Stellenbosch better known for wine production has set its sights on becoming one of the innovation capitals of Africa. It’s a goal that certainly has big ambition as currently it’s exclusive wine estates and Cape Dutch business district convey a world far removed from Johannesburg, Nairobi and Lagos.
Conrad Sidego, however, believes Stellenbosch has just the right alchemy to propel the town to the forefront of innovation in Africa. Sidego, executive mayor of Stellenbosch, readily promotes the town’s pedigree.“Stellenbosch has tremendous resources. It has a world-class university, a lot of technology businesses, and many of the richest people in the country live here,” he says.
A new generation of technology startups has begun rising out of Stellenbosch. Many are pioneering innovation in online security, payment systems and mobile applications. Local companies FireID Payments, Entersekt and Health Q Technologies are already eyeing international markets. Others, such as WyseTalk, Gust Pay, EdgeCampus and iFix, are fast establishing themselves in South Africa.
“Stellenbosch is a great place for startups,” says FireID Payments director Kobus Ehlers. “It has a high concentration of smart, like-minded people tackling similar problems. People are keen to share resources, knowledge and experience.”
Strong community of local tech developers
Neighbouring Cape Town provides Stellenbosch entrepreneurs with additional opportunities to network. The city boasts a strong community of tech developers as well as innovation centres such as Bandwidth Barn, Angel Hub and 88mph. The Silicon Cape Initiative, which promotes collaboration among emerging tech firms, spans both Cape Town and Stellenbosch.
“A town where great things can happen”
Sidego is optimistic that Stellenbosch, with its unique mix of social, economic, academic and natural resources, can rise to the challenge. “I first came to Stellenbosch in 1961,” he says. “I was 15 and there was no high school for coloured kids in Tulbagh, where I was born. Fifty years later, I was elected mayor of Stellenbosch. This is a town where great things can happen. This is a town where miracles can happen.” Watch this space…..