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It’s time for tech female founders to embrace the African century [Opinion]

We have transitioned from the African Renaissance narrative a few years ago to believing Africa is rising out of the ass heap of despair, to more recent chatter about lions on the move and scaling gazelles.

We can keep creating slogans, be our own hype beasts or we can actually roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty as we clean up our own mess, grab this Industry 4.0 revolution by the lapel and turn this into the African Century, for real.

Yes, the scabs from wounds inflicted by our colonisers and the architects of apartheid are a constant reminder of the effects of a dirty legacy. The deep almost DNA altering narrative that Africans are not enough and need constant intervention has lingered for many centuries.

We still see too many African leaders sipping from the deadly aid chalice now being passed around at the Chinese buffet.

Now, I say almost DNA altering because I believe there are Africans determined to heal from the dirty legacy, they are in the trenches daily to ensure we create the future our ancestors yearned for.

Are female founders willing to stop playing victim, are they ready to become an active participant in Industry 4.0?

I am not hypothesising or surmising, I have the beautiful honour of working with female founders, daily. Founders, who are determined to grow through collaboration and to impact their communities.

Long way to inclusive SA

I get to wake up every day and strategise about how we create more diverse seats at the not so inclusive Cape Town tech ecosystem table. Now, let me clarify my stance on diversity and inclusion, it must reflect the demographic of our country and not our comfort zone.

Let’s just get that right when we start referring to our inclusive spaces especially in a town like Cape Town where segmentation is still too rife. We stick to the groups the architects of apartheid crafted both in business and socially.

I like my world pretty diverse and it reflects everywhere. There is no “but” when it comes to this conversation because the numbers show that we have a long way to go to a fully inclusive economy in South Africa.

My question is, what are white males and the black elite afraid of or is it perhaps not fear but a scarcity mindset that have these two groups believing that if we get ours, they get nothing?

Listen, there is more than enough for the over 55 million South Africans, more than enough and we’re coming for all of it.

The 4.0 revolution

I believe Industry 4.0 presents an opportunity for everyone to participate in this industrial revolution. My mission is to make the tech circle bigger by supporting female founders, who might be on their entrepreneurial journey for a minute to transition and take their seat at the tech table.

I never anticipated that I would be exploring the use of blockchain in streamlining our operations but here I am doing just that.

I might not look and sound like the quintessential tech founder but you best believe I am not just leaning into Industry 4.0 — but appreciating the power it has to transform our country, our continent. I have dived head first into the tech pool and learning daily.

I have had the pleasure of journeying with tech female founders and I have observed a few bottlenecks that hold black Female Founders back from being active participants in Industry 4.0, here are my top three:

1. Impostorism

Yes, I certainly had this monkey on my back when I first stepped into the doors at Rise Cape Town or served on the Silicon Cape Community Council.

The internet describe imposter syndrome as a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud.

Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved.

I would like to encourage black female founders to recognise that this is part of the process as you enter the tech space. It is important to identify it and work your way through it.

Listen, this is not an easy monkey to shake, it takes time, changing your self-talk and possibly engaging a business coach. You will have to gentle with yourself during this process but refuse to allow imposter syndrome and the males in tech who thrive on this, kick you out of the tech lane.

Stay and do the work, we have a whole continent waiting for you.

2. Tech fluency

Tech is a language and a daunting one at that but just like learning any language, you will learn if you stay in the lane, stay open to failing and getting things wrong while building a tech solution.

The pressure most female founders walk around with is needing to know everything and wanting perfection. Now, I’ve discovered over the past two years of being on this tech journey that perfectionism is as ridiculous as trying to find the Silicon Valley unicorn in Africa, let it go.

You must prepare yourself to relearn everything, there are basic business principles that apply to a tech startup but there is a tech fluency required to thrive.

This fluency doesn’t mean knowing how to code, I have no desire to ever code or be a programmer, I will recruit the best when I’m ready and this move will not negate the fact that I am a tech female founder, ok well soon.

There are far too many examples of tech CEOs, who produced pretty cool tech solutions like Aniyia L Williams and locally SweepSouth’s Aisha Pandor.

3. Employee mindset

I have noticed this very disturbing trend where female founders step into the entrepreneurial arena but never shake off the employee cloak. You run your business as if they are managing it on someone else’s behalf and usually that someone else is a client, customer or employee.

This employee mindset keeps female founders stuck in a rut and strips them off their magic to disrupt the world. When a founder makes the decision to stay self-employed, the gumption to go big dissipates and they stay playing small.

You must throw that employee cloak into a fire and burn it, step fully into your power to change and possibly disrupt the world.

Now, please  don’t misunderstand me, there are founders, who make the decision to run a lifestyle business and that’s all good but there are founders sitting on the fence talking a big game and they’ve been talking for a minute but never afford themselves the opportunity to do epic because they are afraid of taking the leap into full entrepreneurship.

Yes, there is a difference, a big one.

You will notice that I did not mention any institutional barriers like lack of representation or our dismal venture capital (VC) landscape, this is deliberate. I do not want us blaming anyone or anything anymore, we are not victims.

South African female founders, let’s take the bull by the horns and collectively become as determined as Arlan Hamilton, founder of Backstage Capital to change our own narrative.

The global Time’s Up movement proves that you can shake the unshakable but it starts with you and sometimes we need to make huge sacrifices, are you willing to sacrifice your ego, your pride and overcome your fears holding you back.

Are you willing to stop playing victim, are you ready to stop sitting in the stand critiquing those on the field playing their hearts out, are you ready to become an active participant in Industry 4.0?

This is the African Century, go on and own it.

Antoinette Prophy is the founder and MD of 88 Business Collective, a Cape Town-based 18-month accelerator for emerging women entrepreneurs.