Vodacom has introduced a “Good As New” category that allows customers to buy refurbished, pre-owned iPhones at a discounted price. The devices come with…
If you’ve been taking a sabbatical from Ventureburn within the last few weeks, you’ve probably missed out on the news of PWC’s Vision to Reality Awards. A first for South Africa, the startup accelerator saw 10 tech startups partake in a three-month mentorship programme and showcase their ideas. Impressive in-store mobile transacting startup WiGroup came up top.
The Vision to Reality Awards in South Africa is merely the tip of the iceberg. Brewing below is an ecosystem with internationally acclaimed innovations as well as those that fit into the unique local environments. Ventureburn had a chat with PWC Partner in Charge of the Western Cape Danie Fölscher, who shared his insights about of the major trends to come out of startups across the globe:
Entrepreneurs are becoming rockstars
Firstly, Fölscher says, in today’s day and age it’s okay to be an entrepreneur. Better yet, it’s being applauded. “About a decade ago, if you couldn’t find a job, you go and do that. Today, I’m seeing that switch come round,” he says. “It’s almost like an honour title to be recognised in the tech entrepreneur space.”
Fölscher goes on to point out the increasing prominence of serial entrepreneurs — people becoming entrepreneurs for the sake of being one. They start something, manage to exit, and then go back to start something again. Richard Branson even went as far as to dub 2014 The Year of the Entrepreneur.
In reference to a recent business trip to South Africa, Branson said, “In South Africa and the Caribbean the Branson Centres of Entrepreneurship are overflowing with talented individuals eager to unleash their ideas onto the world. With the right support (financial and otherwise) they can and will.”
Government, big business and academic support is a winning formula
Fölscher stresses that, across the globe, government has started to recognise that entrepreneurship and innovation solve problems while creating jobs for people. “Government is finally showing up for the party,” he says. The Western Cape’s R6.5-million innovations fund and Design Park are good examples.
“It works best in cities where you are combining government support with academic input — the innovation coming from universities and support coming from government and other initiatives. In cities like Montreal, Stockholm, Amsterdam, São Poalo, Seoul, you’ll find that it’s that combination that makes them work so well.”
“We are seeing this formula in South Africa of which Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban are great examples. Furthermore, across Africa — from Nairobi to Lagos — you’ll find government and businesses pulling together to support accelerators,” he says.
On this note, however, comes one of the biggest challenges. “Processes are still too slow however,” Fölscher stresses. “Take the Western Cape as an example. While the provincial government has shown numerous instances to help, there are too many diverse interests on the ground. These diverse interests prolong execution.”
Significant themes driving innovation
You can start to identify a number of global themes contributing to innovation, Fölscher explains. They largely include urbanisation, resource scarcity and disruption.
As a whole, Africa has experienced the highest urban growth out of all regions during the last two decades at 3.5% per year.
Understandably, with this outstanding pace there are challenges.
Apart from the development of slums, most of these obstacles relate to resource scarcity. Electricity, water and other infrastructural developments can’t keep up with many of the continent’s biggest cities’ (and populations’) growth rates. But more problems mean more opportunities, not so?
“The greatest challenge is that there is a large lack of infrastructure. For entrepreneurs, the process from conceptualising ideas to executing them is harder,” Fölscher explains. “The lack of infrastructure gives rise to innovative digital solutions.”
Lastly, Fölscher adds, the major trend PWC has noticed is disruption. To make up for the lack of infrastructure, popular examples of tech leapfrogging traditional implementations include Kenya’s mobile money transfer service M-Pesa that evades the need for brick and mortar banking services. M-Kopa and SolarAid use solar energy to give electricity to those living off-the-grid.
On the spirit of what makes entrepreneurship unique in Africa, Fölscher elaborates:
“The importance of entrepreneurship and innovation is part of the solution that we need to create economic activity and jobs. Then obviously the need across Africa is perceivably much greater than a place like Stockholm. This urgency together with a notable talent pool is specifically unique to the continent.”
He argues that pace and innovation is very important for any business — big or small. “If you’re not out there, you’ll get caught off guard.”
Asked about whether he thinks big business is doing enough to support entrepreneurship and innovation, Fölscher says, “While there are fantastic examples in the retail space, they’re not enough.”
He points to the retail sector, referring to initiatives like the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurship or SAB Kickstart which are doing excellent work. The significance of big business fostering the small is pivital in the development and sustainability of skills for both.
Image by Akash Kataruka via Flickr.