Q: Please tell us about yourself and the path you have taken that led you to the Silicon Cape Initiative.
Guasco: Post completing my MBA I decided again pursuing entrepreneurship vs. a more traditional corporate career. I attended the launch of Silicon Cape and was hugely inspired by the success some technology entrepreneurs had achieved. This inspired me to build my own business Twangoo South Africa an online ecommerce platform which I sold to Groupon Inc. in 2011. I was then elected to the board of Silicon Cape and more recently been voted in as chairman. I am a firm believer in creating a technology ecosystem allows for economic growth
Q: Tell us about the Silicon Cape Initiative: Who created it and why? What services and programs do you offer? And who do you serve?
Who we are
For starters, Silicon Cape was created in 2009 by Justin Stanford and Vinny Lingham. It is a community of techentrepreneurs, developers, creatives, angel investors, and VC's who are passionate about entrepreneurship and the roles we play in the future of South Africa.
What we do
The Silicon Cape initiative is a non-profit, community owned and driven movement, that aims to improve the environment in the Western Cape to create more and better startups as well as increase access to capital. We host events, work with government, private sector, universities and the community to support and foster collaborations to assist and build better startups.
Q: Can you please share a few words about the Silicon Cape Initiative's vision and objectives?
The Silicon Cape vision is of an ecosystem in the Western Cape of South Africa, that serves to attract and bring together local and foreign investors, the brightest technical talent, and the most promising entrepreneurs, to foster the creation and growth of world-class global IP start-up companies in an environment that competes with other similar hubs around the world against the backdrop of one of the most beautiful settings and pleasant places to live, work and play on the globe.
The concept of the Silicon Cape is not owned or controlled by any single entity. It is a living community and an organic, ever-developing concept in the hearts and minds of every participant, which endeavors to catalyze the local IP entrepreneurial community.
The initiative aims firstly to start a conversation -- to plant a seed and foster the concept of the Silicon Cape in people’s minds and on their lips around the world as the emerging technology startup hub and gateway to Africa, and to assist in the creation of an environment and a perception of the area as a world-class location and destination that is not only capable of delivering but already is. This will in turn create real benefits for the country, the Cape and its residents and stakeholders, and assist in attracting further foreign direct investment into South Africa.
The Silicon Cape Initiative has identified the following objectives to be pursued.
Awareness, Promotion and Branding
- Raise awareness of the potential and of the opportunity that exists, for investors, entrepreneurs and engineers
- Brand and promote the region locally and internationally as the emerging "Silicon Valley of Africa", a global tech innovation hub
- Attract and retain local, ex-pat and foreign entrepreneurs, investors, and skilled technical people by raising awareness
- Showcase and raise awareness of the array of high-tech startup related activity already taking place that is currently underexposed and operating in isolation
- Bridge from the private to the public sector - raise awareness in government of the potential that exists, activity taking place, and issues facing investors and entrepreneurs
- Unite the South African diaspora in the US and in other countries and create a connection back home to the Silicon Cape community to build bridges into foreign territories
- Act as a common masthead for the high-tech startup community to meet, network and be showcased
- Promote and foster a social network online and offline, of entrepreneurs, engineers, angel investors, and institutional investors
- Foster engagement and networking between different participants
Engagement with Government, NGOs and the Public
Raise awareness of a broad array of issues facing the creation and growth of the ecosystem.
Q. How can we increase the STEM and entrepreneurship participation throughout South Africa?
Guasco: Through the Silicon Cape initiative, we realized very quickly that this requires a collaborative effort between various stakeholders, i.e. government, academia and private sector. We need to develop programs that inspire young people, especially those from under serviced communities to stay in school. The highest rate of unemployment is observed amongst those under the ages of 35, it is thus imperative for us to create and nurture a culture of entrepreneurship in high growth areas such as STEM and create collaborative efforts that will assist young people in recognizing business opportunities and planning for successful futures. . We also cannot ignore the need to improve diversity within the STEM fields. Research has clearly shown that diverse organizations and ecosystems perform better. This is why Silicon Cape felt it necessary to add a new portfolio that specifically aims to promote technology as a viable career choice for young girls. Through this portfolio we are also supporting female founders.
As an ecosystem, we also need to provide relevant support to those who have already embarked on the entrepreneurship journey through providing the necessary access to financial and non-financial resources
Q: In your opinion what is the importance of STEM education, innovation, entrepreneurship and investment in South Africa' s socio-economic development?
Guasco: I honestly believe that these four components that you have mentioned (education, Entrepreneurship, innovation and investment) are the key ingredients for any country to thrive. In South Africa’s context though, education and specifically access to STEM education needs to be improved and more teachers need to be trained to teach STEM subjects. Schools in the rural areas need to be equipped with proper equipment and science and computer laboratories. Entrepreneurship plays a crucial role in helping us solve some of our most difficult issues and there is incredible opportunity in using innovation, new technologies and STEM to solve some of these.
As the second fastest growing region in the world, Africa’s future lies in us creating an enabling ecosystem and by positioning ourselves as a major global player in order to attract international investment. This investment will advance the much needed skills development and research in STEM fields and innovation that solves some of our most challenging problems.