Milton Cabral, Cabo Verde Digital PMO, at Web Summit 2023 (Lisbon)

Cape Verde at Web Summit 2023: An Exclusive Interview with Milton Cabral of Cabo Verde Digital

In the context of Cape Verde’s participation in Web Summit 2023 in Lisbon, we met with the Secretary of State for Digital Economy, Pedro Lopes, and subsequently had the pleasure of talking to Milton Cabral.

Cabral, a digital transformation activist, catalyst for the startup ecosystem, and software engineer, plays a pivotal role in the digital acceleration of the Cape Verde Islands as the Project Management Office (PMO) of the significant governmental initiative Cabo Verde Digital.

We enjoyed a conversation with the program’s engineer and strategist, who possesses an in-depth understanding of the critical task at hand, namely fostering a robust digital economy and nurturing technological entrepreneurship in the Cape Verde islands.

Note: The content of the interview has been slightly altered, as this version has been adapted from the original Portuguese.

Index

THE CAPE VERDE ISLANDS AT WEB SUMMIT | THE STARTUPS

CaboWork: Maybe we can take a step backwards. If someone didn’t know what Cabo Verde Digital is, what could we say about this project? Why is it so important for the government and the Cape Verdean islands?

Milton Cabral: Cabo Verde Digital is a program created by the government to stimulate the birth of technology-based companies, what we call technology-based startups. Therefore, Cabo Verde Digital’s main mission is to create and strengthen an innovative ecosystem for start-ups.

The ecosystem of innovation has to do with the set of instruments or programs that aim to support these startups in the different sectors. In the knowledge sector, in the financial sector, in the sector relating to platforms for connecting with other markets and other entrepreneurs, in the infrastructure sector and so on.

So Cabo Verde Digital has been doing the work of creating this ecosystem and then providing a supportive framework. Our framework is designed to about ensure that the different parts of the ecosystem can communicate and create value among themselves.

CaboWork: This seems like crucial and fulfilling work, with endless possibilities for growth. How has this project reshaped Cape Verde’s entrepreneurial landscape/tech industry culture since its launch?

Milton Cabral: I will tell you this much. There has never been this much talk about technological startups or private tech companies in Cape Verde before the creation of Cabo Verde Digital.

So Cape Verde has a small market where the main technological actor is a government structure, and for a while this has conditioned, so to speak, what the market has to offer.

Right now, with the Cabo Verde Digital agenda, we have seen a number of initiatives emerge, which are technology-based projects or products, and which later become private companies.

“We currently have over 100 technology-based start-ups mapped out”

Most of them, in fact, are at an embryonic stage because the ecosystem is also small. The current ecosystem is only three years old, but we already have a significant number of startups that are reaching a different level of maturity and are able to provide services to international markets.

CaboWork: A hundred start-ups in such a young ecosystem is, undoubtedly, a major success, isn’t it?

Milton Cabral: We believe so.

CABO VERDE DIGITAL AND THE EMPOWERMENT OF YOUNG CAPE VERDEANS

Cabo Verde Digital - Cape Verdean Team
The Cabo Verde Digital Team, a leading example on the African continent.
Image source: https://www.digital.cv/.

CaboWork: Undoubtedly, it’s having a really significant impact. What are you doing, in your day-to-day business operations, to cement this growth?

Milton Cabral: Cabo Verde Digital has an agenda of programs that it seeks to operationalize every year. Not only does it work at an operational level, but it also tries to be, shall we say, an ‘advocate’ for startups before the government, to create the right instruments. And we have, for example, incubation programmes.

One of them, which has had plenty of results, is Bolsa Cabo Verde Digital, a pre-incubation program that supports 25 young people every 3 months, offering them training, pocket money, and financial subsidies.

To ensure that these young people have the financial strength to really focus on taking advantage of this opportunity, we additionally provide them with a network of contacts and mentors to support their growth.

We also have this program that brings startups from Cape Verde to international events, GoGlobal. This program recruits 10 startups through a public selection process so that they can be on these stages and get a feel of what’s trending in the world in terms of technology. At the same time, they can sell or exhibit their services, products, and solutions and be in contact with the international markets.

In addition to this, we have many other initiatives that we have developed, as an active player in the ecosystem, which aim precisely to provide all the support and backing for technology-based startups and tech entrepreneurs.

RIGOROUS CRITERIA FOR THE SELECTION OF CAPE VERDEAN COMPANIES FOR WEB SUMMIT

CaboWork: How enriching! And what distinguishes the startups that were chosen this year?

Milton Cabral: We set certain criteria for choosing startups. There are usually four criteria. The degree of innovation, the strategic alignment (whether it provides a solution that has technology at its foundation, and whether it is prepared to receive investment). It also has to be a startup that has more or less defined its roadmap already, and it has to be a startup that carries a product with the capacity or potential for internationalisation.

So these are the four criteria we used to select the startups and these dictated, so to speak, the selection of the 10 startups that are here, with us, in Lisbon.

CaboWork: Yes, it makes perfect sense to present a complete product that can also be attractive in this environment, doesn’t it?

The tech industry - From Africa to the World
Image Source: Cabo Verde Digital/ LinkedIn Milton Cabral

Milton Cabral: Exactly! But we particularly believe in this program, GoGlobal. It’s a program that has enormous potential. Even if the startups haven’t got the scale yet, the simple fact of being at events of this nature, with such intensity, exposes them to a scenario that then forces them to take the next step.

And what I’ve realized is that in Cape Verde we have young people with talent and a lot of technical ability, but because the country is small, there are some limitations. The horizon and other limitations, right?

So this programme allows us to broaden the horizon and when you broaden the horizon to a person, to a community that has the technical capacity, you increase the potential.

CaboWork: Of course, the sky is the limit, isn’t it?

Milton Cabral: Precisely!

The Tech Industry in the Tech Islands of West Africa, Atlantic Ocean. with Milton Cabral at the Web Summit
Milton Cabral in Conversation – November 2023

CaboWork:  And what does the future hold for Cabo Verde Digital and for Cape Verde?

Milton Cabral: We believe the next two years are crucial for us to consolidate the ecosystem. So we already have the foundation laid out, we have an established footing and a critical mass. The future has a lot to do with consolidating the ecosystem, ensuring that the ecosystem gains the required maturity and contributes.

So that we can also have an ecosystem of funding, access to capital, namely venture capital, and other important components of the ecosystem. This will include reaching out to new ecosystems, establishing partnerships with other ecosystems around the world, and transforming Cape Verde into the true Tech Islands of West Africa.

CaboWork: Thank you so much for talking to us. We aim to proceed in deepening our relationship with the institutions in Cape Verde so that we can better connect the digital nomads with this growing entrepreneurial fabric.

Milton Cabral: Exactly, exactly.

CaboWork: So thank you very much for your words and your time.

Milton Cabral: We thank you for the opportunity.

Summary

The Web Summit 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal, has come to an end, but we will continue to follow the progress of the nation of Cape Verde and its presence in the digital economy on the African continent and worldwide.

Our conversation with Milton Cabral, representative and head of Cabo Verde Digital, at the Web Summit allowed us to understand how Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has been developed in the Cape Verdean economy. And the exciting new stages of development that await the country. The new technological hub on the African continent has announced itself!

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