Stellenbosch Digital is an organisation based north of Cape Town, which aims to connect Stellenbosch’s digital community. It holds monthly events, which feature prominent speaks talking candidly about their experiences in business.
Ventureburn recently had a chance to catch up with Stephen van der Heijden (pictured above right), co-founder of Stellenbosch Digital, to ask him about the organisation, the local community, and its plans for expansion.
Ventureburn: How did the idea for Stellenbosch Digital come about?
Stephen van der Heijden: Renier (the co-founder) and I both studied at Stellenbosch University and ended up working in Technopark together. We noted how much opportunity for networking there was in Cape Town and, by contrast, how little there was in Stellenbosch. We weren’t happy with the “all work and no play” nature of the young working sector in the town and instead of moving to another town, decided to be the change we wanted to see. We have such a rich saturation of wealth, talent, business and an amazing environment. Stellenbosch Digital aims to marry those things together in the tech sector by connecting people in our industry.
Ventureburn: How big is the organisation and who is involved?
Van der Heijden: It’s a small organisation with pretty much only volunteers. Our sponsors pay our bills, but no-one makes any money off it. It’s basically a couple of people that work at 4i (Renier’s company) and UNO Digital (my company) that help out at each event and with the social media etc.
Ventureburn: Has there been difficulty in gaining traction and sponsors?
Van der Heijden: I’m glad you asked. If nothing else, starting Stellenbosch Digital taught me that people in Stellenbosch are more than willing to support local initiatives. We have our events at the Nedbank Launch Lab and there’s pizza from Col’Cacchio, draught beer from Stellenbrau, and wine from Remhoogte – and neither we nor our community have to pay a cent.
The sponsor’s willingness to come on board and continue supporting has been truly amazing, and we’ve had them on board from day dot. We also have cash sponsors that contribute money to the cause and to keep us running – OLX is our title sponsor and have always given us great support. As far as turnout goes, our first event attracted close to 80 people and each event has attracted between 70 and 150 people.
Ventureburn: How does SD differ from other similar organisations?
Van der Heijden: We’re not really here to compete with other organisations for world or SA Dominance. Rather we aim only to get people in our town that are in the same industry talking to each other. Events (with free beer and pizza) have proven to be the best way to do that. That said, we had some cool events this year with the Venture Network from JHB where they came down on buses, and we’ve seen good growth in the town and in the region. We like starting more conversations and making more connections.
Ventureburn: Are there any major success stories as a result of the events?
Van der Heijden: Ha – I’m not sure actually. I know of a romance or two where the guests met at the events, but other than that none that I know of. I think the real success of the events is that each one provides students and locals a chance to meet and chat to some of the coolest guys in tech in the country, and to create a low-key no-fuss forum for people to engage with each other. We’re now over 500 people strong and we’ve had some serious players come and tell their story – hopefully, it’s inspired one or two guys and girls to do some great things!
Ventureburn: Are there any plans to spin-off into other areas?
Van der Heijden: Um, yes and no. We won’t expand beyond Stellies (we’re not about to start a Bellville Digital), but we are currently bridging the gap between Stellies and other communities like the Venture Network I mentioned, Silicon Cape, and next year internationally.
Stellenbosch Digital is a community-driven organisation that aims to link corporate, entrepreneurial and social initiatives in the digital sphere by promoting mutual recognition and starting conversations both online and at regular meetups.