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New partnership to accelerate Winelands’ revitalisation

With Cape Town proclaimed the Tech Capital of Africa, Wesgro and Stellenbosch Network have formally partnered to extend this to the Cape Winelands with the development of a new digital economy strategy for Stellenbosch and its surrounds.

The new partnership was formally launched at a private networking event held recently at Johannesdal 1207 on the outskirts of Pniel, which connected technology businesses operating in Cape Town and Stellenbosch. In attendance were a broad array of technology and innovation-related start-ups, corporates, investors, entrepreneurs and academic institutions, including representatives from Remgro, Southern African Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (SAVCA), Stellenbosch University, Silicon Cape, Linebooker, Future Females, Wyzetalk, and Workshop 17, among others.

Operations Manager at Stellenbosch Network Hanli Brink says: “Cape Town and Stellenbosch are key drivers of innovation in the Western Cape, but too often work in isolation from each other. Building robust and beneficial links between the two will go a long way towards not just supporting industries in the Cape’s digital economy, but also promoting job creation and driving growth in our shared local economy. As ambassadors for Stellenbosch-based innovation we are excited to explore new pathways for the region’s expansion with our counterparts in Cape Town.”

The partnership follows Stellenbosch’s emergence as a strong hub for knowledge and innovation. According to Innovus – the research and patent commercialisation unit at Stellenbosch University – seed funding for Stellenbosch-born ideas alone increased significantly from approximately R830 000 in 2018, to some R2 450 000 by early 2020.

A highlight of the event was a keynote address by South African billionaire and former Invest Africa CEO and founder Rob Hersov, who called on those attending to help make the Western Cape into the leading tech ecosystem in Africa. “Cape Town and Stellenbosch are the perfect starting points, being home to great companies and institutions, as well as first-class accelerators, co-working spaces, and organisations that have helped establish the ecosystem. Now we need to build on their progress and take tech and innovation to the next level. This starts with incentivising more people to come here and lay down roots. We need to look at how regions such as Stockholm have stimulated their ecosystems to create unicorns, and then show the world we can do it too. The emphasis is now on the need for a second tier of capital, which will help us achieve these goals.”

To this end, the event also acted as a catalyst for the development of a new investment strategy to bolster technological innovation in the Winelands and speed up its post-pandemic revitalisation. Set to focus on the province’s growing digital economy, the strategy seeks to unlock new opportunities for digital skills training in and around Stellenbosch, while also determining new matrices to drive investment into the area over the coming years significantly.

Motlhabane Koloi, Portfolio Manager for Technology at Wesgro, concludes: “While Cape Town is the Tech Capital, we cannot discount the major contributions that regions like Stellenbosch make towards establishing the province as the best innovation ecosystem in Africa. The emphasis is now on extending this reach to tech communities around the province. To this end, Stellenbosch is key, boasting an impressive track record, with fertile precincts such as Technopark and the upcoming Stellenbosch Bridge continuing to spur the development of innovative businesses and institutions. Our aim now is to empower these areas further, by identifying additional opportunities for growth. Specifically, we need to be looking at how we can better empower the historical drivers of business development in the region’s digital space, what support structures are necessary, how we can make growth and funding accessible to entrepreneurs, and what can be done to stimulate entrepreneurship This can only be achieved through collaboration between ecosystems.”

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