This is a question that I was often asked in my role as coordinator at the Silicon Cape Initiative. But it’s the wrong question – you should be asking what is Silicon Cape trying to achieve. Let me explain…
The Silicon Cape Initiative was formed on the premise that South Africans are generally very bad at advertising what we have and what we can do.
When you look at the various countries that have tried to stimulate innovation and create an entrepreneurial ecosystem there are 2 distinct camps. The first (read Russia and China) have tried to do it through building infrastructure. The have built large techno parks and tried to entice entrepreneurs to fill them with innovative companies. In most cases this approach fails, normally only after massive amounts of capital has been spent.
The second approach is very different. It focuses on the people, not the companies or the infrastructure. (See Israel, Chile and Indonisia) The focus is more on building an entrepreneurial culture and risk-taking mindset of the people in the area. Something that is very difficult to do by building buildings. The focus is on the networks, collaboration and the hype of activity that is created in this shift.
Once you have a mass of enthused entrepreneurs all actively engaged in building companies, building infrastructure to support it is far easier and more effective. It is not a chicken and egg problem. Infrastructure support and buildings are only effective if you already have an active entrepreneurial community.
This is the real value and strength of the Silicon Cape brand. It aims to inspire a new mindset in the entrepreneurs and to represent a new culture. A new way of people interacting. It provides a reason to do it differently and to break out from the traditional conservative South African mindset.
Without trying to sound like JF Kennedy, it is not a question of what Silicon Cape does – it’s a question of how you use the brand to improve the environment.
What are you doing with it?
*The projects that the initiative does do are aimed at supporting the new culture that the brand is trying to represent. There are many ways that the projects encourage that culture, like the elevator pitches at events or the heavy focus on networking and providing platforms for communications between entrepreneurs. But ultimately the activities are purely aimed at achieving this end.
[Related post:] Why base Silicon Cape in Cape Town?