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How Startup Grind chapters in SA are responding to the coronavirus threat [Updated]


UPDATE (23 March 2020): Startup Grind Pretoria announced in an email to subscribers today that it has postponed all in-person events until an indefinite date and we will be guided by what the SA government announces.

Starting from April the chapter said it will be hosting virtual events, the dates of which will be announced in due course.

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For many tech founders, the events run by events organisation Startup Grind are part of their regular social and networking calendar. But this is all likely to change now.

The events organisation has chapters across the world and several recent or upcoming events from a number of chapters have already been cancelled because of the coronavirus.

While Startup Grind’s Cape Town chapter has called off all physical events due to the coronavirus and Bloemfontein chapter’s cancelled an event scheduled for this month, the organisation’s Pretoria chapter has adopted a wait-and-see approach until its next event, in April.

Startup Grind vice president of community Guillaume De Smedt said the organisation has advised chapter directors globally that they should take the responsible steps to ensure everyone stays safe.

“In action, that includes moving all in-person events online. Alternatively, postponing events by at least two to three months,” he said.

While Startup Grind Cape Town has cancelled all events, the Pretoria chapter is adopting a wait-and-see approach

Startup Grind’s event attendance varies from 15 people in smaller cities such as Jos, Nigeria and runs up to 250 people in larger cities like London and Beijing, he said.

In an email to Ventureburn yesterday Startup Grind Cape Town director Sandras Phiri confirmed that his chapter had cancelled all physical events and that it will offer online events through

“We are going to run a number of webinars in partnership with focused on ideation, validation and fundraising,” he said, adding that the online events would be run from the beginning of April. “We will update the site with event listing by the end of the week,” he said.

The Cape Town events are usually attended by between 100 and 150 people, he said, adding that attendance had already down by about 20% for the event his chapter held last week.

Nobody attended with masks, he added, and no one has fallen ill that was suspected of coronavirus at any of the events.

Commenting on how the events will affect the chapter’s bottom line he said it won’t likely have a big effect as the chapter runs as a not for profit. “Money from our sponsors directly funds the events so if we don’t have events we don’t have costs,” he explained.

Startup Grind Pretoria yet to cancel events

Meanwhile, Startup Grind Pretoria chapter head Monde Zuma (pictured above) said his chapter, which usually attracts “close to 100 people” at events, had not yet cancelled any events.

“We have not as yet cancelled any event as this past Saturday the 14th March we held an in-person event ‘Access to markets’ workshop with York Zucchi. As it stands we are planning on going ahead planning to host an in-person event on the 18 April 2020,” he said.

However, the chapter is considering holding the April event as a virtual-only event and streaming it to those interested, if fears around the virus continue, he said.

“I have spoken to an audio visual partner that will be giving us within a week detailed plan with cost and logistics on how we will be streaming or broadcasting live our virtual events,” he said.

However, he conceded that holding virtual events will be a “challenge” because of the country’s the high data costs, connectivity issues and constant loadshedding.

Despite the chapter having gone ahead with Saturday’s event, he said attendance was at the lowest since the chapter launched in February 2017. “We lost a third of our paid ticket holders not turning out for the event,” he said.

While no one has attended so far with masks, Zuma said the chapter had arranged at Saturday’s event to have masks in preparation for any attendances wanting to use one.

“A group of three entrepreneurs that came to the event all the way from Rustenburg from the same startup did come with their own masks but they did not use them,” he added.

He said the monetary loss for the chapter from a loss in ticket sales is expected to be “substantial”.

Suppliers he said will also be affected, he said, pointing out that one partner MamelodiBiz usually hires at least one 14-seater minibus taxi from a township within the City of Tshwane. Caterers will suffer a loss income.

“The actual monetary value we do not disclose but I can confirm that our pockets will be lighter,” he said.

Read more: SA tech startups put in place measures to tackle coronavirus
Read more: Events ban over coronavirus to have a ‘significant’ impact says Heavy Chef founder

Featured image: Startup Grind Pretoria chapter director Monde Zuma (Supplied)

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