Following the outbreak of coronavirus in many continents, and the global economy working incessantly to contain the pandemic: major conferences and events across the world have been either cancelled or postponed.

In February, Facebook cancelled its F8 conference for developers and entrepreneurs. A post explained that it was important to do this because there is a need to “prioritise the health and safety of our developer partners, employees and everyone who helps put F8 on.”

Aside from the F8 conference, Microsoft pulled out of the Global Developers Conference 2020 citing concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak. Similarly, the GSMA-organised Mobile World Congress was also cancelled and postponed until 2021. Seedstars World, another global summit concluded its 2020 conference online recently.

In the same light, incubators and accelerators worldwide are also adjusting their programme processes to suit the new wave.

Y Combinator — the San Francisco based startup incubator has, for instance, disclosed it’d officially be fully moving its next batch to a remote format.

This move is coming after the US seed accelerator moved its Demo Day event online due to the increase in confirmed coronavirus cases.

The organisation says this YC Summer 2020 group of founders will operate fully online; interviews, office hours, evening talks and meetups will place over video conferencing. Responding to the adjustment necessitated by Coronavirus, the accelerator’s CEO, Micheal Seibel, stated that this will be the first time the programme will be done fully virtual.

In Nigeria, Founders Institute Lagos, an extension of the Silicon Valley-based pre-seed accelerator which has a 14-week schedule for the Lagos 2020 programme has moved all its activities to a later date and also taken some of its activities online.

Similarly, OceanHub, a non-profit ocean-impact accelerator and ecosystem enabler based in Cape Town postponed its conference and many virtual Ocean Action events that are in the April-June pipeline.

The ripple effect

Whilst most conferences, accelerator and incubator programmes are being cancelled, postponed or going virtual might not have a direct implication on the basic offering startups receive or the knowledge that would be gained; it would have an adverse effect on networking.

The elimination of human-to-human interaction between investors, mentors and founders might extend decision-making times as virtual sessions will make networking and communication harder or almost impossible in other cases. Especially since one of the perks of attending a YC incubator programme would be the wide range of mentors a startup founder could have a chance of meeting; or a prospective investor just in case the startup doesn’t get funding.

Another problem this could pose is the limitation to communication cues such as facial expression and body language as most presentation — demos — would be done via online, thus making it difficult to read to non-verbal communication. The resultant effect will surely tell on the way investors perceive founders’ potential value, capabilities and knowledge gaps.

Ultimately, it may still be a win-win situation for both founders and investors as startups and accelerators like Y Combinator will adjust and proffer solutions to make startup founders benefit from the programme.


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