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Making SA’s techentrepreneurs future ready

- Wits University

Why we should stop chasing the Silicon Valley dream and rethink what Africa needs, especially in the incubator space.

The technology startup ecosystem in South Africa is changing rapidly.

More young entrepreneurs, corporates and the incubators such as Wits University’s Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, which helps propel entrepreneurs and grows the skills pipeline for the digital economy, have realised that accelerators and enterprise development programmes need to be more focused.

“Companies and corporates have to spend their enterprise development funding but they genuinely do not know what the intersection of software, hardware or content look like. At Tshimologong we have realised that too many incubators are trying to be too many things to too many people,” says Shaun David Randles, Enterprise Development Manager, Wits Tshimologong Precinct

“That is why we design programmes such as the IBM Startup Bootcamp, that can quickly calibrate these young entrepreneurs into the tune of the demand of the market,” Randles adds.

Shaun David Randles, Digital Enterprise Development Manager at Wits University's Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct.

Seven local and aspiring technology startups have been participating in the IBM Startup Bootcamp, a four-week programme designed to enable the development of Growth Stage Tech and Digital Startups.

The bootcamp also culminated in an investment proposal and pitch whereby the winning participants competed to win up to R800k in required products and services. The overall winning team was FIXXR – an online platform that connects car owners to mechanics through GPS to have their car serviced at client's preferred address.

Why a bootcamp?

Randles has been very meticulous about the bootcamp’s design. He analysed some of the most successful incubators internationally, and then curated content and sessions to resonate with local startups and their needs.

“With this bootcamp, our aim is to help technology entrepreneurs accelerate their businesses quickly. The programme starts off by introducing the startups to their business model, and from the first day we pair each startup with a business coach and a technology coach. These two coaches then independently unpack, diagnose, evaluate, pick holes and hack the startups assumptions, their biggest constraints and risks,” Randles explains.

Adding public masterclasses facilitated by IBM staff, the startups are also being exposed to the latest technologies available by learning from experts in Blockchain, Cybersecurity, Internet of Things, Automotive Cognitive Processes and many more.

Creating the right technology ecosystem for South African startups and techtrepreneurs is also vital if the country wants to compete with other African tech giants such as Kenya.

Speaking during a panel discussion presented at the bootcamp recently on the challenges facing South African digital and technology entrepreneurs, Nokwazi Mzobe – author, consultant, adjunct lecturer, facilitator and founder of Motoyana, a boutique consulting and media agency – said budding entrepreneurs do not understand and are not being exposed to the different technologies available out there.

“When we talk about the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence or Virtual Reality; the knowledge of what technologies are available is out there but people are not sure where they can access this knowledge,” she adds.

Dr Jabulile Msimango-Galawe, Shaun Randles, Nokwazi Mzobe and Tsabi Molapo at the panel discussion during the IBM Startup Bootcamp at Wits' Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct.

Dr Jabulile Msimango-Galawe, lecturer in the Wits Business School who teaches Entrepreneurship and Decision Science cautions though, that too many young entrepreneurs think only about the app they want to design and not if this is of any value add to their proposed market.

“Young entrepreneurs need to be taught not to think about the product or app first but what problem they want to solve in their community. They need to be guided to first find the problem and then come up with a solution that would best serve the community - a product or service (whether an app or other technology) that can be provided to the community, that you can put a value to and that people will be willing to pay for,” said Msimango-Galawe.

Randles agrees, “Our biggest focus in the programme is our entrepreneurs’ productivity in their progress on validating their customer. We help them pinpoint who their real customer is and help them understand what the costumers pain point is, otherwise they are just building tech that nobody wants to buy. It is about validating whether the customer really exists, because many young entrepreneurs today are building solutions that nobody actually wants to pay money for”.

About the programme

The Startup Bootcamp is an initiative of the Enterprise Development Programme (EDP), one of 3 streams of IBM SA Equity Equivalence Investment Programme (EEIP). The EDP is focused on the enablement of entrepreneurs and businesses with a highly specialised ICT focus in globally relevant areas of technology such as Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Computing, Internet of Things and Cybersecurity, amongst other things.