The big story of 2015 is the many small ones

2015Looking back over 2015, a few very big stories loom large (SAB-AB Inbev merger, Volkswagen emissions scandal, MTN Nigeria fine, to mention just a few). When you look a bit closer, you will see that the big story, especially in Africa, is the many, many smaller stories, frequently focused on innovation and entrepreneurship.

James van der Walt's SolarTurtle See Buying power by the bottle
James van der Walt’s SolarTurtle See Buying power by the bottle

As we go into 2016, a large number of African start-ups are lined up on the runway to fame and fortune, wealth and world domination.

The year 2015 will probably go down as the year that government and big business really started paying attention to small business. It is already recorded as the year the Western Cape government added innovation to its list of values.
Cape Town is one city where it is obvious that government and businesses are pulling out the stops to create an environment that is ideal for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Barclays Bank is an great example of one such business. Some might describe Barclays as a corporate giant of the past, but the international financial services company is certainly finding a place in conversations about the future. It is doing this by supporting small innovative businesses, some one them just ideas or seedlings.

The Barclays Rise programme’s Cape Town innovation hub, which opened in Woodstock in December, a sort of ‘laboratory’ for innovation, is an example of the old facilitating the new.

Alan Winde, the Western Cape’s Minister of Economic Opportunities, said it is not surprising that companies like Barclays, and many others such as Deloitte and First National Bank, are taking such an active role in building an ecosystem for businesses of the future.

He said there is so much happening in the “disruptive” space, “with companies like Uber and Air BnB shaking up traditional industries… organisations like Barclays know they will be next”.

Or, as Stephen van Coller, Barclays Africa’s Chief Executive for Corporate and Investment Banking, said at the opening of the Rise innovation hub in Cape Town: “If you are not at the table of disruption you will be on the menu for disruption.”

SunStreamHuaweiRobotWinde said all sectors in Cape Town were already helping to create a new climate for business. In addition to local government and business being signed on, he said there were great support organisations such as Silicon Cape and a cluster of incredible universities.

This support for small business is not limited to the Mother City, however. Well-known media analyst and tech commentator Arthur Goldstuck said the ecosystem for innovation was being built up rapidly in Johannesburg too.

Goldstuck told the African News Agency (ANA) this week: “We are beginning to see innovative approaches to start-up hubs, incubators and accelerators in Johannesburg. They may not be as large or cool as some of those seen in Cape Town, but chances are they are more plugged into economic realities. These include Raizcorp, Aurik, the Praekelt Foundation and Wits University’s Tshimologong.”

DavePonsCeilingInACan - Copy
Dave Pons with his latest invention, the Ceiling in a Can.

Another factor that puts a spotlight on the importance of location, according to Dr Audrey Verhaeghe, chairman of the SA Innovation Summit, is the tumbling rand, which was among her top stories of 2105.

Verhaeghe told ANA this week: “The tumbling rand in December was the biggest story for me and the subsequent implications of the depreciation of the currency for scalable, internationalising SA businesses.”

She said the value of the rand would influence decisions about where head offices and the bulk of operations were set up. She noted that 2015’s SA Innovation summit had seen at least 60 businesses, most of them ICT-based and therefore mobile, pitching for support to globalise.

She added that one can always find opportunities in bad news. In the case of the falling rand, “I think a lot of companies will see the need to earn in other currencies… this will stimulate inventiveness.”

“Maybe there are also some attractive moves in SADC (the Southern African Development Community). Mauritius, for instance, is much talked about as being favourable to businesses.

“We do need to think creatively and still serve the African market.” – African News Agency (ANA)

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Siobhan Cassidy

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