In the last decade, I have been fortunate enough to work with some of the world's most exciting startups and entrepreneurs, both in Silicon Valley and around the world. It has been fascinating to watch global tech hubs emerge, especially in far-reaching corners of the world, like Nigeria, where I discovered a thriving hub for financial innovation. Knowing that there is much more to the world’s largest continent than one nation, I decided to book my next trip to South Africa. What I found was a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem with over $830 million dollars in 2021 venture capital raised, which includes 750+ deals and 611 acquisitions.
Silicon Valley Can be a Portal to the World
While South Africa is beautiful, culturally diverse, and brimming with potential, surviving, let alone thriving there does not come without the challenges associated with their tumultuous history. For the uninitiated, “townships” refer to the underdeveloped urban areas that were racially segregated from the 19th century until the end of Apartheid, which unfortunately did not end until 1993. Regrettably, Apartheid has left its mark on the cultural and geographical dynamics and still heavily influences the townships today, which are in dire need of an economic facelift.
An estimated 17% of South Africa's total employment is through the informal “township economy” while their unemployment rate is the highest globally, at 34%. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated economic hardship.
Though we wish it upon no one, hardship generates grit, savviness, and resourcefulness to persist with little to no resources. These traits also happen to be vital for tech startups to prosper and exactly the traits I found in the entrepreneurs I met. I left South Africa confident that I had found yet another nascent tech hub and with many new contacts of founders eager to work with GSD and #GoGlobal.
GSD Supports Economic Growth In South Africa
Armed with my experiences and the GSD mission to travel to far corners of the world looking for bold, resilient entrepreneurs, I flew to South Africa. Once on the ground, I met with several key leaders, professors, founders, and unicorns from all over the country. I also enjoyed locally-harvested wine at the Quoin Rock Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, journeyed through the Pilanesberg Game Reserve with exotic wildlife, visited the iconic Mandela House, and Vilakazi street. I had the opportunity to talk strategy with Thuli Hlongwane, GSD Labs alumni and founder of Prim-U while going up to the top of Cape Town’s Table Mountain. I witnessed firsthand the disparities in the historical Soweto neighborhood and walked Vilakazi Street, the only street in the world formerly home to three Nobel Peace Prize laureates.
During my trip, I also made sure to connect with GSD Labs star participant Q-Hop. This aspiring unicorn sparked the inspiration for my trip to South Africa, searching for other unicorns set to disrupt the global market.
Q-Hop is a contactless checkout solution using a scan-as-you-shop mobile application that scans barcodes and facilitates automatic payment using a variety of digital payment platforms, including PayPal, Zapper, SnapScan, Masterpass, and cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin. Additionally, Q-Hop is tapping into multiple technology trends at once — Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, digital payments, digital marketing, and the Internet of Things.
Besides meeting with current and former accelerator companies, GSD hosted dozens of entrepreneurs at our #GoGlobal event that was co-hosted with I AM AN ENTREPRENEUR and Andile Khumalo in Johannesburg. We discussed the hacks, hustles, and tricks that we have deployed to help young companies #GoGlobal. It was here and throughout my visits to many other startup offices that I witnessed firsthand South Africa’s greatest strength- her tech leader’s strong understanding of data.
I also attended a number of events such as the 2021 SAVCA Venture Capital (VC) Conference. The physical component of the hybrid event took place at Eureka Wine Estate, Durbanville, and was streamed to a virtual audience attending from across the country. The theme for the event was “Re: Imagine” and urged VCs to consider the role they can play in rebuilding the economy in South Africa.
Fortunately, some funds have already adopted this philosophy. In partnership with Knife Capital, Grindstone Ventures, led by Catherine Young, has launched a $6.5m fund dedicated to seed funding innovative female-led South African technology startups. This female-led African venture capital fund focuses on post-seed investments, filling a significant gap in the South African funding landscape.
Partnerships, Partnerships, Partnerships
A GSD trip would not be complete without collaborations and partnerships with entrepreneurial organizations to make a local impact. We are excited about many partnerships made and thrilled to announce our partnership with The Founder Institute of South Africa and Director Keshni Morar. The Founder Institute is a global idea-stage accelerator and startup launch program for early-stage startups and entrepreneurs. With chapters across 200+ cities and 90+ countries, the Founder Institute’s mission is to empower talented and motivated people to build impactful technology-enabled companies worldwide.
GSD will combine efforts with The Founder Institute and their global community of over 15,000 mentors, thousands of alumni, comprehensive education/structured support programs to invigorate startups from the idea stage to the funding/growth stage. We look forward to extending our reach in South Africa together.
GSD is also collaborating with Johannesburg-based Empire Partner Foundation, an NPO Tech Hub and youth-led foundation with a mission to solve ten critical socio-economic challenges in South Africa using smart technology solutions. By hosting hackathons, incubators, and the EPF Tech Hub, they have a common goal of solving Africa’s most pressing issues, from water, energy, healthcare, unemployment to housing, education, transport, and more.
I spoke with other key leaders such as Dr. Manoj Chiba, Ph.D., a Data Scientist and Senior Lecturer at Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg. GIBS is unique in that they blend traditional academia with experiential learning, requiring professors to have had firsthand experience working with startups.
I was also fortunate to meet with Hilton Theunissen, VP of Global Partnerships for Growth Wheel based in Johannesburg. I enjoyed meeting Hilton to learn more about their cloud-based platform that serves as a practical toolbox to help advisors and entrepreneurs collaborate and grow their businesses. They also certify advisors and are now operating in 69 countries around the world.
A big thank you to McKevin Ayaba with Setup A Startup. Without McKevin much of my trip would not have been possible. McKevin is an ecosystem builder and serial entrepreneur. Setup a Startup is on a mission to facilitate and catalyze innovation, entrepreneurial development, and business success that fosters sustainable economic growth across Africa.
South African Fund
We will continue to invest time and effort in South Africa. My trip further solidifies my belief in GSD’s thesis: intellectual capacity is evenly spread throughout the world, while the opportunity is not. While there are many initiatives to support founders in South Africa, there is much more adversity than support and very little international assistance. GSD is eager to provide a portal to the entire world via Silicon Valley, giving underserved founders the opportunity to #GoGlobal. Additionally, we are establishing a South Africa-specific fund, just as we started in Nigeria, to provide funding for the most promising ventures. More to come! Stay tuned.
“By investing in advancements in tech innovation such as security, data science, and fintech, that are already establishing roots throughout the continent, we are on a mission to help build bridges in entrepreneurship for the younger generations of South Africa.”