4 reasons why tech events tend to fail in the Caribbean

Tech events are all the rage in the Caribbean. Regularly, we have conferences, trade shows, summits, and the like, but it is questionable whether they have improved the capacity of our citizens. We discuss why that might be the case.


It is always exciting when a tech event is being staged somewhere in the Caribbean. For the locals, it is wonderful to have such activity readily accessible and usually it is affordable, relative to what obtains in more developed countries.

A few weeks ago, a two-day tech summit was held in Haiti, with the goal of helping to “transform the poverty-stricken nation into a hub of innovation” (Source: Miami Herald). The summit appeared to be well organised. It had over 450 participants, and “100 speakers representing Google, Facebook, Uber and Airbnb, and covering topics including launching a startup, the importance of smart cities and branding”.

Tech events, be they a seminars, summits, conferences, etc, can be quite enriching to those who attend and are considered a success by the event organisers, based on the level of participation realised. However, for events geared towards capacity building or developing ecosystems, in areas such as tech entrepreneurship, innovation and software development, to name a few, sadly, they tend not to have lasting impact. Below four reasons are outlined.

1. Events are not consistently executed

The first staging of a tech event usually goes off with a bang! The organisers put their shoulders to the wheel: secure the venue; the speakers; sponsors,, and enjoy a great turnout. However, in the following years – if it is an annual event – the enthusiasm appears to wane. The event seems to get watered down, and after about two to three stagings, it dies.

Although participants would have received some value out of the events that occurred, to truly move the tech capacity building or tech ecosystem development needle, requires consistency. The focus should be on developing critical mass – which takes time. If a tech event occurs just two to three times and then stops, the building of an innovation ecosystem, for example, will never truly develop.

2.  Organisers want quick returns

In developed countries, organising and hosting events can be quite lucrative. Between the support of sponsors and the registration fees payable, more than enough funds can be collected to not only execute the event, but also pay the hosts handsomely. In the Caribbean, often, that is not the case.

As mentioned in the previous point, considerable effort is required to successfully execute an event – and it does not necessarily get easier with future stagings. Hence organisers are likely to get discouraged, especially if they were not aware of the effort and resources needed not just to launch the event, but also for subsequent executions.

3.  They are designed as on-off events

When organisers launch a tech event, typically, they expect it will become a regular occurrence. However, at the time when the first one is being planned, it is conceptualised as a standalone product. Hence, once that staging is successfully executed, the organisers usually take a break, and it could be just weeks before what should be the next staging that the team is re-mobilised for what then becomes a difficult follow-up to the first staging.

Although it could be argued that the focus should be on the event at hand, the premise and even the approach to executing that first event may be different, if it is seen as part of a longer term initiative. For example, instead of negotiating for a venue for just one staging, negotiate for three stagings to realise greater discounts and to commitment. Similar can be done with respect to sponsorship. In having a longer-term plan in mind, more consistent and better quality productions over time are more likely.

4.  They are not part of a larger system/framework

Finally, and following from the previous point, the hosting of major tech events should be just one of many tactics implemented to foster tech-related capacity building or ecosystem development in the region. A summit, conference, tradeshow, etc., might be the most visible and glamorous effort, but it should be underpinned by other programmes and initiatives to reinforce and to continue to nurture what might be (just) highlighted during a major event.

Once again, if the focus is on building critical mass in tech/ICT – to equip and empower citizens to better capitalise on the opportunities around them – a short-term and one-dimensional approach is not enough. A more comprehensive plan, with consideration given to the resources needed, is essential to decisively address this issue.


Image credits:  Steven Lilley (flickr)