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Everything you need to know about SA’s tech startup ecosystem [updated 2019]

Image by David Stanley via Flickr:

Update: Are you a venture capitalist or an angel investor looking to invest in a company? Are you an entrepreneur looking for capital or other opportunities? Are you an aspiring startup owner looking for assistance? Well, you have come to the right place. Ventureburn presents the 2019 updated guide* to South Africa’s startup scene.

This article is the most comprehensive guide for anyone who wants to get involved with, or have a better understanding of, the country’s fast-growing startup space. It is a part of a series of articles we will pilot, which will also include the West African and East African startup space.

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We have scoured South Africa’s entrepreneurial landscape and hand-picked some of the top players to get you started, looking at all sectors from education, investment (angel, venture capital, private equity), government, accelerators and incubators to media players (print and online).

Bookmark this one. The intention is for this article to be a living thing, which will grow into the ultimate resource for South African tech startups and entrepreneurs. Also, with your comments and suggestions we hope to create a clear overview of the people and organisations that influence and shape South Africa’s tech venture space.

Venture capital

Venture capital is all about early-stage, high-potential, high-risk, growth startups. The local sector, though small, still invests millions of rands in deals. See some of the top deals of 2018 here.

For a comprehensive list of venture capital and private equity firms check out the South African Venture Capital & Private Equity Association (Savca). Our picks are known tech startup investors.

Top South African companies in 2016 launched the R1.4-billion SA SME Fund, a VC fund to co-invest alongside various investors (not solely VC investors). In November SA SME Fund CEO Ketso Gordhan said the fund will invest just over R1-billion or 75% of its R1.4-billion in funds in black-owned small and medium-sized enterprises, including tech startups.

A VC deal concluded by Cape Town based KNF Ventures in November in SA healthtech firm 5nines Technologies was the first that the SA SME Fund effectively become involved in. The SA SME Fund also announced a deal with hard tech incubator Savant, in February 2019.

Meanwhile the 12J VC tax incentive, administered by the SA Revenue Service (Sars) has taken off in recent years after authorities amended onerous rules ( the Section 12J Association of South Africa, an advocacy body was set up in early 2019 — see here). See a list of some 12J funds here. Among the best funds to try if you’re a tech startup are: Kalon Venture Partners, KNF Ventures, Kingson Capital and Grovest. In February it was revealed that Vinny Lingham is involved in one 12J fund, the Lion Pride Agility VCC Fund, through his investment company Newton Partners.

AngelHub Ventures started out as South Africa’s “first group of angel investors” that provides pool funding, expertise and networks to foster startup growth. Angel investors Michael Jordaan (the ex-FNB head) and Kevin Harris joined from 2014 and the firm upgraded to a VC. Under the leadership of Brett Commaille, the firm has been supporting startups like GoMetro, Snapplify and AmaLocker.

Singularity is a private investment company that looks to invest in, and support, dynamic entrepreneurs and teams that lead disruptive technology, media and telecommunications companies which are building the future.

4Di Capital prefers early-stage tech investments. Its Early-Stage Technology Fund 1 is aimed at startup investment opportunities with big growth potential at the seed and early stages in the mobile, enterprise software and web sectors. Some of its investments include Sensor Networks and Aerobotics.

Action Hero Ventures a private investment holding company that makes early stage investments into scalable businesses in various industries that require relatively small amounts of capital to grow.

Knife Capital is a growth equity fund manager with a specific focus on sustainable technology-enabled ventures. The company was named South Africa’s best VC in 2012. Some more recent achievements include the exit of radar startup iKubu to Garmin in 2015. In 2017 the company invested in its first international deal, while in 2018 some of its investments included healthtech 5nines Technologies.

Knife Capital also runs the Grindstone Accelerator, a structured entrepreneurship development programme that assists high-growth innovation-driven companies to become sustainable and fundable.

Business Partners launched a R400-million VC fund in 2012. By June 2017 the financier had invested in 19 deals. It funds startups in the clean energy, agri-processing, biotech and ICT sectors up to R25-million.

Grovest Venture Capital Company (VCC) claims to be South Africa’s first VC company incorporated under Section 12J of the Income Tax Act — a new asset class in the country that has proven to be successful in the UK and sees VC companies traded as venture capital trusts. The VC structure offers investors exposure to the VC sector, while at the same time providing up to 40% tax relief on their investments.

