Why communities work best for innovation in Africa

With more and more South African entrepreneurs starting businesses in response to the country’s unique challenges, it’s no wonder that, out of the 30 entrepreneurs on Forbes’s recent Africa’s Most Promising Entrepreneurs list, seven come from South Africa.

If innovation is the key to unlocking solutions for South Africa, what are we doing to nurture it?

The business of small businesses in South Africa is booming. Startups are popping up everywhere with innovative, outside-of-the-box business ideas that answer the ever-growing need for practical, viable solutions in energy, tech, education, payments and more.

Startups need all the support they can get in order to give them a fighting chance to make it to market and become sustainable, and, along with governmental support, independent business incubators and shared workspaces are offering this much-needed support all over South Africa.

So, what is it about startups operating out of a community, such as an incubator or shared workspace, that helps separate them from the rest?

Here are five reasons why innovation in Africa works best in community:


Not one single person has all the answers. South African entrepreneurs often play their cards close to their chests out of fear that someone might steal their great idea and take it to market before they do.

In Silicon Valley however, the trend is that everyone collaborates — when two individuals meet who might be working towards the same goal or product, but with different approaches or skill sets, instead of seeing each other as competition, they will instead collaborate with the understanding that, together, they can get there faster, cheaper and do things better than on their own.

Collaboration is where the magic is at.


Getting out of the mind-set of working in silos is not something entrepreneurs fall into by accident; it is a deliberate, concerted decision that changes the way we behave. People strive for and thrive on connections. That’s why social media platforms are so popular — we love to connect with others like us.

Connecting is a fundamental need that shared workspaces fulfil. The rewards are astronomical — belonging to a community of people who are like-minded, innovative, enthusiastic and creative makes the long hours and the potentially lonely life of an entrepreneur more bearable.


Being kept in the loop of the latest news and events, trends and learnings, sets entrepreneurs apart from those still stuck in their garages. Knowledge is power — getting the inside scoop about an event or a networking opportunity could be the edge you need.


When a shared workspace is run well, its occupants should represent a complimentary tenant mix of services, products, ideas and interests, and not a conflicting or competitive mix. Keeping diversity ensures that there is a place and a space for everyone to grow, where creativity and innovation can flourish.


When you’re in a community of entrepreneurs who are just as hungry and motivated as you are, there’s a common understanding of the high demands and sacrifices needed to succeed as a startup. Likewise, your successes are celebrated with those who have seen your struggle and journey every step of the way.

Solutions for South Africa’s problems are coming from South Africans, and in the spirit of ubuntu it is fitting that the community model is proving to be the one most supporting this rapid growth in startups.

Westleigh Wilkinson


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