Cape Town is fast cementing itself as the biggest continental hub for tech startups […] The Mother City is rightfully living up to monikers such as “The Silicon Cape” and the “Digital Gateway to Africa.” – Jacques Coetzee, ventureburn
Cape Town, South Africa has historically been known as an attractive tourist destination, and it’s quite easy to see why: excellent food, beautiful topography, and friendly people are among the reasons why this South African city is on the bucket list for many avid travelers.
The city, however, is garnering a large amount of attention for another reason: it has quickly established itself among Africa’s most advanced startup ecosystems. Many factors contribute to this: a large talent pool, solid academic institutions, and a great infrastructure, among others.
This article analyzes the emergence of Cape Town as Africa’s leading startup ecosystem from various angles, including the perceived advantages of being a startup there. Why do more South African startup companies settle in Cape Town than any other region in the continent? How has the city become Africa’s prime locale for startups?
We support this rationale by describing four components that are crucial for budding businesses, and how Cape Town measures up.
Access to Venture Capital
It takes a special kind of investor to commit significant sums of money to an unproven business. To do so is often perceived as highly risky among many in the investment community. This is where venture capital (or “VC”) comes into play.
Venture capital can be defined as “Startup or growth equity capital or loan capital provided by private investors (the venture capitalists) or specialized financial institutions…for a new or growing business.” It turns out that Cape Town has plenty of these vital individuals.
According to various studies, South Africa is the continent’s most abundant nation in terms of available VC, with Cape Town repeatedly cited as the prime locale for VC activity. Funding and finances are among the top concerns for startups, as a sizeable period of time is usually required to realize profitability.
As such, VC support makes it more likely entrepreneurs will “make the leap” into becoming a startup. VCs such as AngelHub, Venture Capital for Africa (vc4a), Knife Capital, and other reputable VC firms make the daunting process of establishing and maintaining startup operations a bit easier.
Good Business Infrastructure, Including IT
A good infrastructure is essential to business operations. This does not necessarily refer to the well-established modes of communication, transportation, utilities, water, and sewage – which are, by the way, often underappreciated elements of conducting business successfully.
Rather, infrastructure refers to internet and IT infrastructure, both of which are world-class in South Africa, and Cape Town specifically. In 2011, the city finished an optic fiber network that spans 500 kilometers, making fast web connection both more ubiquitous and less expensive. Additionally, Cape Town is home to the most IT-based companies on continent.
Patricia de Lille, Cape Town’s mayor, states the importance of business infrastructure to the city: “We believe that we are becoming a center for global business that stretches beyond old boundaries. We seek to position ourselves as a place where the world can access Africa and Africa can access the world, providing sophisticated tertiary services, reliable infrastructure and advanced commercial and banking practices.”
An Educated Workforce, Excellent Academics
Solid academic institutions seem to permeate startup ecosystems around the globe, and Cape Town is no exception. Indeed, it is often within these very institutions where innovators build their own success stories, as Mark Zuckerberg did at Harvard.
And Cape Town – specifically, the Western Cape – is the location of some of the top universities, both in South Africa and the world. Within just a 60-kilometer radius, four such schools are present: Cape Peninsula University of Technology, University of Cape Town (UCT), University of the Western Cape, and Stellenbosch University (SU).
Both SU and UCT produce a large number of patents each year, with 59 and 52 patent applications in just the last six years, respectively. These patents are referred to as South Africa for Patent Cooperation Treat (PCT) international registrations. PCT’s are notoriously difficult to get, and are regarded as a crucial step in the commercialization of an invention that is adopted on an international scale.
A City That Appeals to Innovators
As mentioned, Cape Town is considered one of the world’s leading tourist destinations. The landscape is adorned with beaches, forests, mountains and other geographical treasures.
Besides the beauty that is Cape Town, its environment is incredibly attractive to innovators and entrepreneurs. Paul Graham, founder of the highly-successful company Y Combinator, says the following: “Most nerds like quieter pleasures. They like cafes instead of clubs; used bookshops instead of fashionable clothing shops; hiking instead of dancing; sunlight instead of tall buildings.”
While Graham may be overgeneralizing, most of the “nerds” that he is referring to will probably agree with most, if not all, of these observations. Those in Cape Town will probably state that the beautiful city offers these things and many more.