Kalon Venture Partners is a Section 12 J venture capital fund that invests in digital disruptive technology. The fund has invested in companies such as SnapnSave, i-Pay and The Sun Exchange. See this article for more information.

Edge Growth manages over R900-million of early stage venture capital and has invested in more than 45 deals since launching its first fund in 2010. Edge targets opportunities across any sector that has the potential to create positive impact. Portfolio companies include Sweepsouth, Mobenzi, Pioneer Academies and Everlytic.

Invenfin is an early-stage venture capital fund that looks at ventures across all industries. Some notable portfolio members include ArcAqua, Ad Dynamo and Bos Brands.

The Omidyar Network is active across the African continent, as it is around the world. Founded by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, the initiative has been funding a range of ventures from Lagos to Cape Town and Nairobi. Some notable South African investments include online distribution network Bozza, education programme IkamvaYouth as well as fact-checking media outlet Africa Check.

Silvertree Capital (also known as Silvertree Internet Holdings) supports and invests in startups targeting the South African and sub-Saharan African markets. Within the first half of 2015, the firm invested R20-million and enjoyed month-on-month revenue growth of over 10% across its portfolio. Not everyone is happy with Silvertree’s insistence on taking majority stakes in those it invests in (see this story).

eVentures Africa Fund was launched in 2010 by Vincent Kouwenhoven and Brian Hirman. The fund leverages capital and experience from Europe to invest in internet-related companies in Africa. Some of the firm’s notable investments include South Africa’s Nomanini and Nigeria-based MoboFree.

Seedstars World, as the name suggests, is a global venture capital firm based in Switzerland. Startups from a growing number of emerging markets — including South Africa — are invited to pitch and take part in the international competition where they’ll stand a chance to win up to US$1-million in equity investment.

HAVAÍC is a Cape Town based VC company which sources funding from family offices and investors. The company has invested in several startups, including among others: delv.ioDigital Cabinet, Aura and Instant Property. HAVAÍC invests in early-stage, high-growth technology businesses with proven products and revenue, that can scale both locally and internationally, offering access to local investments with global prospects.


With the popularity of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter in the US and Europe, new initiatives tailored specifically for businesses have emerged in South Africa as well.

Today, the local scene is dominated by Thundafund which focuses on all kinds of initiatives, whether that be helping hobbyists bring their ideas to reality or a startup seeking funding.

South Africa’s first equity crowdfunding platform Uprise.Africa was launched in October 2017, despite the Financial Services Board (FSB) yet to rule on the legality of equity crowdfunding. To date one of the platform’s biggest campaigns has been that of Cape Town based brewer Drifter Brewing Company which raised R3-million. In January 2019 the Uprise.Africa’s head revealed that the platform was mulling 159 deals valued at nearly R1-billion collectively.

Rainfin is one of South Africa’s only online marketplace lending platforms (offering loans in a similar way as P2P platforms do). The platform offers loans to small businesses. Changes to National Credit Act regulations, which came into effect in 2016, have however slowed lending to startups with an annual revenue of less than R1-million.

In June, ten months after launching, Johannesburg-based crowdfunding platform The People’s Fund has made its first payout of R43 800 to 42 investors who earlier this year invested a total of R219 000 in a Bloemfontein based internet company, MySurfer.

In October, a new Cape Town based investment company Sonic Ventures launched a R1.5-billion fund that will invest in high-growth tech Ventures in South Africa, the US and the UK.

Angel investors

Whether or not angel investing is on the rise in Africa as it is in the US, South Africa has its fair share of wealthy individuals with investment sense (read Ventureburn’s 2017 guide on how to go about angel investing here).

The South African Business Angel Network (SABAN), launched in 2016, is the go-to place for angel investors. The organisation organises regular events and networking sessions — including covering issues such as the lack of women angel investors.

Former CEO of FNB Michael Jordaan and Mike Ratcliffe, managing director at Warwick Wine Estate, each made an angel investment in 140 character social wine review service, Real Time Wine. Though the startup ended up tanking, Jordaan is still not shying away from placing his bets, mostly investing through MonteGray and AngelHub Ventures.

Jozi Angels is an angel investment network in Johannesburg.

