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Jayshree Naidoo

Q&A: Only 4% of girl learners keen to work in tech, enter sector says Naidoo

The Standard Bank Incubator is working against the notion that women are not interested in careers in tech, says Jayashree Naidoo, head of the Standard Bank Incubator.

Naidoo (pictured), who will be speaking at a Startup Grind event in Pretoria this evening, quoted a survey released in January by Ignitor which revealed that although 66% of high school girls were interested in careers in tech, only four percent managed to establish careers in the field.

Ventureburn asked her a few questions around women in entrepreneurship, innovation and other issues in South Africa’s startup ecosystem.

Ventureburn: You are a well known figure in SA when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship, could you please tell us more about your journey in entrepreneurship and innovation?

Jayshree Naidoo: I have local and international experience in strategy, consulting, innovation and e-commerce. My knowledge, understanding and experience within the private sector spans over a period of 25 years. My MBA research study focused on innovation and entrepreneurship capacity creation.

A survey has shown that although 66% of high school girls were interested in careers in tech, only 4% managed to establish careers in the field

VB: What are your views on the numbers of women entrepreneurs, particularly those in the tech sector?

JN: Despite the economic climate, the role that women entrepreneurs are playing in boosting South Africa’s GDP has grown steadily. An increasing number of women entrepreneurs are starting businesses and creating employment opportunities across all major sectors of the economy.

This is a reality that is evidenced by the number of women who are attending the structured business development accelerators held at the Standard Bank Incubator.

VB: What kind of trends are you seeing in terms of women entering sectors dominated by men on the tech startup scene?

JN: This situation is changing rapidly. The level of interests in our programme is indicative of the fact that women are ready to challenge the status quo in the tech space.

It is remarkable having so many women participating in a programme driven by technology — which is commonly seen as a male-dominated industry.

This programme (Standard Bank Incubator) works against the perception that South African women don’t regard tech as a serious career option. In fact, surveys (a survey by Ignitor in January – Editor) have revealed that 66% of girls interviewed while still in school say they would like to have careers in technology. However, post-matric research shows that only four percent of those initially interviewed actually enter careers in the field.

VB: What does the Standard Bank Incubator have planned for Women’s Month in South Africa?

JN: Women’s Month is very important to the work that we do. We will be hosting our usual networking events with a female touch. We have StartUp Grind in Pretoria, The HookUp Dinner (#SheThud), Women In Tech Conference and Women Entrepreneur’s showcase.

Standard Bank is also sponsoring the Standard Bank Top Women Conference and the African Women Chartered Accountants gala dinner.

VB: What is the Standard Bank incubator doing to bring more black entrepreneurs into the startup scene?

JN: The South African Black Entrepreneurs Forum together with Standard Bank, Liberty, the Department of Small Business Development, Transnet, The Star Newspaper and the Gauteng Enterprise Propeller hosted the Gauteng Township Economy Business Week (GTEB) which took place in Soweto from 1 to 4 June.

The GTEB Week was attended by close to 5 000 delegates, including township entrepreneurs and small businesses, over four days at the Soweto Theatre. The four-day event placed government, enterprise development organisations, funding agencies, banks, investment companies and venture capitalists all under one building to address the issues of funding in Gauteng townships.

A funding convention at the same event dealt with the issue of funding black entrepreneurs with a particular focus on township entrepreneurs.

VB: An OECD report released last month revealed that too few South Africans are entrepreneurs. What then is your organisation doing to encourage a culture of entrepreneurship in the country?

JN: We run business ideation workshops or bootcamps for youth where we teach them design thinking and lean start-up methodologies.

In addition, we also have initiatives like the Youth Development Programme which is run in partnership with Giving Wings and Liberty. This is an entrepreneurial programme targeted at 100 Grade 10 to 11 learners from Olievenhoutbosch township.

The programme ran over a five-week period at Steve Tshwete Secondary School.  The objective of this programme was to drive and inspire entrepreneurial thinking at a high school level.

VB: You are also the interim CEO of Feenix, tell us more about this and the impact Feenix has made?

JN: Feenix.org is part of a multifaceted strategy by Standard Bank to develop meaningful, practical and sustainable ways to help the youth access quality education by removing some of their financial burden and ultimately contributing to South Africa’s economic growth.

It’s a call to action for everyone in society concerned about the state of education and willing to do something about it. The bank has undertaken to be the financier, enablement and go-to-market partner of the Feenix Trust, a public benefit organisation, which has been established to retain and manage funds from donors. Standard Bank has committed to the project for 36 months or until the project is self-sustaining.

Access to education remains a major challenge for so many people with ability but who lack funds. As a proudly digital bank with a history of making a difference, we want to ensure our expertise is also harnessed here. The power of crowdsourcing as a viable solution to boosting educational funding channels is taking off worldwide and we are excited to now be able to take part in this exciting journey in SA.

VB: You have been with Standard Bank Incubator for some time now, what would you say are the top three startups or entrepreneurs that have passed through the incubator?

JN: They have all been great in their own way but if I have to choose I’d say Glad Mabele’s Bala Books, Gift Lubele’s GN Lub and Fulufhelo Ramulifho.

Mabele runs a publishing start-up for child authored books. He has been operating from the incubator for some time now. His business model is critical in a society where the general literacy .

Lubele of GN Lub has a recycling tech company where he collects disposed plastic and turns them into a variety of innovative products many of which have been sold to large corporates.

VB: How many people or startups are using the Standard Bank Incubator and how many in total have used the incubator since it was launched?

JN: I can’t give a fixed number as this changes depending on programmes and other events happening at the incubator. Over the last two years, we have a database of close to 6 000 entrepreneurs.

VB: How many jobs has the Incubator generated since launch?

JN: We do not create jobs but develop entrepreneurs to be able to create more jobs. We did however conduct a survey of 52 companies that that had been through our programmes in 2016 and found that they had created 136 new jobs after their participation in the acceleration programme.

VB: How do you wean people off the incubator and ensure that they can function on their own after their time with the incubator is up?

JN:  Luckily most of the entrepreneurs we have interacted with to date have gone on to do great things without us weaning them off. In fact, we encourage them at times to stay in touch with the incubator, share what their new ventures are or just pop in for a cup of coffee.

VB: Lastly, what’s would you advise young female entrepreneurs in South Africa?

JN: Just go for it.

Featured image: Supplied