Startups use Africa’s challenges to spark innovation
African startups are solving the continent’s basic problems – and expanding around the world into million-dollar companies.
South Africa is already home to a burgeoning startup scene, and now Africa’s largest startup campus has opened its doors there. Here’s what budding entrepreneurs can look forward to.
The largest startup campus in Africa has opened its doors in South Africa. 22 On Sloane offers disruptive startups and innovative SMEs a complete turnkey solution to scale, all the way from having the initial idea to bringing it to a commercial market. Let’s step inside and see what it offers.
South Africa’s startup scene is booming. According to a 2016 study, South Africa has the largest total financial investments in startups in all of Africa. We’ve written before about the battle between Johannesburg and Cape Town to be the country’s next best hub. But now it seems Johannesburg has a new feather in its cap: 22 On Sloane, Africa’s largest startup campus, which opened its doors at the beginning of November 2017.
22 On Sloane is where businesses go to grow. It offers startups, students and SMEs individual support and systematic mentorship and coaching in developing new products and services, guidance on building up a successful business when entering the market and – crucially – how to grow said business.
It focuses on future industries like fintech, information and communication tech, engineering, manufacturing, energy, education, health and sanitation. And the facility is fittingly futuristic, with a range of 3D printers, CAD and CAM software, and prototype development and testing on offer.
Through its network of global partners, 22 On Sloane provides angel funding and venture capital for promising young companies in its key sectors.
The campus itself is a gleaming workspace filled with workstations and ergonomic desk chairs, collaboration hubs and lounges. Its facilities span over 10,000 square metres, and include over 500 workstations and offices, Wi-Fi, three tech labs, five boardrooms for meetings and a large state-of-the-art boardroom. The heart of the campus is The Atrium, an indoor open space for networking and events.
But it’s not all work, work, work. It also has four kitchen facilities, five lounges, a gym, six shower facilities, a siesta room, a prayer room, playrooms for both kids and adults alike and locker facilities.
Of course, the campus is much more than a co-working space kitted out with excellent facilities. It offers a diverse range of weekly activities and programmes, like business support, advisory services, and workshops on topics like intellectual property, the art of commercialisation and financial decision-making.
Some of these are available to walk-ins. But you’ll need to be a resident in order to access the full programme.
Every Saturday, it also offers programmes for those aged 13–17. These encourage participants to develop a proof-of-concept from the initial idea to prototyping.
22 On Sloane is made possible thanks the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN). The Washington DC-based organisation has operations in 173 countries worldwide, and in 42 countries throughout Africa.
The doors officially opened on 10 November 2017, at a launch attended by Virgin Group founder and serial entrepreneur Richard Branson. “Every big business in this world was started by an entrepreneur – and small businesses are the ones creating the jobs, innovating and making life better for everybody,” Branson said. “You have to do the hard part first to be able to get into position to make a difference.”
The launch coincided with Global Entrepreneurship Week.
Kizito Okechukwu, co-chair of GEN Africa, led the 22 On Sloane project from concept to creation. He hopes its inclusive nature will help improve life for people all over Africa, not just in South Africa.
“For us, the campus is about building a community from all over the African continent,” he said. “I believe that 22 On Sloane is for everyone – and anyone.”
The project has strong support from the South African government. According to small business development minister Lindiwe Zulu, the campus is essential to the success of the South African economy.
“We can’t afford to let this fail because people that need to be serviced by this campus are the most important people in the economic space of South Africa,” she said at the launch. “The improvement of the economy of South Africa will depend very much on your small and medium enterprises.”
It feels like the hopes of an entire continent are riding on the success of 22 On Sloane. That’s a lot of pressure for a startup campus. But with world-class facilities and access to expert mentorship, it has the potential to transform the fortunes of South Africans and those in the wider African continent alike. We wish it luck. Or as South Africans would say, ngikufisela inhlanhla!