A dragon from the live investment show, Dragons’ Den, Vinny Lingham is an early backer of many South African startups. Lingham, together with business partner Llew Claasen, is behind angel investment firm Newtown Partners, which has a stake in SAFlorist, SweepSouth, WumDrop and many more. In February 2019 it was revealed that the firm is a partner in a R500-million Section 12J fund.

Co-founders of Groupon SA Wayne Gosling and Daniel Guasco often work side by side. Regular features at events such as Net Prophet’s Sparkup Live, some of these investments include 8Bit, WumDrop, Receiptful and Ekaya.

With a strong background working for the likes of Vodacom and Mediclinic, Ernst Hertzog from Action Heroes Ventures is also an early backer of Ekaya and WumDrop.

The Africa Angels Network invests in and partners with tech startups in sub-Saharan Africa. Its portfolio ranges from SureGifts in Nigeria, to South Africa-based Bozza and SweepSouth.

An advisor to Swyft and Gyft, Michael Leeman, is behind four startup exits, including Gyft and Clicks2Customers. Other investments include Chesscube and, more recently, Adii Pienaar’s Receiptful. Leeman is the founder of Miombo Capital.

Justin Stanford of 4Di Capital has been in the investment game for over a decade. He is an early backer of Ekaya, WumDrop, HealthQ and Motribe, which was successfully acquired by Mxit in 2012.

The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation invests in the education and development of individuals with entrepreneurial potential within Southern Africa

Private equity

Private equity firms differ from their venture capital counterparts in a fundamental way. Private equity is about taking a company at later stage in its development and restructuring it to optimise its financial performance.

The private equity firms listed here have made notable investments in tech startups.

Ethos Private Equity has been around for 25 years and has raised four funds, the latest of which tops US$800-million. Ethos seems to invest in a range of markets including tech — it has an investment in Clickatell, the bulk-SMS service provider.

Acorn Equity has a few funds that invest in a range of sectors. Its tech fund invests in tech startups with an enterprise value of up to R200-million and pre-tax profit of up to R50-million at the time of investment. The targeted investment size per transaction is R30-million to R80-million. Its portfolio doesn’t yet include a tech investment for its Acorn Venture Technology Fund One.

Horizon Equity‘s portfolio includes quite a few tech investments. It invests amounts from R10-million to R100-million into privately held South African companies from early stage through to pre-listing, including management buy-outs.

Sasfin Private Equity will only look at startups valued at R50-million upwards with an annual turnover of more than R30-million. Sasfin requires an equity share of 20% to 49% and “committed and competent management with a proven track record.”

Kagiso Tiso Holdings has a private equity arm with a focus on black economic empowerment (BEE). The firm typically invests between R20-million and R70-million in its portfolio companies, in exchange for a minority equity stake of between 20% and 50%.

Impact Amplifier aims to address socio-economic and environmental challenges, innovative entrepreneurs and business models must emerge in South Africa and the greater continent. This is done by providing investment readiness and advisory services to businesses.

Capital Eye Investments Limited describes its portfolio as a blend of startups and mature cash-generating businesses. Some of its investments include WiGroup, Alacrity, Cquential and Emerge Mobile.

Futuregrowth Asset Management is a fixed interest investment company that creates opportunities for investors to choose returns that matter.

The Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund is a development institution which supports businesses to innovate, create jobs, leverage investments and markets in an effort to create resilience and sustainable incomes in rural and marginalized communities in Africa.

Capitalworks is an independent alternative asset management firm based in South Africa providing investment access and specialist solutions to its clients across a wide range of industries and investment themes in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Godisa Supplier Development Fund is a partnership between the state Small Enterprise Finance Agency (Sefa) and Transnet. Through the fund, small black-owned businesses will get financial and non-financial support that will enable them to provide services and manufactured goods to Transnet.

Merchant Capital offers funding to small and medium size retail business owners.

Government support and funding

Though somewhat less known than private funds, the South African government is behind a range of support programmes for entrepreneurs and innovation in the country.

The Department of Trade and Industry has various programmes aimed at boosting the country’s economy. Its Support Programme for Industrial Innovation (SPII) provides grant funding to help entrepreneurs to commercialise innovative projects, while the Technology and Human Resources Programme (Thrip) has grants for entrepreneurs that work with universities or colleges to carry out research in order to commercialise an innovative solution.

The Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) provides finance for industrial development projects. The IDC invested in the animation industry when it awarded R17-million to Cape Town-based Triggerfish animation studios in 2009. The IDC launched the Startup Nations South Africa initiative in 2014 to unleash high-impact entrepreneurship and innovation.

The Innovation Hub launched in 2001 by the Gauteng Provincial Government with the aim of fostering socio-economic development and competitiveness in the region. The Innovation Hub is behind a range of projects such as mLabeKasi Labs and the Climate Innovation Centre South Africa.

FutureMakers is Telkom’s enterprise and supplier development programme. Launched in May 2015, it has made significant progress in supporting strategic start-ups and existing small businesses as well as other entrepreneurial ventures aligned to the technology sector and the Telkom value chain.

The Department of Small Business Development’s Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda) provides business support to small and micro enterprises. The Seda Technology Programme helps fund a network of business incubators and provides grants to small businesses that help cover the cost of acquiring new technology.

Supported by Department of Science and Technology, the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) develops and nurtures technological innovation in order to improve economic growth in South Africa. TIA administer’s a seed fund, which the agency launched in 2013 and provides entrepreneurs and innovators with grant funding of up to R500 000 to R650 000 per project. The fund channels seed funding through technology transfer centres at universities and science centres to innovative projects as well as through small business support organisations in provinces to entrepreneurs. In 2016/17 the fund lent out R74-million to 133 projects.

Wesgro, the official destination marketing, investment and trade promotion agency for the Western Cape does its part to promote entrepreneurship. It recently published a report that showcases local startup success stories and support structures and it also runs the Western African Trade Corridor Programme — its latest programme focuses on exploring trade and partnership opportunities in Nigeria’s service sector.

The Black Business Supplier Development Programme (BBSDP) is a cost-sharing grant offered to black-owned small enterprises to assist them to improve their competitiveness and sustainability to become part of the mainstream economy and create employment.

The Gauteng Enterprise Propeller (GEP) is a provincial government agency which provides non-financial and financial support to small businesses in Gauteng.

Isivande Women’s Fund (IWF) is an exclusive fund that aims to accelerate women’s economic empowerment by providing more affordable, usable and responsive finance than is currently available. The IWF assists with support services to enhance the success of businesses. It pursues deals involving start-up funding, business expansion, business rehabilitation, franchising and bridging finance.

The Small Enterprise Finance Agency provides assistance to build sustainable businesses, through repayable loans in the form of direct and wholesale lending from R500 up to R5-million.

The Support Programme for Industrial Innovation (SPII) is designed to promote technology development in South Africa’s industry, through the provision of financial assistance for the development of innovative products and or processes. SPII is focussed specifically on the development phase, which begins at the conclusion of basic research and ends at the point when a pre-production prototype has been produced.

The Jobs Fund creates jobs by supporting initiatives that generate employment in innovative ways. The fund awards grants to organisations through a competitive project application process where only the best ideas are funded.

Technology transfer offices

Startups looking to acquire intellectual property from universities can work with technology transfer offices at universities and research centres. Some of the best ones are: Stellenbosch University’s Innovus, UCT’s technology transfer office, Nelson Mandela University’s centreWits Enterprise, the CSIR.


An incubator brings in an outside team to manage an idea that was developed internally and takes a larger chunk of equity in the resulting company.

The Awethu Project is pioneering a new approach to identifying talented entrepreneurs in under-resourced South African communities. Its applicants don’t need any minimum level of education, business experience, capital or even an investable idea. The only requirement is that an applicant comes from an under-resourced background and can prove that they have world-class entrepreneurial potential through Awethu’s Talent Identification Process.

The Cortex Hub is an ICT business incubator which aims to create global players through leading research and development and an incubation platform that will activate, nurture and support technology innovation. It aims to achieve this by forming strong partnerships with universities, ICT providers, entrepreneurs and other business incubators to create a robust entrepreneurship ecosystem within the Eastern Cape region.

Sabtia is a non-profit private association formed to promote and coordinate business incubation in Southern Africa.

Johannesburg-based Riversands Incubation Hub is a large-scale business incubator established in 2015 through a partnership between Century Property Developments and The Jobs Fund.

