WebCongress in Colombia: Interview with CEO Ouali Benmeziane

WebCongress CEO Ouali Benmeziane. Courtesy: Ouali Benmeziane.

Founded sixteen years ago in Barcelona, Spain, as a reference for technology insiders, start-up entrepreneurs, and an education platform for programmers working in the highly competitive IT sector, WebCongress has been hosted in more than 17 countries, and Colombia is the latest host nation to showcase an event that will take place in Bogotá from November 16 to 18.

With the hashtag #MakeTheFuture, WebCongress looks to offer Colombian talent the necessary skill sets to compete in the global marketplace, and one witnessing important transformations with new technologies, digital marketing and branding, AI, and blockchains. The City Paper spoke to the CEO of WebCongress, Ouali Benmeziane about this key event, as well as the challenges and opportunities facing the country’s technology sector.

The City Paper (TCP):  As Medellín is so well positioned as the country’s tech hub, why host WebCongress in Bogotá?

Ouali Benmeziane (OB): If you look at the stats and talent, everything is happening in Bogotá. The numbers for Medellín are not there yet. As we also have guests arriving from the US, Brazil, France and Middle East, Bogotá is the main entry point. Medellín has all the right tools and is an amazing place. It’s very similar to what happened in Miami. It took a long time to transform into a global tech hub. The key is talent. Improving English skills. Investing in infrastructure. We want a create a hybrid space next year for business and experience in Medellín.

TCP: What is at the heart of WebCongress?

OB: We are an educational company at heart. We work with Universities, governments and corporations, and large tech partners, from Google to Meta, to build ecosystems. We want people to learn technical, analytical, and creative skills so they can run key departments within businesses. We are obsessed with the educational component of WebCongress. Our mission hasn’t changed. What has changed is the content, agenda, and experience. We started as a very technical event with a focus on analytics and data. Today, we are looking at communities, digital audiences, online culture, entrepreneurship, as well as virtual and extended realities.

TCP: What differentiates WebCongress from other tech events?

OB: We are not an event that promotes “celebrity gurus”, but rather, we like to surprise our guests with keynote speakers they have never heard of.  You will find amazing talent and learn a lot. We have a total combination this year of 30 experts. We are hybrid “Frankenstein” of creativity.

TCP: In your understanding of Colombia, how do you see the skills of persons competing for jobs in tech?

OB: There is a lot of work to do. Before COVID-19 I was convinced that Colombia would position itself as a major player. The pandemic accelerated the fact that one can hire teams anywhere in the world. The only live virtual session we are going to have at WebCongress is a panel with five entrepreneurs and industry insiders from Ukraine. They are going to discuss their start-up ecosystems. Emerging tech markets in Eastern Europe are directly competing with Colombia. Colombia is not competing with Canada, India, or the US.

Language is another obstacle Colombia has to overcome. In Europe, if you don’t speak two or three languages you cannot move around, let alone, be competitive. Colombia needs all young people, starting at age six, to learn English. Without language skills, Colombia can’t serve anyone globally. One cannot compete in today’s market with a small, highly educated population and leave the rest out of the technology loop. South Florida, for example, is pushing everyone to grow, learn and connect. Everyone has to be committed to making Colombia a tech hub.

TCP: Tech events tend to focus on younger generations. What’s the role for those middle age or older? 

OB: To be clear, at age 39, I am already old in this industry. Clearly, young people are the hope. They naturally understand that they can work with clients around the world without having to physically go there. And if their quality of life improves locally they won’t have to relocate to tech hubs, such as Silicon Valley or Miami. This said WebCongress looks at the education process from top-to-bottom, across all generations.

If you separate the decision-makers from entry-level workers you have a gap in the system. We have consulting workshops for senior executives, boot camps, and all other services. It’s about educating a new way of working. From big financial institutions to start-ups. We’re all about investing in optimizing performance through communications and new technologies. But transformation takes time.

TCP: Any specific area that Colombia can outshine others in tech? 

OB: I envision Colombia as a “talent provider” for the world. Smaller cities such as Barranquilla have great potential in this regard, given its proximity to Miami. A lot of companies stateside are setting up teams in Barranquilla for coding and graphic design. Colombia in the tech sector is a teenage with so much potential. It just needs to find its own identity.

TCP: And the future of WebCongress?

OB: As an event, we’ve been around for 12 years, and we’ll be around for at least another twelve.

The event takes place at the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce’s El Salitre business center, and among the keynote speakers is Gregg Witt, the San Diego-based author of Gen-Z Frequency; Daniel Gouldman, CEO of Unbanked;  Paula Barcenas, Industry Manager of Meta; Juan de Antonio, founder of Cabify; among others.

For the complete line up of events, speakers at WebCongress 2022 in Bogotá visit: www.webcongress.com/bogota