Port Elizabeth surfing a wave of software success
PORT Elizabeth is rising as a software development city. Companies with headquarters in other South African and foreign cities are drawn there by the low cost of property and rentals, the quality of life, and a pipeline of graduates who are skilled in software development.
Korbitec, a member of the LexisNexis Group, opened a software development office in the city this year.
"Port Elizabeth is a really good prospect for us because we are in the business of product development, not outsourcing. We are constantly looking for talented software development students and graduates. Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth and Rhodes University in nearby Grahamstown are our main recruitment areas, and have been for the past 11 years," says Korbitec software development and operations GM Peter Raine.
Korbitec serves legal, property and credit professionals. It also has software development teams in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
"Software development is a global language that is not confined to a geographical space, and with the scarcity of skilled graduates in this sector, companies are actively engaging with us," says Prof Jean Greyling from NMMU’s computing sciences department.
Companies such as Korbitec expose students to the industry, offering internship programmes for third-year students.
Johannesburg-based company Yellow Professional Services, the technology arm of Business Doctor Investments, is negotiating an on-campus joint-venture company with NMMU called UniYellow that will offer undergraduate and postgraduate students the opportunity to earn money while working on applied knowledge software development, and an opportunity to join the company. NMMU will receive a percentage of the profits of all software developed by UniYellow.
"We believe education is a collective responsibility and our overall focus is on social entrepreneurship, wider ownership and wider wealth creation," says Business Doctor Investments CEO Philip Vermeulen.
An increasing number of NMMU graduates and students have started their own companies.
The university’s business incubator, Propella, is part of an innovation ecosystem designed to build and support new businesses in Port Elizabeth and the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro. Its partnership with the Telkom Future Makers programme supports the development of information and communications technology entrepreneurs.
Mobility startup Tuse, a finalist in the 2016 SAB Social Innovation Awards and a member of the San Francisco-based Founders Space Accelerator Programme, was grown through Propella.
"One of our areas of specialisation is mobile coverage in areas where there is no signal," says Tuse CEO and one of the co-founders, Sabelo Sibanda, who is completing his MBA through the Edinburgh Business School.
The other co-founders are Thulisile Volwana, who has a National Diploma in Economics from NMMU, and Michael Kyazze, who is completing his PhD in computer science at NMMU.
"Tuse provides an infrastructure that allows third-party developers to build and use software with our technology wherever they are. Our voice and video infrastructure is very secure, and the call rates are attractive, so we are finding that even people in areas with good coverage are making use of our services," Sibanda says.
In January, third-year NMMU computer science student Cornelius Greyling, along with three NMMU graduates and a colleague from Cape Town, opened a software house in Port Elizabeth called Avocado Chocolate.
"Some of us were doing work for the Stellenbosch-based telecoms company, EverAfrica Group, when we decided to come back to Port Elizabeth. EverAfrica shared in our vision and helped to set us up here," Greyling says.
Avocado Chocolate clients include Copa America (one of the largest international football tournaments), HeroTel (wireless internet service provider) and Project Isizwe, the largest government-funded public space free Wi-Fi provider in Africa.
"We are based in Port Elizabeth because we enjoy the city. We are able to do a lot of work via Skype and e-mails and we travel for face-to-face meetings with clients whenever required," Greyling says.
Another student startup, Hello World Code, was founded two months ago in Port Elizabeth, and is run by NMMU students Brydon Leonard, Byron Batteson, and Keegan Crankshaw. Batteson and Leonard are NMMU computer science students and Crankshaw is an electrical and computer engineering student at the University of Cape Town.
One of the apps they have developed is Joggr, where users input how far they want to jog and the app generates a route for them. The team is designing a "friend-tracking" feature, where users can share a route with friends as a fun safety feature.
Another of its apps is Appetiser, which helps users around the world find places to eat in their city that are offering specials.
"We released it at the end of August and once it has proved to be successful, the income will come from places to eat — be they street stalls, takeaways or high-end restaurants — paying us a monthly fee to bring their specials straight to our client base," Leonard says.
NMMU graduate Chris Wentworth, who has an honours degree in computer science, established a company called W2IT Solutions in 2016. He helps companies streamline their business processes through information technology by addressing gaps and automating tasks.
"Working for myself has its stresses and a day’s leave takes on a whole new meaning because it delays deadlines, but I love the opportunity to lead projects from the front rather than being a cog in someone else’s company," he says.
Wentworth says that until recently, NMMU’s computer science graduates tended to rush off to Joburg, Cape Town, or overseas, because Port Elizabeth didn’t offer sufficient opportunities.
"If we can grow the number of companies here and keep the talent, it will make a huge difference to the economy and intellectual capital of Nelson Mandela Bay Metro and the Eastern Cape," he says.