Forming part of CiTi (see networking organisations below), Bandwidth Barn has been in operation since 2000 and is today regarded as one of the leading ICT business incubators in the world. The initiative has also been behind the setting up of a Bitcoin hub as well as Virtual Reality community — both a first in South Africa. In 2015, the Bandwidth Barn also unveiled Barn Khayelitsha — a co-working support hub for entrepreneurs in the area.

Impact Amplifier focuses on supporting entrepreneurs who tackle Africa’s socio-economic and environmental challenges. It acts as both an incubator for high-growth, high-impact businesses and as a consultant for big business.

The Innovation Hub is backed by the Tshwane metro (Pretoria) and includes an incubator and a network of township hubs, part of its eKasiLabs programme.

The MEST Incubator in Cape Town is a shared workspace where leading startups, entrepreneurs and members of the pan-African tech community can come together to meet, work and build.

JoziHub wants to transform the technology industry by connecting potential entrepreneurs and developers with the critical resources they need. It has backing from heavyweights such as Omidyar and Google.

Based in Stellenbosch, LaunchLab offers a range of services to entrepreneurs from the local university and outside. LaunchLab takes entrepreneurs through the process of building a proven business,  from validating concepts to proving business models in industry or market. The initiative also connects entrepreneurs to key people within its corporate partner network to get real feedback from potential customers.

Founded in 2000, Raizcorp is one of the few unfunded for-profit business incubator in Africa. It has several physical incubators in South Africa.

JoziHub is a co-creation space in Johannesburg dedicated to creating sustainable change in Africa

Cape Town based RLabs provides entrepreneurs — particularly those working on solutions with a social impact — with a shared space to develop their ideas with help from an experienced developer and entrepreneurship network.

MyGrowthFund aims to find and nurture high-growth black entrepreneurs through its funding, incubation and enterprise development platforms.

SAB Entrepreneurship Programme has been contributing and growing enterprise development in South Africa for the past 15 years.

Johannesburg-based Seed Engine offers developmental workshops, accredited core skills training, support and funding for the three key stages of a business, namely: ideation, build and growth, as well as growth and scale.

Propella is a partnership between the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, the Industrial Development Corporation and the private sector. Its main areas of focus are on renewable energy generation, energy efficiency and related technologies, advanced manufacturing and supply chain optimisation.

The Shuttleworth Foundation looks for “amazing people”, gives them a fellowship grant, and multiplies the money they put into their projects by a factor of 10 or more. Startups that receive fellowship grants get office space for a year during which their ideas are developed.

The government’s Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda) funds a number of business incubators. Those aimed at tech startups are: Savant, Invotech, the Seda Nelson Mandela ICT IncubatorSmartexchange, Softstart BTI and the SA French Tech Labs.

Standard Bank launched its Standard Bank Incubator Programme in 2015 to educate, create, empower and develop entrepreneurs in South Africa. The programme is accompanied by the incubator co-working space in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

The Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Braamfontein offers startup incubation, digital skills training as well as research and training in general. The new precinct opened in 2016, is spearheaded by the University of Witwatersrand and Johannesburg’s Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE), and also backed by the national government, private sector and civil society.

Tshimologong also has a Digital Content Hub which is funded by a French Development Agency (AFD) three-year €950 000 (R14.5-million) grant. The centre is managed in collaboration with creative companies like Trace TVLagardère GroupGobelins Animation SchoolDailymotion, and TV5Monde.

Founded in 2014 at the UCT Graduate School Of Business with initial funding support by UCT Vice Chancellor Strategic Award and the MTN Group, the MTN Solution Space provides an ecosystem for early-stage startups and a research and development platform for corporates to experiment with emerging business models. The Solution Space’s Venture Incubation Program (VIP) enables startups to test and build commercially viable and scalable business. The Solution Space also has a second hub at the heart of the Cape Flats in Philippi, which exists to nurture and equip local entrepreneurs.

Cape Town based edtech incubator Injini selects a cohort of startups from across Africa every six months, invest in them and gives them an edtech dedicated support programme to help them scale up across the continent.


An accelerator does exactly what its name suggests — helps businesses accelerate growth. For the most part, an accelerator differs from an incubator in that programmes usually run for shorter periods, often ranging between three and six months. The programme usually rounds off with a demo day where startups pitch their ideas to investors.

Global aerospace accelerator Airbus BizLab runs an acceleration programme through its #Africa4future initiative. In 2017 it took on two aerospace startups — one from Southern Africa and another from East Africa.

