Western Cape people have a Silicon Valley mindset, says global digital innovation expert

The Western Cape is the country’s financial services headquarters, with buildings belonging to large banks, life assurers and asset managers peppering the landscape. Gathering momentum, meanwhile, in the province are technology-driven business ideas. For Lyndon Worrall, this is a reminder that Silicon Valley is a mindset, not a place. Adding to the selling points for international investors is that Cape Town attracts major airlines, while the province’s universities produce highly skilled graduates. He suggests that, with a bit more of a push, the Western Cape could become one of the world’s success stories in challenging Silicon Valley as a site for the development of exciting innovations. – Jackie Cameron

Silicon Valley Is A Mindset Not A Place

By Lyndon Worrall* 

The headline to this article is not original. It’s a quote many will recognise as being attributed to Reid Hoffman, legendary Silicon Valley investor and famous founder of the professional networking platform LinkedIn, as well as author of various best-selling books. Hoffman’s trailblazing work Blitzscaling: The Lightning-Fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Companies offers a powerful insight into how Silicon Valley companies were – and are still – able to scale exponentially and at such extraordinary speed.

Lyndon Worrall
Lyndon Worrall

Considering Silicon Valley as a state of mind, rather than as a fixed place in time and space, is the only way to really understand its rise to prominence and enduring dominance in the world of digital innovation. That’s not to say that as a location Silicon Valley hasn’t benefitted from a unique combination of factors that have contributed to its success.

The region’s proximity to top-notch universities like Stanford and Berkeley means it’s well placed to take advantage of outstanding research facilities that are a magnet for global talent, especially in the disciplines of engineering and digital development. It not only has access to the biggest concentration of venture capital in the world but can also tap into an eco-system that’s primed to provide all the necessary support services a start-up may need in order to drive growth and access relevant target markets. Accelerators, incubators, manufacturers and logistics specialists are all on hand to take your big idea to the next level.

The key to understanding the success of the Silicon Valley mindset lies in its willingness to embrace failure as opposed to fearing it. The Silicon Valley approach is all about trial and error: if your business fails, let it fail fast and then start another that might succeed. The logic being that if you spend too much time worrying about whether or not you might fail, you’ll ultimately be too timid to innovate.

In my experience, this culture is very much front and centre when you visit companies in Silicon Valley – but it’s an approach that has transcended its physical roots and is now being replicated around the world. At Legacy Ventures we’ve identified several hotspots with Silicon Valley potential. London is still probably the second most desirable launch-pad for new businesses but newcomers like Lisbon, Berlin, Helsinki, and Stockholm are hot on its heels, while China is undoubtedly best-placed to challenge the US in leading the way in artificial intelligence.

Where does South Africa fit in? As a country, it’s not currently challenging the leaders for market dominance. However, the Western Cape has the potential to make its mark on the world stage. It is without a doubt the creative hub of the country where an attractive climate and congenial place to live and bring up a family meets a business-literate government supportive of the start-up community. The region is also home to some of the largest and more enterprising investment funds in the country, as well as to savvy independent investors with a knack for spotting emerging performers.

Like Stanford, the Western Cape has world class Universities in UCT and Stellenbosch which produce highly skilled individuals and which are successfully embracing the technology mega trends of the future.  The Western Cape also already hosts a number of remarkable companies poised to disrupt their markets like Jumo World for example in the fintech space. Amazon Web Services, one of the fastest growing companies in Jeff Bezos’ Amazon empire has in fact its origins in Cape Town going back to 2006.

With direct flights taking a maximum of ten hours and connecting travellers to London, Dubai, and Bombay, the region is also viewed by many international investors as the gateway to unlocking opportunities on the rest of the continent.

If we take a leap of faith and allow ourselves to be guided by the Silicon Valley mindset and culture, there’s no reason why its approach to digital innovation can’t be replicated the world over.

  • Lyndon Worrall is Co-Founder and Managing Director of the London-based company Legacy Ventures which for the past seven years has been taking international executives on high-level immersions and introducing them to some of the most innovative companies in Silicon Valley. South African clients have included, among others, the De Beers Group. Lyndon is contactable on [email protected]
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