SA wakes up to global startup programme

The writer Stephen Timm met with José Ernesto Amorós from Santiago University of Development while visting Santiago, Chile in October.

The UK has one, Canada has one. Even Jamaica, among a long list of countries, has one.

And now South Africa is to get one – a start-up programme.

The new initiative, dubbed Start-Up Nations South Africa, is set to be launched in partnership with the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), The Innovation Hub and Wits Business School on 10 November.

Fredell Jacobs, who a few years ago launched the South African Start-up Index, co-ordinates the initiative and aims to get the government, private sector, academia and civil society to work together to promote entrepreneurship in South Africa.

Jacobs says the initiative will focus on thought leadership, research and education. He points out that the name Start-up Nations was chosen in reference to the initiative’s membership to the global body of the same name.

It is one of similar ones that countries around the world have set up following the success of Start-Up Chile – which has attracted over a 1 000 participants to that country since.

In September the programme closed its call for applications with a record 2 448 applicants having bid for a chance at one of the round’s 100 coveted spots.

While some (like Jamaica, Brazil and Peru) follow Start-Up Chile’s model of offering a mix of seed capital, mentorship and pitching to potential investors, they all aim to bring different actors in the field of entrepreneurship together to boost start-ups. Some programmes encourage foreign entrepreneurs to join (Brazil reserves a quarter of its places for foreigners) with the understanding that they bring new ideas. In the case of Start-Up Chile, the government provides $40 000 of funding to start-ups that agree to set up in Chile for at least six months and to take part in events to stimulate entrepreneurship awareness among locals.

By the end of last year 150 000 Chileans are estimated to have benefited from exposure to the programme, through about 2 500 workshops. Most Chilean entrepreneurship experts agree that the real success of  Start-Up Chile has been in the social or impact it has had on the country.

“If you evaluate Start-Up Chile in terms of economic output or real firm creation it (has been) a disaster, it really doesn’t work,” says José Ernesto Amorós, from the School of Business and Economics at Santiago’s University of Development.

“But if you summarise all the other impacts it creates, it is a very successful one, because it attracts people, creates networks and has also put Chile on the map.”

Some reckon that if finance for start-ups in Chile was easier to come by, more of the programme’s participants would stay in Chile.

Nicolas Goluboff Hamuy, the deputy manager of entrepreneurship at Corfo which oversees the programme, said the agency is, however, working on improving the availability of funding for start-ups in Chile, while considering whether to also host versions of the programme targeting certain regions.

South Africa has no shortage of small business initiatives, it’s rather the role-players themselves that need to collaborate more closely to address bottlenecks and to create a more enabling environment for startups. Getting this right could help energise the country’s startup scene.

Fredell Jacobs, Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), José Ernesto Amorós, , Nicolas Goluboff Hamuy, Santiago University of Development, School of Business and Economics, South African Start-up Index, Start-Up Nations South Africa, The Innovation Hub, Wits Business School

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