The Western Cape is moving in the right direction in terms of innovation and entrepreneurial success, says Chris Whelan, CEO of  Accelerate Cape Town. Chris said in an interview with Business Day that the province had so many of the ingredients necessary for a successful and growing region, including a large number of National Research Foundation A-rated scientists, 39 research chairs and several proven centres of excellence.

The Western Cape provincial government has been pushing for innovation and entrepreneurship as part of its efforts to grow the economy and create jobs. This week the provincial government said it is offering cash incentives to encourage innovation. The province’s most innovative residents stand a chance of winning R12,000 in the Western Cape government’s internet competition.

The internet innovation competition calls on contestants to present an original idea that elaborates how the internet could be used to promote social and economic benefits in their neighbourhood. Western Cape Economic Opportunities MEC Alan Winde said the competition aimed to highlight the impact of the public WiFi zones. This pilot project forms part of the Western Cape government’s R1.3bn broadband plan to connect the province’s residents to affordable internet.

Chris said that innovation is a function of entrepreneurship and is a growth catalyst. “For business to grow and thrive, particularly in a globalised world where low GDP (gross domestic product) growth is the new normal, it is also a business imperative”. He said SA needed to embrace people with the requisite skills to grow the economy. “The example of the United States, which is not the best in terms of education standards yet seems to perpetually lead in innovation, is illustrative: more PhDs and postdoctoral fellows in the US are non-US citizens than those born there. “The lesson is clear — SA’s visa regime must reflect our openness to talent by encouraging people to study here and to remain and foster businesses and innovations which overcome Afro-pessimism, and are locally and globally applicable.”

According to David Silverstein, global CEO of BMGI, African leaders need to embrace innovation and develop strategic plans. “They have to structure policies to promote foreign investment and promote value-added activities to be carried out in Africa – innovation is about finding unique solutions in overcoming today’s challenges. We need to do things differently, but guided by a strategy from policy level right through to the grass root level.”

Valter Adão, lead director at Monitor Deloitte Africa, said that innovation was critically important to Africa as the continent had unique problems that limited its development and these could not be addressed in the same way they were addressed in developed economies. “Innovations in Africa will help us achieve the desired results, overcoming significant infrastructure gaps. Just look at what innovative cell phone solutions have done for day-to-day financial transacting and access to healthcare. There are many more excellent examples of this, from power generation for poor homes to smart logistics and transporting medicine with soft drinks.”

This article featured in Business Day and BDlive on 11 March 2015.