Global Alliance Africa connects ecosystem players in Gauteng to explore challenges in grassroots innovation
On 17th November 2022, Global Alliance Africa at Innovate UK KTN hosted its first Local Innovation Networking event in Johannesburg, South Africa.
As part of the project’s ‘Place-Based Innovation’ intervention, the day connected more than 30 representatives from local startups, government, academia, investors and innovation support organisations, who came together to discuss and explore opportunities to overcome the various challenges faced by grassroots innovators in the Gauteng metropole.
The event comes as Gauteng is considered the economic hub of South Africa, contributing roughly 35% to GDP and seeing the fastest market growth of all nine provinces. But despite this, the region continues to battle against high levels of poverty and unemployment, with one in four citizens living below the poverty line. In an effort to address these ongoing challenges, local government has prioritised entrepreneurship and innovation as a means to drive job creation and fast-track inclusive socio-economic development.
A highlight of the event was a panel discussion between Sbu Shongwe (Founder of Boombadotmobi), Paseka Lesolang (Managing Director of Water Hygiene Convenience), Henriette Vermaak (Founder of ECOlaTRINE), and Nivashnee Ramparsad (Sales Consultant for Smartee). Together, they unpacked their respective experiences and commented on the challenges facing innovators on their journey towards entrepreneurship.
Among the key learnings from this session, attendees heard how grassroots innovators in Gauteng require more support for business training. While programmes and initiatives aimed at providing business training and mentorship to entrepreneurs do exist, there is a dire need for more programmes targeting innovators – those with an idea to an existing problem, but who generally lack the foundational knowledge, experience or acumen needed to start, expand and scale a company.
As noted by Paseka Lesolang, the Managing Director of Water Hygiene Convenience, a startup from the Gauteng metropole which created leak-detection technology, with the aim of helping households and businesses preserve water resources:
It’s important that, when you have a new idea or solution, that you take the necessary steps to protect your intellectual property. Without it, your idea could be stolen or replicated, and the entire basis of your business can be put at risk.
Beyond issues relating to intellectual property rights, other key topics discussed throughout the session were:
- The lack of business acumen held by grassroots innovators.
- Inability of grassroots innovators to generate funding from organisations and government agencies.
- Lack of business support at a local level.
In an effort to overcome this disconnect between the abilities of grassroots innovators and the wider ecosystem in which they operate, the panelists noted how startup programmes and competitions are being leveraged by innovators as a means of accessing funding, building connections, and developing a mentorship network to improve business outcomes.
After the panel discussion, the organiser of the event and Knowledge Transfer Manager for South Africa at Global Alliance Africa, Marisa Naidoo, thanked attendees, saying that:
As a global organisation working to unlock innovation at a local level, our aim was to connect players in Gauteng’s innovation ecosystem, to jointly identify these key challenge areas and collaborate to explore how we can potentially solve them.
To this end, Naidoo added that the event was a key part of Global Alliance Africa’s efforts to increase access to investment; capacitate local small, medium and micro-enterprises; reduce fragmentation and increase collaboration between innovation stakeholders; and expand market access for women and youth in Gauteng’s informal innovation ecosystem.
About Global Alliance Africa
The Global Alliance Africa project is a six-year project funded by UK Aid through Innovate UK (GCRF) and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
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This Innovate UK Global Alliance Africa 6-year (2019-2025) project funded by UK International Development aims to build new and stronger UK-African partnerships to maximise the creation of inclusive market access, funding and investment opportunities through innovation knowledge transfer between the UK, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.