Exclusive: Vinny Lingham to open Civic office in SA following IP rule changes


Silicon Valley based SA entrepreneur Vinny Lingham says he plans to open an office in Cape Town to hire developers for his new startup Civic, following reforms to South Africa’s Intellectual Property (IP) control regulations.

“The Reserve Bank by listening to the community and making the changes (to the IP control rules) have opened it up to more foreign investments,” Lingham said in a Skype call with Ventureburn from San Francisco on Friday last week.

Lingham recently posted a link of Civic’s Facebook account saying the startup is looking to hire in South Africa.

It follows an announcement by then Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan in the Budget Speech in February that the IP exchange control would be relaxed.

With the relaxation of exchange control, the SA Reserve Bank would allow certain authorised dealers to process cross-border IP transactions on its behalf.

Read more: Startups take note: an update on IP control

‘By listening to the community the Reserve Bank has opened SA up to more foreign investments’

Lingham said previously it had been a complicated, “messy” and expensive process for any SA entrepreneur based overseas who wanted to set up an SA office for their company. “The law prevented South Africans from investing back home,” he added.

“Previously to set up an office in South Africa we had to have a separate company which is unaffiliated with the US company because I am a shareholder of the US company and I’m still a South African citizen.”

Lingham was not sure yet how many jobs Civic would add at the Cape Town office.

“We’ll start up with a handful and we’ll grow the office and as we expand into South Africa we will be able to invest locally there as well,” he said.

He said setting up an SA office was a good bet. “There’s great talent in South Africa and with the exchange rate as it is we don’t see it coming back, so it’s good value for money.”

He said he was in the process of applying for exchange control approval to set up the SA office.

“I’ve got some people on the ground who are doing it in Cape Town. They’re working with the Reserve Bank and they’ll be working with people there,” he added.

Civic to launch soon

Lingham said he will launch his new startup Civic on 25 May at blockchain conference Consensus in New York. He said that a poll he ran on Twitter a few weeks ago saw 85% of respondents indicate that they wanted the product.

He said the service would primarily be consumer driven, while some partner companies had already agreed to accept the service.

The product will allow users to share information such as users’ social security or identity number securely from any device with digital signatures that certify that the validity of the information hasn’t been tampered with.

Civic is working with a number of governments at present, although Lingham declined to say which governments these are.

“We give you a way to securely store that information on a device with cryptographic keys which guarantee that (the identity) is you, and so the person who is receiving the information can trust that it’s you…”

“We basically sign your information… and if it comes from your device it’s you and when it comes from someone else it’s not.”

‘We don’t store data on our servers so there’s no backdoor in’

Lingham says he and his team have been testing the product for 18 months now. “We don’t store data on our servers so there’s no backdoor in… It’s all on your device and it’s all stored on your device using Apple’s and Android’s protocol.”

He says his product will decentralise the storage of data, such that one has to have physical possession of any device to appropriate the information.

“The thing is this — if someone hacks a bank they can steal 20 million IDs. With us they can’t because they don’t hold it (the information). They can hack your device and get it, but they need to have physical access to it.”

Click here for the link to Civic job positions in South Africa.



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