“the Silicon Valley is running out of problems to solve”
The South African Innovation Summit 2015 was held at Cape Town Stadium from the 26th to the 29th of August
It was with great enthusiasm that Future Cape Town participated to the 2015 SA Innovation Summit between the 26th and the 29th of August. The occasion was rather unique: South Africa’s most important conference and platform to discuss, showcase, connect the nation’s best innovations and innovators. Taking part to the Summit was a way to understand how, despite the difficulties, the inequalities, a South African tribe of entrepreneurs, companies, practitioners, public departments is leading the change. “Innovation Intelligence”, the title given to this year’s summit, seeked “to address the mystery of creating that elusive competitive edge through new and convergent thinking”. Convergent thinking is, metaphorically, that phase when order is brought to the chaos of a myriad innovative initiatives, businesses, public policies which the country is nurturing.
What for cities, then? What role will South African cities play in this “convergent thinking” for a more equal, innovative, socially and environmentally sustainable economy? In this post, we offer our readers some essentials from the Summit, focusing on the latter question, and wondering whether our future cities will drive the change or simply acknowledge it.
Cape Town councillor Garreth Bloor confirmed the serendipitousness of innovative practices that spring out of collaborative networks. “The city”, he said at the Summit, “got behind innovation, we have not driven it so far, but only recognised it”. Yet the city is ready to play its role. Cape Town is one of the first cities in all Africa to have an open data portal and policy. Open data does not only mean that government spending becomes more transparent, but that its content might be used in innovative ways by developers who can build software using public transport data, land use information, or, as they have already done, load-shedding schedules.
Dion Chang, fluxtrends founder and South Africa’s most renowned trend analyst, talked about the future business disruptions for the years to come. Game-changing technologies in the automotive industry, in health and in the media will have a ripple effect in how we conceive these businesses. Uber is already changing the way in which private driving companies deliver their services, but will have a deeper impact on the transport industry more generally, as car ownership becomes less and less relevant. How are our cities responding to this? Are they planning for cities without car-owners?
Chang forecasts that local government will have to struggle to keep up with the rapid changes that the transport industry is experiencing, and that legal systems will have to adapt, change, not to hinder innovation. But at what social cost? Is Uber really for everyone?
While a common narrative at the SAIS was that Uber enables a “peer economy”, empowering drivers ot become self-employed entrepreneurs. As Arun Sundararajan explains, “these “peer economy” marketplaces transcend the simple trade conducted on eBay, and are instead inventing an entirely new asset-light supply paradigm. They enable the disaggregation of physical assets in space and in time, creating digital platforms that make these disaggregated components — a few days in an apartment, an hour using a Roomba, a seat in your drive from Berlin to Hamburg — amenable to pricing, matching, and exchange”.
In the next few years Municipal governments will have to confront, if they are not already doing so, these disruptions, which often operate in a grey legal area, with more flexible regulations and a protection system that is able to prevent the sharing economy from becoming yet another exploitation economy.
Good news came from Maija de Rijk-Huys, head of the Pwc Accelerator and Alexandra Fraser Chairperson of the Silicon Cape Initiative, who presented the results of the first survey on the state of emerging enterprises in South Africa, the first initiative in mapping the local entrepreneurial ecosystem (in partnership with Microsoft Bizpark, Wesgro and City of Tshwane.
In South Africa, they stated, small and medium enterprises contribute to the 55% of the GDP, and there is an increasing pie to be shared by small and innovative companies. “Fostering entrepreneurship is a moral obligation for our country”, said Maija de Rijk-Huys, mentioning how business innovation could be empowering and could address the country’s inequality distribution of wealth, jobs and opportunities. Yet there are things that money cannot buy, and that is where our cities and our companies must play a pivotal role in creating a fertile terrain for small enterprises to grow. Economic and social innovation cannot thrive without an ecosystem that offers legal support, mentorship, knowledge-sharing, and a community of like-minded individuals. Here are some facts, :
- Overburdening regulations? despite the perceptions, among the top three inhibitors of business growth, bureaucracy is not there. Skills shortage, cash constraints and working capital top the list;
- African digital divide? 65% of the emerging companies derive their revenues from online channels. For 36% currently estimate that over the next five years more than 75% of their revenues will come from the web;
- Anyone can be an innovator? Yet the survey shows how “it all boils down to education”, with 75% of business founders having a tertiary education degree.
In Tshwane, the local government has created a partnership with Project Isizwe to offer free WiFi to all its citizens within walking distance. The WiFi service does not only offer Tv services, but provides a bespoke chat service where users can connect with city officials.
Alan Knott-Craig Jr., CEO and founder of Project Isizwe, told the audience that the Silicon Valley is running out of problems to solve. And when you run out of problems, innovations can only be relevant to a certain extent. Whereas African cities, with their opportunities and contradictions, are the future testbed of a new wave of solution-based innovations, in healthcare, sanitation, transport, tourism, security and so forth.
To conclude, Jon Foster Pedley’s words could not be more timely. He reminded the audience that one must “practice open-mindedness to innovate”, that our cities should embrace the daily, tiring, often discouraging work of innovators to lead the change.
- SA Innovation Summit – Sweet Bloom Photography
- Convergent and divergent thinking – woychickdesign
- Open Data cloud: Max Schmachtenberg, Christian Bizer, Anja Jentzsch and Richard Cyganiak – lod-cloud.net
- Match making at SAIS 2015 – Sweet Bloom Photography
- Images taken from the Pwc and Silicon Cape Emerging Companies Survey – Pwc survey
- Photo taken from the Pwc and Silicon Cape Emerging Companies Survey – Pwc survey