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“Every deal makes a difference to small business because those business owners contribute more to local economies than anyone else.” This is the view of Yoco co-founder and chief technology officer Lungisa Matshoba.
Speaking on the first day of this year’s SA Innovation Summit (#SAIS2022), Matshoba was among the more than 300 people who attended the event hosted at the Old Biscuit Mill in Cape Town. It is billed as Africa’s biggest start-up event.
“Welcome to the enablers,” said JP Smith, a city councilor, in his welcome remarks whereafter Dr Phil Mjwara, director-general at the department of higher education, science and innovation, delivered the keynote address.
Innovation Fund off to a great start
The department collaborated with #SAIS2022 to raise awareness about the Innovation Fund and to highlight its preliminary successes. Since its establishment less than 18 months ago, the fund has already disbursed a total of R469,5 million to businesses.
It has leveraged three times its initial investment, which has seen for every R1 invested by the fund, an additional R3 leveraged from other sources.
The Innovation Fund has also supported 24 businesses with over 50% of these projects now in the commercial stage and 70,2% of these black-led or owned. Women lead over 49% of the black-owned companies.
“The actors I have referred to must set a joint agenda through which they purposefully develop synergies between programmes, pool their skills and financial resources, and evaluate progress so that, if necessary, the course of these initiatives can be corrected,” said Mjwara.
The Innovation Fund, by design, is an early-stage intervention to address the changing business environment. It is described as a coordinated response that draws on collective resources across multiple government departments.
He added that the new White Paper on Science, Technology, and Innovation emphasised the important role of the “quadruple helix” approach. This involved collaboration between business, academia, government, and civil society, to ensure the relevance and impact of STI interventions.
Meanwhile, Lucky Pane, acting head of research at the Public Investment Corporation, remarked that between 2011 and 2013 only R6.9 billion was invested by venture capitalists, which is only 3.3% of all business funding in that period.
The first day of #SAIS2022 also saw the BoostUp! Africa pitch battle where start-ups from five African countries went head-to-head on stage.
Newtown Partners founder and managing partner Llew Claasen led a think tank on how venture capital was empowering corporate innovation which drew commentary from Mmathebe Zvobwo, executive enterprise and supplier development at Telkom.
“There are different motives for corporates to get into investments,” she explained. “Telkom uses it as a view of the market as it relates to the space it occupies.”
Barati Mahloele, venture capital fund director at Tiger Brands, responded: “We need to follow consumer trends and recognise disruption. Tiger Brands is a big company that cannot respond quickly enough to innovations, so we empower the innovators who can.”
Impactful #SAIS2022 sessions
Furthermore, TZoro Strategic chief executive Mthunzi Mdwaba made headlines as a host of two impactful sessions. The first was a fireside chat focused on the new generation of leaders that took an emotional turn when an audience member highlighted the mental anguish of being a worker in an ever more automated workplace.
Alon Lits contributed to the discussion with an idea that HR practitioners should be more empathetic and a suggestion that workers schedule time with their reporting managers to discuss professional and personal development strategy.
The think-tank on the future of work also opened to some debate around the evolution of the gig economy and the importance of soft skills in the workplace as many responsibilities are handed to machines.
Lastly, a #SAIS2022 attendee, who only identified himself as an 18-year-old, challenged the audience when he said, “Generation Z has the power of $100 billion in buying power, and by 2025 will comprise 27% of the workforce. The question you should ask is, ‘Have I understood my people?’”
This sentiment was echoed when Matsi Modise, board chairperson of the Technology Innovation Agency, challenged the audience to ask what they would do to enable innovation.