At Web Summit Rio, an entrepreneur was cut off for speaking in Portuguese

At Web Summit Rio, one entrepreneur was interrupted for speaking in Portuguese to a mostly Brazilian audience.

Guillermo Barbosa, CEO of climate startup ECO55, participated in the Building a Sustainable Future panel yesterday afternoon, in which 15 startups had just two minutes to sell their fish – or pitch, to use English startup lingo.

Barbosa was the seventh entrepreneur to present himself. Before him, everyone spoke in English, strictly following the recommendations of the organizers of the event.

But he decided to refuse and speak Portuguese.

He was in the middle of his speech when a Brazilian master of ceremonies came on stage and interrupted his speech, scolding him in English and warning him to continue in English or stop there.

Barbosa received applause from the audience and finished his speech in English.

“The climate issue is so difficult to understand that I decided to make it more accessible in Portuguese,” he says.

According to the startup’s CEO, at least 300 people attended the event, and he estimated that 90% of the audience was Brazilian. According to the organization, 34,397 people from 102 countries are participating in this issue. Those who attend the event meet with investors from different parts of the world.

“I already planned that I will speak in Portuguese because I need Brazilians to understand, my audience is Brazilians. I’m not looking for investors, I’m looking for people who take climate action here.”

Eco55 is a platform of content and tools to help businesses decarbonize.

In two previous editions of the event, at Web Summit Lisboa 2022 and at Web Summit Rio last year, Barbosa had already made the same decision without being reprimanded.

In the Rio edition, the participation of entrepreneurs is part of the Startup Showcase program. Barbosa paid 1,147.50 reais for the package, which includes three tickets, a seat at the event and a performance.

“The maturity of Brazilians on the issue of climate is so low that I have to make this speech in Portuguese. I cannot miss a single opportunity to tell you that we have less than ten years to reduce the emissions of our companies so that we have a chance to reach net zero by 2050,” he said as he began his presentation.

He says that when he left the stage, about 20 people were waiting for him to congratulate him on such an attitude. “Chinese television called me for an interview, and American investors found the initiative interesting.”

Barboza says he sees no problem with English being spoken at the event, as it reaches the people who make the decisions. But consider this.

“When we talk about innovation, we also talk about diversity and inclusion. Only 4% of Brazilians speak English fluently, so the event no longer has the prerequisite that innovation requires: inclusion.”

The entrepreneur says that this event could make the use of English optional.

What the Web Summit Says

When contacted for a report, Web Summit said it incorporates “the culture of each of the host cities into our event in a different way.”

“In general, 20% of our lectures are conducted in Portuguese. We also have live interpreters on virtually every stage, translating all performances from English to Portuguese and from Portuguese to English to ensure that all attendees feel comfortable at the event.”

Regarding the episode involving the startup, the organization said that it spoke to the founder of ECO55 after the situation and that “although he knew that the Startup Showcase was in English, he wanted to speak in Portuguese to convey his message about climate change in your local market.” .

“We respect that and hope you will attend the Startup Showcase again at future events,” the organization concluded in an emailed response.

Barbosa says two Web Summit representatives approached him early Thursday afternoon to talk about what happened. “They were understanding, but there was no apology and no compensation or waiver offered.”

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