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What South Africa can learn from burgeoning tech scene in Poland

South Africa has been in hot water politically and economically after the country’s credit rating was downgraded to “junk status” earlier this month.

Despite this the local currency has shown resilience and economists believe that policy changes should steer the country towards a recovery. According to its central bank governor, the country is still attracting capital flows which should be good news for South Africa’s tech scene.

Africa, as a continent, has a growing tech scene with 314 active tech hubs. South Africa leads the continent with 54, according to a recent graphic by GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator.

But if there’s a tech scene South Africa can learn from, it’s Poland’s. Poland has positioned itself as the major tech hub of central and eastern Europe (CEE). Its roster of companies with multi-million dollar valuations is growing. Here are six lessons South Africa can learn from Poland’s tech scene:

1 – Find an angle to grow

Poland produces top tech talent. Computing is part of the curricula at all levels. Programming website HackerRank puts Poland at third globally as the country with the best developers. This hasn’t been gone unnoticed by other major startups. Lower labour costs and an English-speaking population has enabled Poland to become a major outsourcing destination for software development work for companies in the US and UK.

2 – Find your niche

Polish software companies have made software-as- a-service (SaaS) their niche. SaaS allows these tech companies to have worldwide presence without having to worry about cross-border distribution or putting physical presence abroad. There is a wide array of services catering to both B2B and B2C markets. Among some notable SaaS brands include social media monitoring service Brand24, social  listening tool SentiOne and development platform SaaS Manager.

3 – Bootstrap

Polish entrepreneurs also insist on building sustainable businesses. While there are active venture capital funds and angel investors active in Poland’s tech hubs, most entrepreneurs insist on funding themselves. This allows their businesses to be profitable from the start rather than worry about making an exit to make money.

4 – Nurture your own unicorn

South Africa has yet to produce its own unicorn. Perhaps Poland’s best known billion-dollar companies are game developer CD Projekt and ecommerce auction site Allegro. Nurturing a homegrown unicorn can open up more opportunities.

It communicates that the country continues to be a viable place for business and it also create prospects for spin-offs. Email marketing platform GetResponse, which now has more than 250 000 active users including enterprises such as Avon, Hilton, and Citroen, has enjoyed positive business and eventually spun off new services such as ClickMeeting.

5 – Host global events

Part of cultivating the scene is presenting it as a regional hub. This includes hosting global events that gathers industry and thought leaders in the region. Poland is host to two of the biggest tech events – Pipeline Summit and InfoShare. These events draw developers, entrepreneurs and investors together and playing host to such events position the country as the epicenter of tech activities.

6 – Become a gateway for a bigger market

It is also important to be the gateway for a bigger market. Poland has been that for the CEE. There’s a reason why Google elected to put up a campus in Warsaw – it’s the search giant’s foothold for the rest of CEE. Since the move, Google has unveiled programs to fuel tech development in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic through is Warsaw campus.

Applying the lessons

South Africa already enjoys being the gateway for business in the region in general. Nairobi and Kenya are also making strides in their tech scenes so there are contenders to South Africa’s position. It’s time for South Africa to refocus that image for tech.

Ultimately, the challenge lies in the tech startups themselves. With such a troubled economy, it is critical to consider sustainable growth rather than rely on venture capital and exits. By bootstrapping and focusing on innovation, there’s always the chance for a big break for any of SA’s startups.

Itai Elizur is COO at Inbound Junction, a content marketing agency specialising in helping startups and business increase their online visibility. Find him on https://twitter.com/ItaiElizur

Featured image: Juan Antonio F. Segal via Flickr (CC 2.0, resize)

Author Bio

Itai Elizur
Itai Elizur is the COO at Inbound Junction, a content marketing agency specialising in helping startups and business increase their online visibility. More
  • Ale Miazga

    Great article! Thank you for mentioning SentiOne! 🙂

  • <3 from SentiOne!