Johannesburg business support organisation Aurik runs a business acceleration programme. The accelerator claims to excel in working with businesses facing scaling and growth issues as well as those looking at medium term exit strategies.

Corporate-backed tech startup accelerator and incubator Founders Factory announced in October that it will, through its Founders Factory Africa initiative, build and scale 100 tech startups across Africa in the next five years from Johannesburg. It’s both a venture builder and accelerator.

Microsoft’s Head Start programme, which was launched in November, provides startups with access to wide ranging skills development, development resources, access to coaches and mentors as well as its customer network. In addition, the programme also provides participants with access to Microsoft’s customer network and its Azure cloud computing platform.

The Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda) through its Gazelles programme aims to help 40 high-growth companies a year to increase their company value by 20% in three years. A second round was announced in 2017, following the first round which kicked off in 2016. The programme however is not without it’s problems (see here).

Launched in 2014, Entrepreneur Traction is a venture builder and startup studio, dedicated to supporting high growth entrepreneurship in South Africa and Africa.

The MAN Impact Accelerator works with South African mobility, transport and logistics startups with a tangible social impact.

The I’M IN accelerator is aimed at building high growth black-owned tech startups. The first cohort with 10 startups kicked off in the middle of 2017.

mLab Southern Africa is a vertical accelerator that focuses on mobile innovation and startups. It offers a number of support services including mentoring, development, infrastructure, funding and access to industry players and government locally and internationally. mLab is backed by the World Bank, infoDev, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland & the Department of Science and Technology.

The New Economy Accelerator, an initiative of the African Centre for a Green Economy (AfriGCE) has been on a mission to build an inclusive economy and promote environmental sustainability in rural economies. See here for some of its success stories.

Cape Town based 88 Business Collective aims to accelerate female-founded businesses.

Launched in 2015, New Ventures Studio is a young entrepreneur accelerator in Cape Town. The Studio partners with 16 to 35-year olds to accelerate an idea or startup into a repeatable and scalable business model. Entrepreneurs are vetted through an experiential eight-week entrepreneurial course at the end of which they pitch to enter an incubator offering physical space, mentorship, specialised startup or acceleration services and capital raising.

Barclays Africa runs the Barclays Rise programme aimed at assisting fintech startups. In 2017 the bank revealed the names of the 10 startups from across Africa that would be supported in the second Barclays Accelerator programme, powered by Techstars.

Startupbootcamp AfriTech runs a three-month accelerator programme. Selected teams are each receive a €15 000 equity investment, free working space, access to investors as well as opportunities to attend industry events. Here are the legal obligations to consider before joining.

With over 200 tech business accelerated and more than 100 tech founder CEO mentors, Sandton-based Sw7 claims to be the largest tech accelerator in Africa.

Funders Vumela and Edge Growth in 2016 launched the 10X-e accelerator, aimed at growing established, high potential entrepreneurs. The accelerator’s mission is to help talented scale-up stage entrepreneurial teams scale themselves, scale their teams, and scale their businesses. See more here.

Also check out this guide on the eight accelerators and incubators we believe startups should consider this year.

Conferences and events

Similar to networking bodies, conferences are seen as key players in celebrating the startup space. These initiatives are often accompanied by pitching competitions, keynotes and networking. You’ll want to check out this year’s guide of tech conferences we think South African startups should consider attending in 2019.

Startup Grind is an international organisation that hosts monthly fireside chats with local industry entrepreneurs and startups. The initiative has growing chapters in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. Founded in 2010, its vision is to connect startups and the people behind them, tap into a strong support network, form meaningful connections and gain inspiration for the startup journey ahead.

A flagship of LIONS@FRICA, DEMO Africa is an annual pan-African pitch competition and conference dressed as a launchpad for emerging technology and trends. LIONS@FRICA was launched by the US Department of State, in collaboration with Microsoft, DEMO, USAID and Startup Weekend.

Heavy Chef holds regular entrepreneurship-themed events in Cape Town and Johannesburg which include masterclasses and fireside chats.

Launched in 2017, tech startup conference AfricArena connects corporates, startups and showcases innovations by some of the continent’s leading startups.

The SA Innovation Summit is where the best of South African, African and global innovators get to showcase their exceptional talents, innovations and ideas.


