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Zulu: French-SA tech lab can find solutions

Feb 21 2017 18:51
Carin Smith

Cape Town - A practical approach is needed to make bilateral relations SA has with various countries - like France - "alive", Minister of Small Business Development Lindiwe Zulu told Fin24 on Tuesday.

Along with the new French ambassador in SA Christope Farnaud, Zulu visited the French South African Tech Labs in Century City, Cape Town. The new incubator, also an accelerator, has been dedicated to South African and French entrepreneurs, primarily focusing on black entrepreneurs.

"This French-South African tech lab puts into practice the fact that the French are here to be supportive of us in SA. I have faith that the project will work. We have stepped out of the old colonial France-Africa relationship," said Zulu.

"The more we can create practical things the better. France is not blind to the future opportunities Africa offers. As Africans we are now free and can decide what we want and what not. We can create equal relationships."

For her it is also important that development in SA also spread wider to the rest of Africa. In her view, initiatives like the tech lab can help to find more solutions for issues like unemployment and poverty.

She said President Jacob Zuma highlighted in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) that SMEs need to be empowered and that they need access to tech support.

She is also concerned about the need to create a conducive environment for those leaving the incubator.

READ: Five top SA entrepreneurs making waves

Big focus

For Christophe Farnaud, the new French ambassador in SA, innovation is a big focus for France and SA is seen as an important African hub in this regard. He emphasised that the tech lab is open to all young entrepreneurs, especially young black entrepreneurs.

"Each time innovation happens it comes about in an unexpected way. Everyone talks about tech and it is important not to miss the train. Therefore, partnerships are needed," Farnaud told Fin24.

"SA is a hub where you can find all the ingredients for a successful recipe. Things change very fast because of globalisation. One must adjust all the time and this cannot be done alone."

For Mandisa Tshikwatamba, CEO of the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda), it is important to extend the model of the tech lab collaboration also to other areas and get private sector involvement.

"The tech lab agreement promotes discussion between SA and France on incubators, research and innovation. It is a platform for additional benchmarking," she said.

"Government is the right partner in this process."

Tim Harris, CEO of Wesgro, said it is possible that some of the young entrepreneurs incubated at the tech lab will become the big corporates of the future.

An issue he raised is that IP is currently subject to exchange control. He would like to see the SA Reserve Bank loosening up exchange control on IP to unlock further potential for local entrepreneurs, especially in the rest of Africa.

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