Improving South Africa’s Entrepreneurship Ecosystem: Technical Skills + Business Acumen

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Silicon Valley startup ecosystem is success example an ecosystem that works. The reason it works so well is partly because it the intersection of technology and economics.

The community there understands the need for technology and commerce to intersect.

Even if you are a technical person coming from an engineering background, they have the business acumen to understand the economics and commerce of the offering they are selling.

Also if you come from a business background, you understand the technology you need to implement to make the offering happen.

They do an excellent job in combing the technical savvy with the business savvy.

How are we doing in South Africa?

Here in South Africa, we are mainly a service oriented country. Our manufacturing capability is not as strong as it used to be.

We don’t see a lot of product companies in the country.

Yes, the situation is slowly changing, we see young startups developing products, be it sneakers, socks, or software solutions to address issues of education, health, other services. We need to come up with more audacious solutions and technologies that we can export to the world.

How do we do that?

We need to be excellent at intersecting technical savviness with business acumen.

Developing entrepreneurs takes two critical skills:

Business savviness + Technical savviness

Technical Savvy

Quality software developers are difficult to find locally.

They are few and expensive, which confirms the basic economics 101 principle of demand and supply, when demand high and supply is low, price increases.

This means there is a huge demand for technical skills training in the ecosystem.

We need to train more people to code, develop softwares, technical product design, building prototypes, tinkering and iterating.

We need more software developers, engineers, artisans, boilermakers etc, people with technical skills.

Technical know-how is critical in building products for the international market.

If we are to build solutions for problems such as water scarcity, unstable electricity supply, poor health and education services, housing backlog, we are going to need an abundance of quality technical skills.

There is a gap for skills training in the country and this is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs in this space.

We need more schools that will teach software development skills, product design, prototyping to build solutions for our challenges.

We need to know how to build our solutions.

Business Savvy

Technical skills are critical but not sufficient.

We need to transition from building products to building businesses.

Having a world class product is important, but having a world class business is importanter [sic].

South African entrepreneurs need to build products for the world.

This means we need to think beyond just our local communities.

In South Africa, we have American products such as Uber, Airbnb, WhatsApp, iPhones let alone other international franchises such as a Bolt [formerly knows as Taxify], Burger King, McDonalds etc. This is testimony of the Silicon Valley’s mindset of go big or go home.

Bolt [then called Taxify] was founded by Markus Villig [then only 19 years old, a high-school student] in 2013. The service was launched in August 2013 and in 2014 it went on to foreign shores.

We need to be more outward looking in our approach.

Which means we need to consider thinking beyond just supplying our townships, or towns but move to how do I supply the country, continent and the world.

Is my product world class, and how to I get it to be world class?

How do I get my product to the continent?

How do I get my product to the rest of the world?

Appreciating and using technology will make it easier for entrepreneurs to scale beyond borders.

But it starts with having a BIG hairy audacious goal.

Do you have a product? What are you plans to take it global? When are you scaling it? How are you using technology to help you scale?

Strong entrepreneurship ecosystems are the intersection where technical savviness meets business acumen.

We need strong technicians and strong entrepreneurs.

It is important to know how to build things and how to build businesses.

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