SAP Africa’s Cathy Smith Urges Corporates to Support Start-ups

The SA Innovation Summit (SAIS2021) kicked off in Cape Town yesterday, with Cathy Smith, MD of SAP Africa, calling for greater use of technology in solving Africa’s challenges.

Smith, who delivered the keynote, titled “The path to inclusive economic recovery in Africa”, told delegates that technology is the catalyst to solving problems that are agonising the continent, and urged corporates to support start-ups that are at the forefront of innovations.

SAIS2021 is one of Africa’s biggest tech start-up gatherings, which seeks to connect tech entrepreneurs looking to scale with potential investors and also find innovative solutions to challenges bedevilling Africa.

Smith said: “It is not possible to think about progress on the continent – whether education, food security, healthcare, trade, infrastructure – without considering the role that technology plays. There is a saying ‘necessity is the mother of all invention’, which originally came from Plato, who said: ‘Our need will be the real creator’…and there is certainly need in Africa.

“The solution needs to come from within – from Africans – particularly our youth who are passionate, creative, digitally-savvy and can be the continent’s greatest asset.”

Africa’s population will double over the next 30 years, she noted, which will pose new challenges, and when combined with urbanisation and climate change, as well as the effect of COVID-19, the continent will need to be innovative in tackling the new challenges.

According to Smith, these challenges “are a clear indication that the traditional models for building economies, societies and countries are no longer valid”.

She told the 1 500 early-stage entrepreneurs, serial entrepreneurs and industry thought leaders attending the three-day hybrid event that start-ups hold the key to solving many of Africa’s and the world’s most pressing issues.

Shared vision

Smith urged corporates to support new ventures on the continent, saying “to be successful, start-ups need the building blocks for success”.

“A great idea is only an idea until someone believes in it, until it has a business plan, until it has a proof of concept, until it has funding, until there is demand, and until it is sustainable. Those building blocks move an idea from a concept to a thriving business. Those building blocks are what we refer to as ‘the ecosystem’.”

Smith lauded corporates on the continent, saying that in Africa “we have made huge strides in building a vibrant ecosystem. Funding from venture capital firms has increased significantly, with Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa benefiting the most. Fintech still dominates in the funding space but other sectors like agritech, healthtech and clean energy tech are growing.”

Nonetheless, she cautioned African corporates that they need to think differently, adding there is more the sector can contribute to develop start-ups and innovation.

“While there are many stakeholders who play a critical role in the ecosystem – from government to investors to innovation hubs and networks, I think there is more to be done by corporate Africa. Enabling start-ups is critical to our own success; there are pockets of excellence across the continent, but they are still siloed.

“We need to think differently about partnership and about building a network of support for African start-ups – one that results in a massive increase in digital skills, small business growth and employment on the continent.”

Featured guests

Over 150 local and global venture capital and angel investors who are seeking investment opportunities are participating in SAIS2021.

The opening day of SAIS2021 also included an address by alderman Jean-Pierre Smith of the City of Cape Town.

The city’s mayoral committee member for safety and security’s address, titled “A digital view of a city in a pandemic”, focused on how to integrate innovation through working with start-ups in cities on the continent. He noted the pandemic had pushed the City of Cape Town to be innovative.

SAIS2021 also witnessed 30 female entrepreneurs with tech and tech-enabled start-ups pitching their business cases to potential investors during the Female Founder Takeover Demo Day, hosted by the Small Enterprise Development Agency and Department of Small Business Development.

This article first appeared in ITWeb.