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What does Silicon Cape really do? What should it be doing and who should it be serving? These are some of the key questions that the tech ecosystem organisation will be asking stakeholders in the community in coming weeks, as it sets out to realign its strategy.
The organisation was founded in 2009, by tech entrepreneur Vinny Lingham and Justin Stanford as a platform with which to connect various stakeholders in Cape Town’s tech ecosystem — including entrepreneurs, universities, accelerators and incubators and government.
Silicon Cape chairperson Sumarie Roodt told Ventureburn yesterday in a call that between now and the end of next month (April) the organisation plans to interview several roleplayers in the city’s tech ecosystem. Interviewees will be drawn from a sample cluster of stakeholders.
The sample cluster would ensure against there being “not just the loudest voice that gets heard”, she said, alluding to the fact that the city’s tech startup sector is dominated by white males.
In the 2017 Ventureburn Tech Startup Survey powered by Telkom Futuremaker, 57% of those who disclosed their race group were white — compared to 39% in Gauteng who said they were white.
“There are different opinions externally of what we should be doing and how we should be adding value,” said Roodt.
While she didn’t want to go into details before the review is concluded, she said she believes the organisation had a key role to play in building and facilitating links in the ecosystem.
The organisation’s planned strategy review follows the resignation last month of Silicon Cape managing director Ellen Fischat and director and board member Alexandra Fraser.
There are different opinions externally of what we should be doing and how we should be adding value says Silicon Cape chair
Subsequently the organisation appointed Kerry Petrie (also last month) as interim general manager and Tumi Boitumelo Menyatswe as ecosystem manager.
In May last year Fischat pledged get the Cape’s tech scene to become more inclusive. But how exactly she and the organisation planned to do so, was never clear.
At the time she singled out the organisation’s five key strategic aims for 2017, namely: creating and enabling an inclusive ecosystem; achieving operational and financial sustainability for the organisation; providing non-financial support to the community; expanding partnerships with local and international stakeholders and promoting Cape Town as an international tech hub.
‘Put monitoring systems in place’
In the call yesterday to Ventureburn, Roodt pointed out that she wanted to put monitoring and evaluation systems in place so that the organisation can measure whether targets have been achieved or not. She said the interactions the organisation plans to hold with stakeholders will determine what targets will be measured.
Yet if there is one thing that the organisation has achieved it has been to help tell the story of Cape Town as a thriving tech destination.
The city has become popular among tech investors. In all 56% of all venture capital (VC) deals concluded in South Africa are for startups based in the Western Cape, according to a 2017 survey by the Southern African Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (Savca).
The city has also attracted a fair share of foreign entrepreneurs who have set up businesses there. Silicon Cape works closely with the Western Cape’s investment agency Wesgro and Roodt said her organisation would continue to do so.
‘Exchange control rule changes have had no effect’
The organisation has also been advocating for the Reserve Bank to relax exchange control measures and has made some progress in this area. The then minister of finance Pravin Gordhan announced in the budget speech last year that exchange control would be relaxed.
While exchange control approval is still a requirement for cross-border intellectual property (IP) transactions, some of the approvals can be obtained from authorised dealers and will not require approval from Reserve Bank.
Shortly after the announcement Lingham said he planned to open an office in Cape Town to hire developers for his startup Civic, following these reforms. However, Roodt said she has not noticed any difference following the changes to exchange control approval made last year.