The best exported asset by South Africa so far is no doubt Elon Musk. An entrepreneur, inventor, thinker who is reshaping our planet and far beyond exploring the Space. Chasing the glory of famous people we all become curious what made them so. What was their nature, their parents and friends, their origins…
At the bottom of the world — to South Africa — I was brought by two meaningful events: G20 Youth Entrepreneurship Leadership Assembly and Global Entrepreneurship Congress 2017 in Johannesburg with a few days plus in Cape Town (the last one gathered together over 7000 delegates from over 150 countries).
Being fully immersed for 2 weeks in South African vivid culture, nature and hospitality as well as deep dived into it’s entrepreneurship and business activity - I made a step closer to the secrets of it’s land. Below are my cherry-picked insights:
1. Being a country of extremes where poverty meets wealth and freedom meets over regulation, South Africa can offer newcomers a wide range of opportunities. The KEY BUSINESS AREAS to explore are education and skill development, faster and better internet, energy efficiency, so called “trade” sector to be associated with manual labour involvement (as the unemployment is huge) and, of course, everything digital.
2. The biggest problem is SAFETY. Hardly you can find a white person walking happily along Johannesburg streets without finding ‘adventures’. The exception for Joburg is Nelson Mandela Square & Melrose district. For Cape Town — city center around waterfalls and touristic areas. Being well known the situation surprisingly stays as it is. Maybe, a better look should be taken at New York in Mayor Giuliani times who had significantly reduced the crime and re-invented the city.
3. JOBURG is a place where more corporations operate while CAPE TOWN is considered to be a place of more vibrant startup activity. While two of them are poised optimistically towards the innovation and entrepreneurship future, better startup experience, education, funding and connectivity are needed to make them entrepreneurship pearls across the rest of the ecosystems.
4. South Africans are very WELCOMING PEOPLE. The whole trip I had a sense being surrounded by family. They are cheerful and pretty opened for questions. The real questions I mean, not diplomatically constructed. This sincere directness makes you feel your experiences deeper and life more real.
5. NATURE (especially, Cape Town). The best expression of SA nature would be a famous Russian song with a phrase ‘My heart stopped. Waited for a moment and then started beating again.’ Breathtaking. People happen to be born and live in such a beauty may take it for granted. But not a Moscovite spending the majority of time between traffic conjunction, crazy schedules and no air. With these state of things, I truly believe we will be the first volunteers to go to Mars. But back to the Nature Power — waking up with a view at the Table Mountain and catching South-Eastern wind in your lungs gives greater spirit for the upcoming day (same to California). “Positive thinking is how we make a progress,” — says co-founder of Google Larry Page.
6. The KEY BUSINESS CONSTRAINTS considered by entrepreneurs are corruption, red tape and high barrier to entry. Annually, Africa loses close to US$652 billion through African (with Nigerian, Kenyan and South African on top) entrepreneurs operating outside the country. A tendency reflecting Russian situation. A tendency ought to be changed to secure talents in the country.
7. Another great challenge is building professional soft&hard skills in people. There is plenty of energy and motivation though better education is to be provided to transform this into results. With a positive mindset many people live in a concept of ‘PROBLEM-FREE PHOLOSOPHY’ while still needed to search their places in life and respond to the voice of a country.
8. VENTURE CAPITAL is not yet there, too. And it is not about money issue but knowledge and experience that venture capitalists bring to the market. South Africa needs more seasoned entrepreneurs turned investors to reinforce new breed of founders. The official data for 2014 shows $414 mln invested in all African startups. Which is not that much taken the potential of the whole continent.
9. Though I have not been to many places, there is a feeling that INFRUSTRUCTURE is rather good in South Africa. At least, in major cities. The incubator Business Exchange where we had an amazing cocktail networking evening is no doubt the best example of creative environment and office facilities I have seen so far.
10. As Russia South Africa needs better COMMUNICATION of ENTREPRENEURSHIP STORIES to generate a role model to follow. Bill Geites says ‘We all live in digital world.’ If the stories are not communicated properly in media and among people — it is very difficult to impact masses. The voice of entrepreneurship has to be heard. And it is a separate important endeavor as for media as for entrepreneurs themselves.
Taking all the challenges and extremes, I personally believe in South Africa as a land of uncovered potential and market for many endeavors. If the country finds a way how to loosen government bureaucracy, provide better education system and leverage it’s beautiful nature and people potential it will give a raise of many more Elon Musks (and here how we may cover all the Space if everyone picks up a planet). I have a Good Hope for it.
PS. A deeper article on SA entrepreneurship ecosystem, GEC 2017 and video interviews with famous South African entrepreneurs is still to come out.