Mapping success for Joburg start-ups
Startup Guide Johannesburg lays out the city’s entrepreneurial architecture. By empowering young entrepreneurs with information, it hopes to build the city’s start-up economy
As SA struggles along with unemployment figures sitting at almost 30%, small businesses and start-ups have the potential to boost the economy through job creation. But only a fraction succeed. So, while SA’s entrepreneurial activity is at its highest level since 2013 by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor estimates, only about 15% of the country’s start-ups will make it, according to the 2018 Global Entrepreneurship Index.
In this context, Startup Guide Johannesburg is looking to connect young entrepreneurs from various industries, providing them with expert knowledge to ensure they find their feet in the Joburg start-up ecosystem.
The Joburg edition of the book, described as a "travel guide" for start-ups, was launched at the city’s Tshimologong precinct on Monday. It provides insight, expert advice, case studies and tips for young people starting businesses in Joburg, and links them with other players and services in the start-up space — possible funders, co-working spaces and the like.
"The original idea behind Startup Guide was to create a guidebook for anyone who wants to start in a different city — to know the dos and don’ts in that city," says Asanda Kaka, Joburg project manager for the guide, which covers 26 global locations, including a recently launched Cape Town edition.
In compiling the Joburg guide, the company formed a strategic partnership with software firm SAP, among other organisations, with the aim of fostering innovation and curbing joblessness among SA’s youth.
SAP Africa MD Cathy Smith says: "We want to attract investment and we want to make the rest of the world see that Africa is the crucible of innovation. And, of course, we want to make this a vehicle for stimulating economic growth, creating jobs and reducing unemployment."
Mpumelelo Mfula, the founder of Returning Home to Create, is currently exploring the "easy avenue of street wear" — an industry he says abounds with opportunities for young people. He believes the start-up sector needs to look beyond tech, and embrace diversity.
"I love the fact that [the guide] isn’t necessarily about tech start-ups," says Mfula. "In this continent, tech may not be our strongest language because of lack of infrastructure … but we have our understanding of innovation and it has a lot to do with social [interaction]."
He believes Startup Guide Johannesburg has integrated this well into its offering — a good start ahead of its planned projects for Lagos (Nigeria), Nairobi (Kenya) and Kigali (Rwanda).
"I think [the guide] sets a good tone for us to have an authentic language when we speak in the global language of innovation as Africans," he says.
According to recent figures from Stats SA, young people constitute a third of the country’s population, but are disproportionately affected by unemployment: they account for 63.4% of those without jobs. It is for this reason that some of the young entrepreneurs featured in the guide believe additional resources should be directed towards empowering the youth specifically.
"If youth is our biggest population, it’s our biggest asset," says Mfula. "We must use every means and every tool we have to make sure that it is viable and empowered."
Mawethu Soga is the co-founder of Fixxr, a web application that connects car owners with mechanics. He believes funding shouldn’t simply be given to youth entrepreneurs, but allocated strategically to reach those with the most to offer.
"Even when we’re funding young and black; young, black and impoverished; young, black and female [entrepreneurs] — even within those environments, the best of the best exist but they are not getting the funding," Soga explains.
"The stories that make us feel good are the ones that make it. But you’ve got the smart guy or woman sitting in their garage doing the craziest things that never see the light of day. Changing the economy comes from investing in us."
Given the small rate of success for SA entrepreneurs, Smith says it’s key "to know how to fail, and fail fast, and start again. That should be the concept for innovation and entrepreneurs in start-ups.
"We want people to know that, yes, the success rate is very low. But as all the innovators today know … the philosophy is that failure is normal. The key is reading the market and understanding where the opportunity is."