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June 19, 2018

Let’s maximise our tech potential

By: Xolile Ndlangana – Director: Sales and Marketing, Boxfusion 

South Africa is a country that brims with potential. Our history has proven to us time and again that together we can achieve   whatever we put our minds to. As a young, free country, we have a spirit of entrepreneurship that is hard to deny. We see it in many of the local companies that are succeeding at home and abroad, in the Elon Musks and Mark Shuttleworths that we so proudly claim as our own.

As we enter a new political era, the question we must ask is, are we doing enough to stimulate entrepreneurial ambitions in our country? And in particular, are we doing enough to stimulate and support the local tech industry?

It’s inspiring to see the number of venture capitalists, angel investors and crowd-funding initiatives that have sprung up over the last few years to support burgeoning entrepreneurs. It is much needed. But much more so, we need particular focus on growing and strengthening our tech industry, from coders to developers. We need to invest in individuals.

This must begin where all things do: at schools. Non-profit initiatives like Ikamva Youth’s Operation Fikelela and Project Isizwe, which provide internet access and computer literacy in underprivileged areas need our support. They need to be able to dream bigger and reach wider when it comes to empowering South African youth with IT skills. They need to be about more than just teaching children how to operate Word and craft intelligible CV’s. Rather, they need to be able to instruct children in coding, and how they can become entrepreneurs using the everyday technology that is available to them.

At another level, government’s initiative to roll-out free WiFi hotspots in towns like Stellenbosch and the City of Tswane are to be lauded. It enables students to enhance their education by accessing materials for free, allows individuals to stay in touch on social media platforms, consume news, apply for jobs and even run small businesses.

Considering the high cost of data in this country, the roll-out of free WiFi is essential, and certainly a government project that is worth undertaking. But are we teaching enough of the students at Stellenbosch and TUKS about using this access to code and design their own apps?

We’ve seen lots of entrepreneurial hubs spring up around the country, like JoziHub, and TIA which poured R74 million into 133 entrepreneurial projects last year alone. This is excellent, and I cannot emphasise enough how we must be doing this and should continue to grow and support such initiatives. These little pockets of entrepreneurial hope, often supported or propelled by government initiatives, are designed to breed innovation. What I would like to argue for, is that these hubs should be entirely focussed on tech innovation, and the coming together of business-minded people to solve South Africa’s unique challenges through technology.

Government departments have played a big role in supporting many of these initiatives, but one of the primary ways we can invest in our local tech industry is by supporting local innovation from local software companies. By doing this, not only is government continuing to foster that strong entrepreneurial spirit, but it is enabling local tech companies to reinvest in the next generation of tech entrepreneurs. This has a snowball effect, empowering future innovators to develop next-gen local solutions through the experience gained in local companies.

By empowering youth in this way, we’ll begin to see more South Africans thrive in the tech space, more often. And the more people who do, the more jobs we can create, the more the economy can grow, the more we can educate our citizens and the more we can uplift ourselves through the use of everyday tech solutions that local entrepreneurs have developed.