5 Big Ideas from the 2018 CLC Africa Lean Innovation Safari

Creative Leadership Collective’s inaugural Innovation Safari revealed five major themes around innovation in the local context

Held from 22–24 April, the 2018 CLC Lean Innovation Safari introduced delegates from across South Africa to the Cape Town innovation ecosystem and provided a networking platform for like-minded peers, both in and across the corporate and tech startup spaces.

The three-day event was jam-packed with site visits, presentations and Q&A sessions, networking dinners, a Lean Innovation Metrics Masterclass with Dr Marc Sniukas, and a keynote address by Michael Jordaan to inspire collaborative thinking and offer a glimpse into the future of innovation in business.

The site visits in particular delivered keen insights, as delegates were invited behind the scenes of eight of the city’s most successful startups and scale-ups, where their founders unpacked the secrets to their processes.

CLC founder and Innovation Safari troupe leader Paul Steenkamp said that the safari had three main objectives. It was designed to give guests a glimpse of the future and a sense of the art of the possible; help them to better integrate their organisation into the Cape Town innovation ecosystem; and meet peers who are leveraging lean innovation practices to improve their innovation outcomes.

Although common fundamentals of the innovation space such as ‘solving for the user’ and ‘iterating along lean lines’ were ever-present throughout the Safari, five big themes emerged from the collective conversations, observations, presentations and questions over the course of the event.

1. Make money by making a positive impact.

It’s possible to make an impact by solving for South Africa and Africa’s many problems while creating capital. This was a common thread throughout the Safari. 

Saidah Nash Carter, Head of Strategic Partnerships and Innovation at Thomson-Reuters, opened this conversation in her keynote address at the launch dinner at the award-winning 12 Apostles Hotel.

While theirs is a purpose-driven lab, says Saidah, they’re unapologetic about being capitalists. ‘We’re committed to the idea that you we don’t have to be one or the other; you can be very good at innovating and driving a business forward and having a positive impact.’

This was evident in all of the businesses we visited, where positive impact solutions have firm foundations in commercial viability.

2. Solve the problems you can solve.

So what are these problems? An image that cropped up more than once was the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, which look to tackle problems ranging from ‘Clean water’ to ‘Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure’.

While these massive goals are impossible for one innovation lab to solve, we can tackle smaller, meaningful problems within these contexts and within our own backyard, as we saw with JUMO, SweepSouth, HydraCorp, Click2Sure and RLabs.

Marlon Parker from RLabs gave a particularly moving account of how his community-based, community-led incubation and support programme grew from a small project to educate a group of ex-gangsters about computers and the internet, into an international movement with activities in 21 countries around the world.

Interesting conversations emerged between the peers with the realisation that many problems find common purpose across the public and private sectors, and that collaboration and partnership in solving these could be mutually beneficial.

3. Collaboration and partnerships are key.

It was clear that local corporates and startups are still tip-toeing around each other when they could be tapping into each other’s strengths and bolstering weaknesses.

Common fears and reservations on the corporate side hold that startup culture will be too disruptive, unmanageable or risky; on the startup/scale-up side, there’s the fear that corporates will micromanage and ultimately drown their energy with admin.

‘If we can address these problems, collaboration between corporate and startups can be maximised to benefit both parties,’ says Barry Botha of HydraCorp, who gave key insights into this problem and urged corporates to tap into the startup space as low-risk innovation hubs and product builders.

Bruce Adrain, Head of Innovation Capability Build at Liberty Group, CLC Founding Friend and notable corporate figurehead said he was interested in seeing what was on ‘the other side of the playground’.Agreeing that there needs to be more ‘collisions’ with corporates and startups, Adrain pointed out that the cultural aspect of this would always be a key area that needs to be managed.

The solution, he says, is to focus on people.

Kazi Technologies co-founder, Thando Hlongwane, explained how they’re matchmaking startups looking for mobile and web-development, and/or corporates looking to develop low fidelity prototypes with student-led developer teams.

4. People drive innovation

Strip away the flashy phrases and textbook processes, and the foundation of innovation practise is people: your attitude, the people you’re solving for, people you’re trying to win over, people you’re working with.

More than just creating a physically enabling environment (shout-out to JUMO for their Star Wars themed space), it’s about what you’re cultivating with the people on the ground – on the client side and in-house.

This message came through loud and clear with the first site visit at online insurance scale-up Click2Sure with Daniel Guasco and Wayne Gosling. Their policies of customer first, radical candour, autonomy and fearlessness informs the culture of their working environment and product development.

In his keynote speech at the Monday night networking event, Michael Jordaan stated that ‘startup culture will eat corporate strategy for breakfast’ and it’s just this sort of thing he’s talking about.

Drilling deeper, people are what make sourcing local solutions for local problems imperative.

Diversity of culture, experience and demography create specifically South African or African needs, and these must be foregrounded and distinguished from the very different problems faced in developed countries.

Michael reiterated the need for new talent and strong business to solve local, real-world problems and not to simply build more ‘stupid’ apps.

5. Your data is your product evolution.

Where there are people, there is data. Each one of the tech businesses we visited cited data as the most valuable tool in their innovation process, whether that data was collected in face-to-face or form Q&As, back-end analytics or front-end user inputs on apps and websites.

Aisha Pandor of SweepSouth gave a particularly interesting breakdown on how her website and app’s back-end data provided the information they needed to make the incremental change to their product that significantly improved their user base and bottom line.

Investing in data collection to drive your ‘minivations’ and incremental change means reduced risk and greater clarity on what needs to be done moving forward.

It was an energetic three days of networking, dinners, lunches, laughs and connecting with the local leaders who are leveraging innovation to drive systemic change, increase well-being and generate competitive advantage within, across and for Africa.

‘TIL NEXT TIME

A big thanks to our key speakers Michael Jordaan and Saidah Nash Carter, as well as Scott Walker and Ben Mainwaring who represent the Newton Fund and have been tasked by Innovate UK to foster connections between the UK and SA. We also heard from Dr Jody Rusch about exciting innovations in the world of medicine – which was very exciting stuff that we were happy to hear about after dinner.

A big thanks also to all the hosting and guest organisations and their teams, including: Dan Guasco and Wayne Gosling from Click2Sure HoldingsBarry Botha from HydraCorpLtd, Richard Perez and Keneilwe Munyai from the d-school, Lea-Anne Moses from Media24, Marlon Parker from RLabs, Paul Whelpton and Charl du Plessis from JUMO, Thando Hlongwane from Kazi Technologies and Aisha Pandor from SweepSouth.

We’re also grateful to the inspiring women entrepreneurs who catered for us at the Nasdak luxury rooftop. They’re receiving customised business development support via the innovative 2030-UP! programme.

Last but not least, congratulations to our safari bursary winner, startup entrepreneur Morné du Plessis from www.looktech.co.za, as well as Quintin Claassen, a 3rd year BBusSc Quantitative Finance student at UCT, who won a seat to attend the MJ keynote address.

Coming up…

Wish you could’ve been there and worried you missed out on something? Well, you did! But no worries, over the next few weeks, we’ll be drilling into the information gathered from each of the sites in separate posts, so you’ll get a taste of the local insights that will help you do business better.
And if you’d like to be made aware of the next Innovation Safari, get on the mailing list by visiting www.clcafrica.com or emailing paul@clcafrica.com.