.Fresh in the city that was once thought to be the edge of the world, Marc Boileau stares at the hostel’s locked door, then back down at his iPhone. It’s 6:30 AM and check-in isn’t for another eight hours. Of all the things he’d planned for in the twelve months anticipating this moment, being too early wasn’t one of them. All around him glow the vast gradient textures of mid-rises with their innumerable balconies and doors, and at his back the constant hush of the Atlantic. Lisbon—the City of Seven Hills, Queen of the Sea.

After a 3,000-mile plane ride and the slow, antsy debarking into the terminal through hordes of tourists and businesspeople, after his phone’s brief confusion as it calibrated itself to another country’s signals, after the Uber ride down narrow cobblestone streets of the Old World past cable cars and out meandering along the banks of the Tagus, here Marc stands—eight hours too early and not a clue where to go in the meantime. There’s the map, then there’s the territory. The plan, then the arrival.

In the very city that launched the Age of Discoveries, it’d be a cosmic sort of failure for Marc to Yelp his way into the early afternoon until check-in. After all, the warm allure of pastéis de nata and freshly-brewed bica lingers, drifting out from a nearby cafe where the entrance is partially masked by a cream-colored awning, and where, above the faint trill of cavaquinho strings, there’s the compelling hum of conversation.

~

 

The second ever tekMountain Global Innovation Ambassador, Marc was chosen as a promising young entrepreneur to embark on an international journey through the many markets, energies, and ideas vitalizing innovation ecosystems around the globe. First launched in 2017, the Ambassador Program focuses on assisting entrepreneurs to become more heavily involved in creating solutions to some of the world’s most pressing pain points while challenging them to grow both personally and professionally.

Having recently graduated with a bachelors in business administration (majoring in entrepreneurship and innovation) from Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada, Marc hopes to leverage his curiosity in artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, and coding into a lifelong pursuit of answers to problems that span cultures and countries.

As Global Innovation Ambassador, his mission for the next 18 months is threefold:

  • To explore and interact with the many dynamic ecosystems driving innovation around the world
  • To connect with fellow millennial innovators throughout the world in order to better understand the raison d’être of his generation as it transitions into positions of power and influence, and how he and his peers will continue to interact with and effect change in our global technologies.
  • Above all, to undergo a deep examination of his personal self—his goals, dreams, strengths, shortcomings, uncertainties—to chart his growth as a human being and entrepreneur over the course of his journey.

Web Summit 2018

 

Marc arrived in Portugal on November 2nd, only 72 hours before the commencement of Web Summit 2018—the largest tech conference on Earth, with Lisbon its annual host. This year’s gathering would see over 70,000 attendees, 2,500 journalists, 250 keynote speakers, and thousands of startups from around the world unite for four days to collaborate in building the most compelling vision of the future, along with strategies to realize it.

What better host than the country whose caravels, themselves the culmination of hundreds of years of Arab and European innovations in seafaring, opened up direct sea routes between Europe and the rest of the world. Over half a millennia after Henry the Navigator, Dias, da Gama, and Magellan set out to chart unknown territories, a much more diverse and egalitarian fleet of explorers arrived in Lisbon to further map our infinite digital landscape.

Marc was at once traveler and reporter, spectator and facilitator, tasked to interview the many voices and ideas energizing Web Summit, and, ultimately, to gain insight into the direction of 21st century innovation.

 

Security lines outside of Altice Arena at Web Summit.

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During President of Microsoft Brad Smith’s post-speech Q&A, Marc landed the rare chance to throw a question at one of the most influential people in tech:

As an industry and thought leader yourself, if you had to choose the one most important trait that a great leader such as yourself must possess, what would it be?

Smith’s response:

It’s the desire to keep learning . . . At any moment in time we all know what we know, we can do well what we can do well and whatever that is, no matter how great it is, it is likely to be insufficient compared to what we will need to be doing 5 or 10 years from now.

When you see people that are comfortable learning, when you see people that learn to ask questions well, when you see people develop broad shoulders or a sense of humilityso they can learn from other people and borrow what they do well and when they really hone their curiosityI think that’s the key.

When I think about the people that I got to learn from, whether it was Bill Gates, Satya Nadella, or Steve Ballmer, the common trait for all of them was their enormous sense of curiosity. That is something that if you have you should pursue it, and if you don’t have it you should develop it. It will serve you better than anything else.

 

Marc taking a selfie with Brad Smith after his talk.

 

Millennial Innovators

Among other incredible opportunities, Marc attended Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian’s talk and a roundtable session with Jelena Djokovic, National Director of the Novak Djokovic foundation, dedicated to early childhood education projects in Serbia. But it was Marc’s interactions with millennial speakers and attendees that especially intertwined with his goals to engage with international ecosystems and to better understand what ideas and values drive his generation.

As he interviewed scores of millennials at Web Summit, Marc asked each of them about the technology of tomorrow, defining success, the essential traits of a good leader, myths about millennials, and how they would invest hypothetical money into tech.

