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Last week, I was honoured to be invited to the now much-talked about Investment Conference, hosted by the South African Government. As I mingled among the various captains of industry, entrepreneurs, ministers and deputy ministers, premiers and members of civil society, there was a tangible aura of excitement in an environment abuzz with positivity.

A few weeks prior to attending the conference, my team and I were also afforded the invaluable opportunity to work with the organisers to look more closely at the start-up landscape in South Africa.

This included sending invites to the 15 accelerator networks in the country, urging them to make sure their start-ups stood a chance of participating in the conference.

Just the mere fact that this proposal of involving startups at the conference was heard was encouraging.

I also participated in the Impact Investment summit, which took place at the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) the day before the investment conference. This focused on devising more efficient and effective ways to fast-track the deployment of capital to ensure social, environmental and financial returns. I strongly made the point to the panel that, over the years, capital deployment has been far too biased towards financial returns. An impactful investment looks beyond that and analyses the social and environmental impact of the investments made.

Back to the investment summit! The majority of the speakers were in unison about the importance of investing in South Africa and the great economic potential it possesses. This included the eager, work-hungry youth, the country’s gateway status to the continent and the keen understanding South Africa has regarding the value of partnerships and collaboration.

During the conference, many significant short/long term commitments and pledges were made. The President announced that the total investment raised at the conference is at R290bn, while the envoys have also received pledges of R400bn from various global institutions. The next step is signing on the dotted line and bringing these commitments back home.

For startups, I see the conference as a great opportunity. Here are some of the key investments I think are worth noting and some opportunities for startups to tap into:

Sappi R7.7bn ; Mondi R8bn: Vedanta Resources R21bn;Bushveld Minerals R2.5bn;

Anglo American R71.5bn; Rain R1bn; Mercedes Benz R10bn; Sumitono Rubber R970m

Sanral R9.5bn; Naamsa (the national group of car manufacturers) R40bn; Nestlé R663m; P&G R300m; McDonald’s R3bn; Aspen R3.3bn; Vodacom R50bn; Aqua Power R28.7bn; BRICS Development Bank R29bn; Multichoice R1bn; Tokio Marine R1.3bn and Green Climate Fund R1.3bn. Within all these, there are opportunities for startups to analyse value chains of these companies and explore potential collaboration with them.


 The other notable investments with direct benefits to the startups include:

 IDC R3.6bn: these funds are earmarked specifically to support entrepreneurs

  • Amazon: The Company has committed to build the AWS cloud computing regional centre in (Cape Town) South Africa – significant as it allows start-ups to build on their platform.
  • Mara R1.5bn: This is one of the most impressive investments. Ashish Thakkar Founder of Mara announced that he will be manufacturing cell phones from South Africa, making it one of the first African-made mobile devices.
  • Naspers R6bn: Also impressive, as they have committed half of their investments to fund Tech start-ups.


Many, if not most of the investing company’s executives were quick to stress the importance of involving the communities in which they operate and to ensure that start-ups and small businesses are also prioritised and given more opportunity to benefit from these investments. Even Jack Ma dared everyone during the conference dinner not to underestimate startups.

It will be interesting to see if all these lucrative funding initiatives actually do in fact present small businesses with opportunities (I’m quietly confident they will). But I say this because any economy that leaves its start-ups in a cold, frustrating place does so at its peril.

In this regard, thriving economies like Germany and France are extremely important case studies for South Africa. Countries such as these are the industrial heartbeats, the banking bedrock of Europe at large, thanks to the abundance of SMEs in their value chains, which continue to help drive the economy of both their country and their continent and keep both sustainable.

We’ll all concur that the recently concluded investment conference is a big step in the right direction. Perhaps the next discussions should borrow from Europe and focus on how we build our own capable, strong and diversified SMEs that can support, boost and strengthen the economy.

Many of our start-ups have proven their economic worth and market viability. Now they’re champing at the bit to get off to a flying start with funding injections so they can fully commit to reaching their long term goals, those of their investors and substantiate their economic significance.

While they wait, I can almost hear them humming to The Rolling Stones classic, “If you start me up, I’ll never stop, never stop…”

Kizito Okechukwu is the co-chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest startup campus.