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Bringing together the UK and Latin America to accelerate tech innovation

  • Freddy Nevison-Andrews

On Wednesday 12 June, Canning House, Google HOLA and the Department for Business and Trade brought together a group of technology experts at the UK-Latin America Tech Forum 2024 – sponsored by Redfern Legal.

Bringing together the UK and Latin America to accelerate tech innovation

Reading time: 6 mins approx.

On Wednesday 12 June, Canning House, Google HOLA and the Department for Business and Trade brought together a group of technology experts at the UK-Latin America Tech Forum 2024.

Hosted by Google at its Academy London premises, the conference centred on the theme of “Accelerating Innovation.” It was attended by a large delegation of Latin American and Caribbean tech entrepreneurs, visiting London for London Tech Week, and a mix of diplomats, businesspeople and analysts.

Jeremy Browne, CEO of Canning House, and Cristhian Rodríguez, President of Google HOLA, a network for Google employees from Latin American and Hispanic backgrounds, opened proceedings with words of welcome to the conference, introducing the key themes to be explored throughout the afternoon’s two panels and fireside chat.

Panel One, “Supercharging Innovation: Linking the UK and Latin America’s Tech Hubs,” was chaired by Tom Redfern, Senior Partner at Redfern Legal. First and foremost, the panel aimed to explore how hotspots across Latin America and the UK can build ties and generate a productive ecosystem, enabling startups to grow and thrive.

Tom Redfern (Redfern Legal) chairing Panel One. See more photos.

The panellists’ discussion covered a broad range of topics. Alfredo Tunon, a Senior Advisor in McKinsey & Company’s Transaction Banking Practice, spoke about contemporary opportunities and challenges in Latin American fintech sector – particularly focused on digital inequalities, regulation, sustainability, and how the sector can link up both with other technology sectors in Latin America, like healthtech, and with other global regions, including Asia and the UK.

Aline Bressan Martins, Global Business and Partnerships Lead at Connected Places Catapult, a UK Government-backed innovation accelerator, discussed how links between the UK and SMEs in emerging markets can help tackle climate challenges, and benefit growth and prosperity through improved access to talented people and market scale. In particular, she highlighted the opportunities offered by the UK government through bodies like Innovate UK.

Bruno Moraes, Managing Director of Wayra UK, an innovation hub and investment body within Telefónica and O2, working across much of Latin America, the UK and parts of Europe, spoke next. He defined Wayra’s role as a bridge-builder, helping companies land successfully in the UK market and boosting business development in Latin America using local knowledge and partnerships.

Finally, Dr Elena Peregrina Salvador, Head of Global FinTech Platform & Consumer Financing Products at Vodafone Group, explained Vodafone’s support and mentoring programmes for early-stage start-ups, helping them to navigate the benefits and difficulties of corporate partnerships and take “make or break” decisions to best serve the growth of their small businesses.

Next, Canning House CEO Jeremy Browne welcomed Martín Umaran, Co-Founder and Chairman EMEA of Globant, to the stage for a fireside chat. Globant is a global IT and software powerhouse founded in Argentina.

Martín Umaran (Globant) (L) in conversation with Jeremy Brown (Canning House). See more photos.

Jeremy and Martín’s conversation touched on all aspects of Globant’s origins, growth and future. They discussed the challenges and opportunities facing start-up and technology businesses in Latin America, and how Globant’s expansion across the region has benefitted from shared language and its ability to penetrate local markets.

Martín credited Globant’s global expansion – taking it beyond Latin America to countries including the UK, India and Romania, to name but a few – in large part to the company’s culture of sustainable, strategic growth, allowing it to maintain a workforce in the tens of thousands spread all around the world.

Looking forward, with Globant having just celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, Jeremy asked Martín how he sees the business’s next two decades – and beyond. As is the case for many businesses, especially in the tech sector, Martín said that he sees artificial intelligence (AI) as critical to Globant’s future – but that finding the right talent, as the company seeks to continue expanding its worldwide workforce, is also crucial to its sustainability.

Finally, Jeremy turned the conversation to the human side of founding and running a global business, asking “what’s your day-to-day like?” Martín spoke about how he balances work and life, quoting Richard Branson: “I don’t think of work as work and play as play. It’s all living.”

The conference then moved to Panel Two: "Driving Productivity and Prosperity: Collaborative Approaches to AI in the UK and Latin America". Chaired by John Groom, Partner in IP and Technology at legal firm Baker McKenzie, the panel explored how partnerships between the UK and Latin America can accelerate growth across their economies.

Panel Two, chaired by John Groom (Baker McKenzie). See more photos.

First to speak was Yishai Fransis, Head of EMEA for Technology Investment Banking at Citi. He discussed how, although the utilisation of AI technology is still in its relatively early days, the industry is one of the world’s hottest, generating large investments and profits at several levels of its value chain. Currently, the US is the focal point for investment, and generative AI – like OpenAI’s GPT, made famous by its ChatGPT AI chatbot – is an especially active space. Amongst challenges for the industry, he saw a reluctance amongst large firms to go all-in on AI, for fear of job redundancies.

Next, Pablo Sprechmann, a Research Specialist at Google DeepMind, a leading AI research laboratory, emphasised that AI goes far beyond just generative AI, with machine learning and neural network technology offering huge sources of innovation, away from the spotlight placed on products like ChatGPT and Google’s Gemini. He was excited by the prospect of continued improvements to AI models over the next year, especially in their ability to self-reflect and refine their results.

Brigid Evans, Director for Global Policy at Pearson, put forward that critical challenges need to be kept in mind as AI augments and automates more parts of our working lives. With that in mind, she highlighted the need to not only invest in AI, but also in people – developing skills with a focus on “uniquely human” tasks, and encouraging employers to help their employees to continually learn at work, beyond the structures of formal education.

Finally, Dr José Ramón López-Portillo, Director of Lobstertel, described the rapidity of technological change with AI as a “tsunami,” for which society at all levels needs to prepare. Although it is crucial to make use of the productivity boosts AI can offer, he said, it is necessary also to keep AI safety in mind and ensure staff are trained, so that these technologies can be leveraged for prosperity for all. He stressed a need for global-level collaboration on regulation.

Audience questions to our panels touched on topics including digital inequality; accelerator programmes for start-ups; the role of the UK as not only a bridge-builder but a stepping stone, for example perhaps helping to link India and Latin America; the disruptive effects of AI to our daily lives; and checks and balances on AI safety.

Canning House is delighted to thank all of our partners on this event – Google HOLA, the Department for Business and Trade, and Google for hosting – and our generous sponsor Redfern Legal. We also thank our two excellent panels of speakers, Martín from Globant, and our moderators for their insights. Finally, we thank our audience for their interest and engagement in the UK-Latin America Tech Forum 2024.

See more photos from this event on Canning House's Flickr

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