the most noteworthy accomplishments was putting Haiti back on the map as one of the most dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystems in the world. This Summit not only helped to galvanize local entrepreneurs, small businesses and government entities but, most importantly, connected them to the international community. One momentus outcome in particular was a young Haitian artificial intelligence researcher named Ben Toussaint who was invited by Roy Glasberg, Head of Google’s Lauchpad Accelerator Program, to Silicon Valley for two weeks in July. During his two-week visit, Toussaint will have the opportunity to mentor startups in Google’s Accelerator program on artificial intelligence. In addition, Luigi Voltaire a local Haitian entrepreneur, was also invited by one of our speakers to Silicon Valley to attend an event focused on investments in emerging markets.
The Haiti Tech Summit sets out to build a community of creators and policy makers determined to reshape the narrative for Haiti not only as a hub for innovation but also an international tourist destination.
The organizers of the Summit are currently laying the groundwork for the next year’s Summit scheduled for June 21-23, 2018. To learn more information, visit www.haititechsummit.com and join the Facebook group.