Without media, there’s no story. Along with the “African rising” narrative and more international interest in the continent as a region for investment opportunity, an increasingly large number of publications from abroad are interested in telling the country’s stories, amplifying their reach.

Burn Media‘s Ventureburn features written and multimedia content on technology startups in Africa, as well news, analysis and opinions on entrepreneurship from an emerging market perspective.

Entrepreneur Magazine is touted as South Africa’s best-selling entrepreneurship magazine. It’s also a great online resource for general topics and tips on entrepreneurship.

TechCentral has a very strong South African flavour. Its focus is more on general technology news, but it also publishes entrepreneurial stories.

Although they do not have a strong startup focus, the list wouldn’t be complete without Moneyweb, MyBroadband and Fin24, three great resources for business news in South Africa.

US publication Quartz launched its African chapter in 2015 with a focus on unique, insightful articles that are often technology-focused and startup related.

Popular US magazine Fast Company launched its first English edition outside of its home country in South Africa. The publication offers a range of different content, with a main focus on feature-length profiles of industry leaders or startup founders.

Disrupt Africa aims to be the go-to source for all things startups, investments and innovation in North, East, West and Southern Africa. Alongside news articles, the site also focuses on interviews and stories on important stakeholders of the industry.

Hypertext Media Communications (or simply known as htxt) covers South African news on startups, women in tech, games and makers. The site aims to become the number one community for interesting stuff coming from South Africa and the rest of the continent.


As research in Omidyar’s Accelerating Entrepreneurship in Africa report suggests, management and other entrepreneurial skills should be fostered in schools.

The online education venture, GetSmarter, presents a collection of 10 courses covering different aspects of entrepreneurship. These topics range from how to Start and Manage a Small Business to the Basics of Financial Management. Time it takes to complete these courses range from six to 12 weeks. The organisation has also partnered with CiTi and Barn Khayelitsha‘s business development programme to support entrepreneurs.

Regenesys Business School provides free, fully accredited, internationally recognised online business education for South Africans.

In 2012, the UCT Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB) teamed up with growth equity fund manager Knife Capital to launch the Find Make Grow Realise education programme to promote the development of early-stage, high growth entrepreneurial activity in the City of Cape Town. Today, other short courses on offer by the GSB include the Business Acumen for Artists and Masterclass: Business Model Innovation.

Omidyar Network’s African Leadership Academy (ALA) is a South African-based educational institution that identifies the most promising 16- to 19-year-olds from all 54 African nations for an innovative, two-year program focused on leadership, entrepreneurship, and African studies.

IBM’s Digital Nation Africa initiative enables interested innovators to explore emerging technologies, build innovative solutions and learn new skills.

The University of Stellenbosch in Cape Town runs the MIH Media Lab which emphasises applied research — by students with engineering or computer science degrees — with projects that have a good chance of producing prototypes or proofs-of-concept that could eventually be commercialised.

Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development is a post-matric level academy based in Cape Town that offers an inspiring and innovative six month, full-time programme in entrepreneurial development.

TSiBA Education is a private, not for profit business school that helps people who cannot access opportunities to study, with full-tuition scholarships. The courses are focused on developing entrepreneurship and leadership.

Networking organisations

Whether you’re looking for talent, inspiration or partners, networking organisations are the facilitators between startups, investors and other stakeholders of the industry.

The Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO) is a global business network of 8000-plus business owners in 122 chapters and 35 countries. Founded in 1987 by a group of young entrepreneurs, EO enables small and large business owners to learn from each other, leading to greater business success. Read more about the South African chapter of EO.

Endeavour seeks to identify and assist high-growth entrepreneurs in emerging markets around the world. The entrepreneurs cultivated by Endeavour in turn help create jobs, propel economies, and cultivate leaders and role models.

Silicon Cape is a non-profit, community owned and driven initiative that aims to improve the environment in the Western Cape to create more and better startups as well as increase access to capital.

Situated in Stellenbosch, the Nedbank-backed LaunchLab forms part of the local university’s Innovus initiative which is responsible for technology transfer, entrepreneurial support and development, and innovation at the university. The LaunchLab is behind a range of services for both established and budding entrepreneurs, offering incubation space, pitching competitions, workshops and more.

