Fresh from chairing her first Silicon Cape executive committee meeting after being elected the non-profit organisation’s new chief, invenfin’s Alexandra Fraser caught up with HumanIPO on the challenges ahead in her two year term.
HumanIPO focused on Silicon Cape’s commitment to lobbying government to make life easier for investors and start-ups in South Africa yesterday, here is the full interview.
HumanIPO: You’ve just come from your first meeting as chairperson of Silicon Cape. How did it go?
Fraser: We discussed what has Silicon Cape’s successes to date been and what we have done which have not been so great. Those discussions were incredibly exciting because it highlighted how much opportunity there is and the enthusiasm and passion of the committee members.
What are the challenges and mission objectives for Silicon Cape?
We have a lot of challenges and I think a lot of them are interlinked in the eco-system and I don’t think you can tackle one aspect without it influencing other aspects. It is still a very immature eco-system so if you take out one element it will get out of balance.
We need a more inclusive system so we will begin getting more students, women and the bigger corporations involved in the tech scene. We need to focus on being as inclusive as possible.
How realistic do you think it is for Government to relax some of the regulations currently putting foreign investors off coming to South Africa?
Realistically I think there are enough people and organisations who are starting to hold meetings with government and the relevant departments to actually highlight the issues and I think the response has been positive.
But government is an organisation that moves fairly slowly so we can’t expect things to be changed overnight. We didn’t have a Government Liaison position before, but we have committed to it because we need someone who is passionate about it who can drive things forward.
What are the immediate aims for the organisation?
The Silicon Cape is predominantly focused on the Cape at the moment, but we try to tackle issues that affect businesses and start-ups throughout South Africa.
Something Silicon Cape has done very well is build a phenomenal membership base which is very active and keeps growing, but it is about harnessing that base and really getting the message out there and the collective working for each other.
We have quite a few overseas members and ex-pat South Africans. The value of Silicon Cape is really the network that it provides.
Have overseas investors looking at Cape Town approached Silicon Cape for advice?
They do come to us to ask for advice and we would like to position ourselves as their first port of call.
We have met with potential investors in the past and we have been able to facilitate relationships, but I think we possibly need to make more of that role.
We have got relationships with other trade and investment organisations. For example UK Trade and Investment and we sent a group of start-ups to London last month which was very successful. We also work with the South Africa Chamber of Commerce in London.
What do you think of Jess Green’s aim to bring the Start-Up Chile model to South Africa? Do you think the general public would stomach investing taxpayer’s money in foreign companies?
There could be resistance, but as Start-Up Chile has demonstrated it has had massive positive economic benefits and created a culture of entrepreneurship and is attracting highly skilled individuals to Chile. They have created a huge number of jobs through it.
South Africa isn’t going through the best of times currently, but if you look at where Chile was when it initiated the programme there are a lot of parallels to the position South Africa finds itself in now. If we can design a programme which will have the same benefits and demonstrate it to government then it will have a real chance of happening.
Where will Silicon Cape be in two years?
I would love to see Silicon Cape financially sustainable as an organisation. We have raised some funding through initiatives and we are very grateful, but to take Silicon Cape to the next level we need some kind of income to employ an operational team. We have got a number of ideas on how we can do that and hopefully we can make that a reality.
I would also love for people to not only know what Silicon Cape is, but make sure people understand what we do and the value it provides for all the members of the eco-system. I think we need to better communicate what we do.
Our three broad goals are more and better start-ups, attracting investment and investors and creating an enabling environment.