Do techpreneurs need an ecosystem that supports innovation?

It’s the difference between thriving and surviving; big business and government also have a crucial role to play.

I participated in a panel debate at the Innovation Summit in Cape Town today where we discussed the importance of “enabling ecosystems for innovation.” As a banker I had already been told earlier in the day that innovation and banking was a contradiction in terms so although we were sponsoring the conference there was clearly some misconceptions. As a proud FNB employee I reminded the (well intentioned but misinformed) person that FNB had actually won Most Innovative Bank in the World in 2012 and innovation was entrenched in our culture. We want our employees to think like owner-managers, we want our IT leaders to operate like techpreneurs – the next 175 years of our growth depends on it. [1st paragraph of 5]

I was joined on the panel by leaders of innovation in South Africa, from government (TIA), private sector (Isizwe, Silicon Cape & The Innovation Hub) and academia (Innovus). I relayed the banking comment from earlier and talked about our isolation years, how the banking industry had to innovate to survive, and how that had made us resilient in the banking crisis of 2008. Furthermore, developed economies were only now adopting banking technology that South Africans have long been used to. If necessity is the mother of invention then hardship and tough conditions builds highly resilient entrepreneurs who thrive in our demanding conditions of doing business. [2/5]

Much like the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child”, so it takes an effective and enabling ecosystem to support entrepreneurs as they build successful businesses. FNB offers our business clients many value-adds such as premium workspaces, real time CIPC registration, Instant Accounting, Business Directory and financing of tablets and generators; many of these are technology solutions that we have developed internally. We also inject funding through the R200m Vumela fund and other Enterprise Development partnerships, while also providing market-leading banking products and services for any stage of the business lifecycle. [3/5]

Frustrations emerged in the panel discussion as we heard about how entrepreneurship was perceived as “tinkering in the garage” and starting a business meant you couldn’t get a proper job. If small businesses are meant to be the job creation engine for South Africa why isn’t it easier to be an employer in this country? Silicon Cape is a network of tech startups in the Western Cape; membership provides exposure to markets and angel investors gain early access to high growth businesses before they become the next big thing. If exponential organisations have used technology to disrupt their markets and becomme household names overnight then is the next Uber coming from Africa and currently being incubated in such a network? [4/5]

Education was a key theme and how its current state in the country is not equipping young people with the desire or the skills to start and grow businesses. Our FNB codefests showcase the skills of our top developers who converge for an all-nighter of building solutions, while also offering a chance for upcoming techie ninjas to learn the craft firsthand. Much like I burnt my bridges in a previous role on a different panel, I committed that FNB and TIA would drive coding education, together with wethinkcode. After all, wasn’t it the techpreneur Steve Jobs, who built the biggest company in the world, but started his working life by tinkering in the garage? [5/5]

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2 thoughts on “Do techpreneurs need an ecosystem that supports innovation?”

  1. As an expat ,having lived and worked in several countries and seen several banks, i believe FNB is at the forefront of banking innovation no two ways about it ! I esp like the mobile app and Internet banking works seamlessly ! Good work.

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