La French Tech is a French-South African Tech community based in Cape Town gathering entrepreneurs, top executives, investors, engineers and public leaders.

She Leads Africa is a community that helps young African women achieve their professional dreams with engaging online content and pan-African events.

The Sable Accelerator is an international partnership group dedicated to helping South African entrepreneurs, new venture startups, academic institutions and companies commercialise technology innovations, promote and protect intellectual property, fund new business concepts, finance growth, as well as expand into global markets. Sable is powered by MentorCloud, the cloud-based mentorship platform, which also works with the University of the Witwatersrand Alumni Association, powering their mentoring programme between alumni and students.

Simodisa aims to empower startups in South Africa. Apart from various startup-focused events during the year, it seeks to act as facilitator between government and private bodies. The initiative represents a collaborative research, stakeholder engagement and policy design effort by key stakeholders from both the public and private sector in South Africa.

The Cape IT Initiative (CiTi) is a non-profit organisation focused on supercharging the Western Cape’s technology sector as well as tech-enabled industries like financial services, retail and government. It considers itself a “mothership” for a number of initiatives in support of startups, skills development, cluster development, research and market growth programmes. Under the new leadership of Ian Merrington, CiTi has secured a multi-million rand backing from Telkom.

The Hookup Dinner is a Sub-Saharan African network of emerging entrepreneurs brought together by three core values; to connect, engage and contribute to each other’s success.

The Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship based in Johannesburg provides free training, mentoring and other networking and marketing platforms for entrepreneurs who demonstrate the potential to move their small business to the next level of growth.

Future Females aims to increase the number of and support the success of female entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs.

Launched in 2015, AlphaCode wants to be the club for next-generation entrepreneurs in South Africa’s financial services industry. With its co-working space based in Sandton, Johannesburg, the initiative has a range of membership options available with benefits that range from facilitated networking, access to the working space, mentorship and more.

Backed by US$100-million, the Nigerian billionaire, Tony Elumelu, launched the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme in 2015 to support a total of 10 000 entrepreneurs across the continent.

The V&A Waterfront’s Workshop17 officially opened its doors in 2015 with the aim of fostering collaboration and innovation in the country and the greater region. Besides a co-working space, the hub is responsible for talks, lectures, workshops and educational programmes.

In Johannesburg the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) offers firms (not just tech companies) a 12-month residency at 22 ON SLOANE, a physical startup campus which launched in 2017. It also offers grants (see this story).


For those looking for funding, incubation, corporate partnerships or maybe even media exposure, there’s always the option of entering an innovation competition.

Although the prize money and formats of most competitions change every year, you might want to check this article for a guide to the hottest competitions South African startups should consider entering in 2019.

Local ones to look out for include:

The SAB Foundation Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Awards which last year awarded a total of R12.5-million in prize money.

The MTN Business App of the Year through which telco MTN showcases innovative solutions and to assist innovators in their journey to commercialise their apps.

Over the last three years, Santam’s Safety Ideas Challenge has sought South African innovators developing innovative safety and security solutions. Last year’s winner Stellenbosch-based wearables startup MyLifeline walked away with R200 000 in seed funding.

You might also want to check out the FNB Business Innovation Awards which have been running since 2015 and are aimed at businesses that are able to demonstrate real innovation with the potential to change the way an industry operates both locally and internationally.

If your startup blends profit and purpose you’ll want to enter the $1-million The Chivas Venture innovation competition. If you’re lucky enough to win the local leg of the competition, your startup proceeds to the global finals where in 2017 SA water startup I-Drop was placed third with founder James Steere walking away with close to R1-million in funding.

Regional ones to consider include the Anzisha Prize, which is one of the continent’s biggest award for her youngest entrepreneurs. The competition hands out over $100 000 every year in funding to entrepreneurs from across the continent.

The Seedstars World Competition promotes, connects and invests up to $1-million in startups in emerging markets through its startup competition which is run in over 60 countries.

Over the next 10 years, starting in 2019, the Jack Ma Foundation’s Africa Entrepreneur Prize Initiative will host a pitch competition where 10 finalists from across the continent will compete for $1-million in total prize money.

*This piece was updated by Ventureburn writer Daniel Mpala on 19 February 2019. If you’d like to add your organisation to this framework or suggest an additional category, please comment below or contact us.

Image by David Stanley via Flickr

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