Pic: 123RF/KONGKITWIRIYACHAN
Pic: 123RF/KONGKITWIRIYACHAN

SA’s start-up ecosystem is robust and growing, but our entrepreneurs and investors need to develop a truly global mind-set to take advantage of a globalising world.

Two recent start-up studies on the country’s entrepreneurial and investment sector, released earlier in September, back up the hype with research and hard figures, pointing to a booming start-up sector.

A report from the Netherlands-based start-up research firm VC4A notes that the SA start-up ecosystem is one of the most "robust and developed on the continent", with strengths that include significant consumer and business markets, sophisticated entrepreneurial talent, and a strong corporate sector.

It also notes that the country has access to local capital and ties to a growing number of international investors, but that more needs to be done for SA to become a global player.

Another report from the Southern African Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (Savca), an industry body for venture capital (VC) and private equity, says the VC sector in SA continues to be "vibrant", reporting more investment deals for SA entrepreneurs than the previous year. Savca reports that investment activity in the sector "soared" in 2017, with the overall value of deals recorded in a year exceeding R1bn, with the growth trend expected to continue in 2018.

VC4A says the government also needs to create more incentives to attract skilled professionals, as well as attract entrepreneurs with international experience to build businesses.

It notes that the average VC deal value of all active deals at the end of 2017 amounted to R8.34m, compared to R7.59m in 2016. Early-stage start-up investments are growing, with local investors becoming less risk averse. By value in 2017, only 42% (2016: 51%) of VC deals were categorised as growth capital, while seed funding and start-up capital totalled 57% (2016: 49%).

Angel investment almost doubled in 2017 from R73m, compared to R44m invested in 2016. Savca notes that VC investors prefer to remain minority shareholders, with the vast majority taking equity positions of less than 25%.

Not surprisingly, Savca says the entrepreneurial ecosystem that is taking on VC remains almost exclusively in Gauteng and the Western Cape. Both these regions have relatively well developed, and developing, start-up ecosystems of incubators, accelerators, networking organisations and associations to support, educate and connect entrepreneurs with ideas and capital.

It is this support ecosystem system that is key to getting start-ups funded, with VC4A saying that about 50% of start-ups that participate in this structure show funding success. These start-ups on average also secure investments that are three times higher than those on the outside.

VC4A says our local start-up ecosystem has successfully moved through an emerging phase, scoring high on "entrepreneurial spirit, English-level proficiency, education and culture, ease of doing business and relative availability of seed and Series A funding".

However, it notes that the next phase for the sector is globalisation, which includes global connectedness, global growth programmes, ease of bringing international talent to the market (such as work visas), and more favourable laws to support all this.

To create high-growth, digitally enabled businesses that contribute to the country and create jobs, SA’s entrepreneurs should build local but also aim beyond the borders of SA. VC4A says the government also needs to create more incentives to attract skilled professionals, as well as attract entrepreneurs with international experience to build businesses.

This will bring more seasoned start-up founders into the space, result in skills transfer and international networks, and establish more high-growth businesses that create jobs.

• Buckland is an investor, entrepreneur and founder of Ventureburn.com.