- Players: Natan Pollack and Dan Brotman
- Company: En-novate
- Founded: February 2016
- Aim: En-novate believes that South African SMEs and business professionals need to start becoming more globally competitive. They make this possible by taking groups of entrepreneurs and business professionals on exploration trips to innovation hubs around the world.
- Visit: en-novate.co.za
Silicon Valley. For many entrepreneurs, it’s more than a place, it embodies an idea. Populated by unicorns and pirates and hackers and angel investors, it’s a magical place — like Wonderland or Neverland.
Consider the companies that are based in the areas around San Francisco and Silicon Valley: Google, Facebook, Adobe, Apple, Tesla Motors, WhatsApp, Oracle, Twitter and Netflix, to name but a few, are all a mere Uber ride away from one another (and, yes, Uber is based there too). All these companies are clustered together, yet they have a global reach that stretches into the billions.
How did this relatively small patch of earth become such a hub of tech success? And more importantly, what can South African entrepreneurs learn from how business is done there?
In order to try and answer this, a group of South African entrepreneurs recently visited San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
The trip was organised by En-novate in partnership with Investec. En-novate founders Dan Brotman and Natan Pollack share what they learnt from the experience.
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Can you briefly explain what En-novate does?
Dan: We founded En-novate in partnership with Investec in order to expose South African entrepreneurs to cutting-edge innovation and new business trends. We both have very international backgrounds, myself having moved to South Africa five years ago from the US. South Africa is geographically cut off from some of the world’s top innovation hubs, which at times prevents our entrepreneurs from accessing new commercial opportunities in other markets.
Natan: Our aim is to help local entrepreneurs connect to international business hubs in order to expand their thinking, and help them build global business networks. We want local entrepreneurs to benchmark their businesses against global best practice and start transacting abroad. En-novate also assists entrepreneurs raise funding both locally and abroad.
What would you say is the ultimate aim of this? What do you want entrepreneurs to take from a trip?
Natan: We want them to realise that there is no need to limit their vision or ambition. South African entrepreneurs are some of the best in the world, and can definitely compete on a global scale. There’s no reason that someone from South Africa can’t launch the next Facebook or Google. But ultimately, we want them to start doing business abroad, and expanding their customer reach.
Dan: The biggest problem many local entrepreneurs have is that they think too local. They focus exclusively on the South African market, but being the best in your domestic market isn’t good enough any longer. We live in an interconnected world, and South African entrepreneurs need to start playing in the global arena, similar to their Swedish and Israeli counterparts.
What does this mean in practical terms? As a start-up founder, how do I start playing globally?
Natan: It starts with confidence and big thinking — with the belief that you can take your business global. Entrepreneurs shouldn’t be limited by their location. This doesn’t mean packing up your things and permanently moving to Silicon Valley, but it does mean reaching out to potential overseas partners and investors, and at least exploring your international options.
Dan: That’s what we’re trying to do — to help facilitate this process. At the moment, we’re focusing on taking South African entrepreneurs overseas, but we also want to set-up some sort of support structure in places like Silicon Valley that can offer them a ‘soft landing’ when they go there to do business. This offering already exists for new arrivals in Silicon Valley from countries like India, but very little exists for newly arrived African entrepreneurs trying to make it in the US.
Do you think this is important? To create a place that offers a ‘soft landing’?
Dan: It’s incredibly important — it’s absolutely crucial. Stepping off a plane and trying to establish connections and organise meetings is practically impossible. You need someone to show you the ropes and help with introductions.
Natan: Countries like India and Israel are already doing this — helping their people establish themselves in places like Silicon Valley. Having a support structure and appropriate resources available makes launching your business into new markets significantly easier. Currently there is no ‘soft landing’ for Africa in Silicon Valley and En-novate aims to change that in the near future.
Speaking of Silicon Valley, you recently took a bunch of local tech entrepreneurs there, so what was your takeaway from that trip?
Natan: That South African entrepreneurs are just as good as other entrepreneurs. We tend to look at Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and view them as untouchable; this is not the case, we just need to travel to Silicon Valley to learn this. I also witnessed how hungry our entrepreneurs are for global exposure, and on the other side, how keen international companies were to meet the South Africans.
Dan: But what they lack is access to opportunity and international business platforms, and there’s no reason for this. Africa offers tremendous opportunity, and being situated in South Africa provides you with everything you need take advantage of these opportunities. But it requires a mind-shift. Entrepreneurs need to start thinking global. We hope to help them do this by showing them that there’s a whole world of opportunity out there.
Want to go global?
If you’re an entrepreneur looking to expand your horizons, it’s worth visiting the En-novate website to find out about the trips that they are planning for the near future.
Entrepreneurs on En-novate trips are either funded by a corporate sponsor or self-fund, but there is a fairly tough selection process.
As you’d expect, spots on these trips have already become hotly contested. Visit www.en-novate.co.za, and click on ‘Apply’.
The greatest limitation placed on your business is often your own vision. Great entrepreneurs aren’t afraid to think big.