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Gauteng is the economic hub of South Africa, contributing roughly 35% to GDP and seeing the fastest market growth of all nine provinces. Despite this, the region continues to battle against high levels of poverty and unemployment, with one in four citizens living below the poverty line.
In an effort to address these ongoing challenges, local government has prioritised entrepreneurship and innovation as a means to drive job creation and fast-track inclusive socio-economic development.
However, according to local business owners and innovators in the Gauteng metropole, these efforts are not being fully realised, due to a major disconnect between organisations working at a grassroots level and the wider innovation ecosystem.
Moreover, there is a dire need to capacitate innovators working in informal communities who battle with a lack of business knowledge and acumen, which inhibits their ability to generate funding, expand to new markets, and develop strategic partnerships for business growth and scale.
This was revealed during a panel discussion held during a recent Local Innovation Networking event organised by Global Alliance Africa at Innovate UK KTN in partnership with an advisory group of local innovation stakeholders, including representatives from startups, government, academia, investors, and innovation support organisations.
Taking place in Kempton Park, Johannesburg, the panel discussion featured Sbu Shongwe (founder of Boombadotmobi), Paseka Lesolang (managing director of Water Hygiene Convenience), Henriette Vermaak (founder of ECOlaTRINE), and Nivashnee Ramparsad (sales consultant for Smartee). Together, they unpacked their respective experiences and commented on the challenges facing innovators on their journey towards entrepreneurship.
Innovators are not trained to be business owners
When properly supported, grassroots innovation is an important driver of sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development, thanks to its ability to generate novel, bottom-up solutions that respond to local situations, interests, and values.
While innovators may have a great idea to an existing problem, they generally lack the foundational business knowledge or experience needed to start, expand, and scale a company.
“This is a problem from the very onset of any innovation-based business,” adds Paseka Lesolang, managing director of Water Hygiene Convenience, another startup from the Gauteng metropole which created leak-detection technology, with the aim of helping households and businesses preserve water resources.
Lack of business acumen impacts access to funding
Beyond issues relating to intellectual property rights, the lack of business savvy held by grassroots innovators directly hampers their ability to generate funding, particularly from organisations and government agencies with an expressed mandate to support businesses at a local level. But for them to scale, they need to have developed a comprehensive business plan, which details every aspect of the business and how it plans to leverage the investment.
Grassroots innovations and local ecosystems
After the panel discussion, the organiser of the event and Knowledge Transfer Manager for South Africa at Global Alliance Africa, Marisa Naidoo, thanked attendees, saying that: “As a global organisation working to unlock innovation at a local level, our aim was to connect players in Gauteng’s innovation ecosystem, to jointly identify these key challenge areas and collaborate to explore how we can potentially solve them.”
Naidoo concludes, saying: “We believe that by coming together, we as a collective can better coordinate our resources and better address the common challenges of grassroots innovators. Now, we call on members of the local community to get involved and to join in on our future efforts to expand our reach and achieve greater impact.”
Click here to learn more about Global Alliance Africa and their projects in Gauteng.