Talking government in innovation

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Innovation doesn't happen without a catalyst, various support structures and the right ecosystem. It requires a combination of effort from tech companies, financial backing from investors, a healthy regulatory climate, favourable legislation from government, and support in the form of small business incubators.

This was the focus of a panel discussion on the second morning of AfricaCom 2015 in Cape Town. One of the more contentious topics under discussion was how government and the private sector can nurture an environment that encourages innovation.

According to Tim Harris, CEO of Wesgro, connectivity has become a new form of infrastructure for government. "While it may still be early days, this will add to the competitiveness of our region as a place to start and grow tech companies."

Ultimately, a robust infrastructure boosts open communication between government, the private sector and entrepreneurs, he continued.

Brett Commaille, co-founder and lead partner of AngelHub Ventures, expressed his concern that government funds are often spent fruitlessly because they are not making investments based on conversations and collaborations with industry experts.

In addition, he believes government needs to speed up the process of applying for and securing support funding. He suggested they do so by working more closely with the private sector.

The panellists agreed current regulations are not creating an environment to promote innovation and acknowledged it is the responsibility of government to provide enabling legislation that allows entrepreneurs to create the technologies that allow more people to participate in the economy. They also agreed there is a real need for an alignment between policy and innovation.

But this is not solely the responsibility of government, noted Vuyisa Qabaka, executive director for Entrepreneur Traction.

"Often the players in the ecosystem - the innovators and entrepreneurs - don't take enough time to understand the policy environment and take note of what politicians actually do for a living."

And part of the process of creating a sustainable ecosystem should focus on driving engagement around legislation and policy, he continued.

Essentially, the government's role is to upskill the population and provide cheaper and faster infrastructure to the market, concluded Harris. "Infrastructure - particularly fibre - is something government can provide to really foster innovation."

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