New Silicon Cape head pledges to make sector’s ‘old boys’ club’ more inclusive

Silicon Cape’s new managing director says she plans to get the Cape’s tech scene — long tagged as an “old boys’ club”, with moneyed white males dominating the region’s startup ecosystem — to become more inclusive.

“Research I’ve done and the whispering I’ve heard is it (Cape) may not be inclusive and may be an old boys’ club,” Ellen Fischat told Ventureburn.

“The fact of the matter is 20 years ago there were no black tech operators so what we see at the moment is a consequence of history,” says Fischat, who started her new position yesterday (8 May).

Fischat, who is from Port Elizabeth, has been involved in business incubation since 2011.

Between 2011 and 2015, she was involved in Port Elizabeth’s Seda ICT incubator. From 2015 until recently she managed the Propella business incubator, where she assisted the Nelson Mandela Metro University to set up a programme to commercialise the university’s intellectual property.

‘It’s not about handouts or helping the poor, it’s about equipping people with networks’

“Being a black female in this industry I’m very passionate about providing access to knowledge and opportunities to the previously disadvantaged,” says Fischat.

“It’s not about handouts or helping the poor, it’s about how do you equip people and provide them with networks,” she adds.

Fischat is Silicon Cape’s first permanent head. Previously, the organisation, which was started in 2009 by entrepreneurs Vinny Lingham and Justin Stanford to promote the local tech ecosystem, was run by a team of part-time volunteers.

The organisation’s new head may hail from out of town, but she said being a black woman from outside the Cape gave her an advantage.

“The benefit of being an outsider is I have no history, affiliation or loyalty to this ecosystem. I’m the new girl on the block,” she says.

Ellen Fischat
New Silicon Cape managing director Ellen Fischat

While she was selected as Silicon Cape head in March, Fischat has yet to map out any new plans for the organisation.

However she pointed to the organisation’s five key strategic aims for 2017, which were set by the organisation’s committee last year. They include creating and enabling an inclusive ecosystem.

The four remaining strategic aims are:

  • Achieving operational and financial sustainability for the organisation.
  • Providing non-financial support to the community.
  • Expanding partnerships with local and international stakeholders.
  • Promoting Cape Town as an International Tech Hub

When asked what she thought of outgoing National Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile announcing last month that the government would not match the R1.5-billion the private sector had invested into the SA SME Fund, Fischat said she was disappointed.

“I think it’s disappointing, because if anything the government acknowledges they (the state) need private support to roll out these job-creation initiatives,” she says.

Read more: Government won’t match private sector in R1.5bn SME fund’

‘My greatest value is my ability to connect’

She says she now aims to go out and meet with the various roleplayers in the Cape tech and entrepreneurship ecosystem.

“My greatest value is my ability to connect — to connect people, or parties — to build on existing international relations and look at the city as not only a holiday destination but a place to do business,” she says.

Silicon Cape chairman Daniel Guasco says the appointment of a full-time managing director will allow for a full-time team to be developed.

He says Silicon Cape receives funding from a number of organisations, with FNB being the main backer. The organisation has about 10 000 subscribers to its newsletters.

Featured image: Slum Dwellers International via Flickr (CC 2.0, resize).



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