On 21–23 September 2021, the SA Innovation Summit took place in a hybrid format online and on-site at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa. This event attracted over 200 individuals to the on-site days on 21 and 22 September, and over 300 viewers to the online event.
Partnering with SA Innovation Summit provided SAIS 2 with an opportunity to organise our own Annual Southern Africa Innovation Forum (ASAIF) 2021 and add value to existing Southern African fora. As with former years, ASAIF 2021 celebrated milestone achievements in the great work that our partners and supported projects do for the Southern African innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.
In another major milestone for SAIS 2, the SA Innovation Summit also saw the launch of one of our flagship initiatives, the Connected Hubs, into a new, free-standing organisation known as the Southern Africa Innovation Collective (SAIC).
The three ASAIF sessions brought together business, government, donors, NGOs, and communities around issues of entrepreneurship and youth, and sought to catalyse partnerships for further action. In this way, ASAIF would to raise stakeholders’ collective awareness of best practices in building innovation ecosystems that can contribute to more inclusive business and employment.
This year was the final ASAIF event ahead of SAIS 2’s planned closure in March 2022. The featured sessions showcased some of the SAIS 2 Programme’s partners and innovation fund projects under the theme Pushing Boundaries: Pathways to Growth in Entrepreneurship Ecosystems.
Of these three sessions, the first was held on-site on 21 September, and the remaining two were held online on 23 September 2021.
Expanding Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in the SADC Region
In this session, panellists investigated gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in SADC, and discussed the different roles ecosystem actors play to make the ecosystem work and grow. After an opening keynote speech by Mr Patrick Krappie, Interim Chief Executive Officer of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), the panel discussion started under lead of Mr Ilari Lindy, Lead Expert of the SAIS 2 Programme. The panellists were: Mr Buntu Majaja, Director: Entrepreneurship Ecosystem and Digital Innovation at SA Innovation Summit; Mr David Sebulon, Founder of Glowdom; and Ms Anneline Morgan, Senior Programme Officer: Science, Technology and Innovation at the SADC Secretariat.
Representing two of SAIS 2 Innovation Fund project coordinators, Mr Majaja and Mr Sebulon shared their views on how and why organisations choose to expand into other markets beyond their own ecosystem, and the circumstances that allow them to do so. The documented lessons learnt were validated by Ms Morgan, who invited both organisations to take part in more detailed discussions to share their knowledge. In this way, first-hand lessons from the field may contribute to the preparation of the SADC Secretariat’s future activities.
Ambassador Anne Lammila, Ambassador of Finland to South Africa, closed the session with a keynote on the collaboration between Finland and Southern Africa.
Steps to Take Before Entering the Market
This session focused on exploring how entrepreneurs and organisations can pilot, test, or validate their solutions prior to decide in getting their product or service to market. The panel discussing this topic comprised Mr Kikolo Mwakasungula, Project Manager at African Forestry, and Dr Askwar Hilonga, Professor at Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology, with Ms Alexandra Fraser, Business Director of Viridian, moderating.
The panel showed through practical examples how important it is to identify the right market and apply a methodological approach to determine whether there’s a need and demand for the product amongst clients. This may predict the profitability of their chosen business venture.
Support Instruments for Expanding into New Markets
ASAIF’s third and final session delved into how an organisation can expand its product/service offering into another market in Southern Africa. Dr Budzanani Tacheba, Director of Innovation and Technology for Botswana Innovation Hub, moderated the panel. The panellists were: Mr Innocent Mallya, General Manager at Seedstars Tanzania; Prof. Stephen Fox, Senior Scientist at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland; and Ms Lerato Mduli, Partner Projects Lead & Executive Director at Catalyst for Growth. Together, the panel discussed available support instruments and applicable mechanisms that can contribute to a successfully established business in a new market.
The Launch of the Southern Africa Innovation Collective
Founded as the Connected Hubs Initiative by the SAIS 2 Programme in 2017, the Southern Africa Innovation Collective (SAIC) was officially launched as an independent network of tech hubs and national innovation support agencies (parastatals) on 22 September 2021.
SAIC is set to continue where they left off as Connected Hubs, working with tech and entrepreneurship hubs in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia. The network continues to organise the annual cross-border innovation competition BOOST UP, which showcases the best startups in each country to a wider community, and trains them in pitching and investment readiness.
Implemented by the members themselves, SAIC presents an excellent opportunity for the member organisations to share best practices on what works and what doesn’t when supporting startups, and to work across the region to strengthen innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems for various beneficiary organisations in Southern Africa.
More information on SAIC can be found at sainnovationcollective.org.