Wesgro CEO Tim Harris
Cape Town is pushing beyond its tourist image with a drive to be seen as the start-up capital in Africa.
“We’re incredibly excited about Cape Town becoming a destination for young people around the world. Cape Town has become Africa’s largest start-up scene,” Wesgro CEO Tim Harris told delegates at the Growth Innovation and Leadership Africa 2016 conference, in Cape Town.
He said homegrown companies from Cape Town were moving into Africa and going global. These included online retailers like Takealot and Zando, as well as mobile payment solution company Yoco, online education provider GetSmarter and nutrient recycling business AgriProtein.
Harris said Cape Town had stiff competition from Nairobi, in Kenya, which was in contention to be the digital capital of Africa, but he believed the Mother City had the edge with its "unparalleled infrastructure base" and world-class universities.
Harris said Cape Town had the strongest skills pipeline on the continent, drawn from the University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University, the University of the Western Cape and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
The four universities produced about 12 000 graduates each year in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The 11 000 students at Western Cape universities from other African countries also presented a great opportunity.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for us to access these young minds, to show them what’s possible out of Cape Town, before they go back to their countries as ambassadors for our region.”
Other industries were also developing swiftly in and around the city.
“We need to correct the impression that Cape Town is just a tourism city, with great mountains and beaches, but no business.
“If you are in retail, agroprocessing and agribusiness, or in the asset management space in Cape Town, you are at the centre of Africa.”
New sectors such as renewable energy, business process outsourcing (BPO) and the oil and gas industry were also driving momentum in the Western Cape.
Oil and gas is set to be a major job creator, especially around Saldanha Bay, as some of the rigs drilling in Central and West Africa will soon be serviced at Saldanha, said Harris.
He told delegates that many people had been moving to Cape Town from other provinces. Out of the 150 000 people migrating to Cape Town over the past decade, 70 000 had moved from Gauteng, bringing with them their skills, experience and capital.
However, many people still commuted between Cape Town and Johannesburg. “The Cape Town to Johannesburg commute is the tenth busiest commuter route in the world for a reason,” said Harris.
Wesgro was also trying to connect Cape Town more easily with the rest of Africa and internationally, as this had been a stumbling block in the past. Wesgro had teamed up with the Airports Company of South Africa, Cape Town Tourism and the City of Cape Town and had been working with airlines to negotiate new routes.
This has resulted in a direct Cape Town to Nairobi flight, while Lufthansa will be flying direct from Frankfurt to Cape Town. Emirates has laid on more flights between Cape Town and Dubai.
On the regulatory side, the City of Cape Town is trying to remove as much red tape as possible, making it easier for companies to do business. Companies that set up factories and businesses in Atlantis, on the West Coast, received incentives such as a discount on electricity prices and a waiving of several fees. Harris said similar incentives would be rolled out in six other districts in and around Cape Town over the next few years.