 

Michal Takàč

26 years old – Košice, Slovakia

Software Engineer for Decentraland – User-owned virtual reality platform powered by blockchain

  • Michael’s current company, Decentraland, offers a decentralized virtual platform powered by the Ethereum blockchain, where users can purchase virtual plots of land and develop unique experiences for visitors: casino visits, live music events, workshops, and so much more. He also runs his own startup, currently in its beta stages, that hopes to one day 3D print houses.
  • He admits that, yes, millennials can be lazy. But they are the first generation of social media influencers, and, of course there are a bunch of money grabbers out there only seeking publicity. But, for the most part, influencers like YouTube streamers provide a lot of valuable and insightful content. It might be considered lazy compared to the traditional 9 to 5, but the end result—solid content—is net positive.
  • He would invest into bitcoin, though he believes that, for the next five to ten years, banks will try prosecuting bitcoin shareholders. Michal sees this as analogous to “red car laws”—when cars were first driven, someone with a red flag had to travel in front of them so that they wouldn’t run over horses or people. So goes the adoption of disruptive tech.

Kateryna Shepeliuk

28 years old – Donetsk, Ukraine (now lives in northern Portugal)

Co-founder of Gifted English – Online English classes for children in Uganda

  • In the first two weeks of co-founding Gifted English, Kateryna found 20 part-time English teachers and hopes to monetize the company soon. She’s also president of Youth Line Portugal, an NGO nonprofit that helps young entrepreneurs grow and maintain their businesses.
  • Success is very simple for her—if you sleep well, eat well, and have adequate work-life balance you’ve achieved a substantial degree of success. Time for self development, too, is necessary for achievement, because it helps you reflect on your professional and personal well-being.
  • From a personal standpoint, she believes the best possible investment is travel and education. She’s lived for more than three months in several countries, some in Asia and Europe, and every trip has turned out to be one of her best investments. She met her co-founder on a little island in Thailand, and now that very same company is putting food on the table.

Abdulrahman Jogbojogbo

25 years old – Lagos, Nigeria

Product marketer for PayStack – a service that helps African businesses transact securely

  • PayStack just raised $8 million in their Series A this past August. Investments were led by Stripe, together with Visa, and follow-on investment from Tencent and Y Combinator. This past October for the first time PayStack processed over ten billion Naira (~$27.5 million) in a single month.
  • Abdulrahman believes that, when it comes to tomorrow’s technology, everything that can be automated will be automated. The future of tech is in Shenzhen, China, or some other place that can create its own Shenzhen—where hardware and software communities merge.
  • Whether investing $50,000 or $5,000, he would put the money in the same place—into a promising startup that improves access to education in disadvantaged communities across the world, because widespread education creates a long-term ripple effects that improve overall economies.

 

Sarah Al-Hussaini

25 years old – London, England

COO of Ultimate.ai – customer service automation company

  • ai uses deep learning to help transform how people work in customer service. Their product is language agnostic, making it capable of being integrated all over the world. Their AI works side by side with customer service agents in real-time to aid with response time and repetition, freeing the agents to handle more complex situations.
  • Sarah believes that the future will focus less strictly on labor by shifting to a human plus machine hybrid model. AI will work alongside people and won’t steal as many jobs as we think. AI is getting where it needs to be for commercialization—it has a huge ecosystem of talent and coders and many clear applications.
  • For young companies, Sarah asserts that you have to be really good at trusting your team. This means creating leaders inside the company so everyone feels like they are part of the mission—offering equity to employees, giving high job titles. When every employee feels like a leader and believes the company’s success is their own personal success, that’s the trick—it’s the opposite of micromanagement.

To Blog or Not To Blog

Only nine days into his travels, and with the world’s largest tech summit under his belt, Marc began to question whether or not a blog was the optimal medium for delivering his experiences. After all, much of his mission relates to connecting with millennials—and what attracts millennials more than good video? That’s when Marc dove down a five-hour long YouTube rabbit hole to learn how to perfect the craft of vlogging. After purchasing a quality microphone and GorillaPod, he then hit the streets of Lisbon to capture the wonder and fervor of travelling in the city that launched so many expeditions itself (check out his YouTube channel!).

Marc quickly learned a few life lessons via his brief vlogging career. One: just because you have a camera in your hand doesn’t mean you can’t get hit by a bus. Two: don’t push content just to push content—this relates to business in that sometimes less is more, and that sort of patience is critical to develop. Three: sometimes, telling your parents that you just got your first tattoo is much easier through video.

 

 

His tattoo, an homage to the Monument to the Discoveries—a 170 feet tall monument in Lisbon honoring the many Portuguese explorers—serves as the perfect memento for Marc’s mission as a whole, but especially its outset. Lisbon has allowed him to begin mapping the rest of his journey—how to approach the inevitable unknown, how to plan best for nothing to go exactly as planned. That’s the true heart of an explorer. You can follow Marc’s journey on his website here.

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