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Swiss Crypto Valley boost for SA’s blockchain start-ups

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The University of Johannesburg (UJ) is looking to support African start-ups using blockchain technologies.

The university says as small businesses pursue efficiency and better ways of serving customers, blockchain can be especially useful for these companies as a way to conduct transactions and even raise capital.

For example, a business could adopt blockchain technology to simply accept crypto-currency as a method of payment, it says.

In light of this, the Institute for Intelligent Systems (IIS) at the UJ, in collaboration with Crypto Valley Venture Capital (CV VC), an investment company based in Zurich, Switzerland, announced the creation of the blockchain ecosystem.

The programme will disperse working capital to assist African start-ups that develop products and services based on blockchain technology.

The fund aims to support up to 100 African start-ups, and this will include setting up incubation hubs, mentorship and investment opportunities.

Creating African hub

The joint project aims to support the development of an independent ecosystem in SA by transferring the know-how and experience from Swiss Crypto Valley to serve as a hub for Africa, says the UJ.

It notes blockchain is one of the technology megatrends of the future, with independent consultants forecasting its business value-add will reach a staggering $3.1 trillion by 2030.

CV VC will invest $11 million (R170 million) over the next four years, and the fund is currently supporting four start-ups based on the continent.

The Swiss company notes the African contingent of ‘incubatees’ is reflective of its global investment strategy, to invest in blockchain’s wider applicability to solving problems and creating new markets, beyond crypto.

The incubation programme is a precursor to CV VC’s public-private partnership with the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, which intends to see CV VC build the first blockchain-focused accelerator for Africa.

It notes the goal of this accelerator is to invest in 100 start-ups from the African continent over the next four years.

This accelerator will focus on start-ups that work across supply chain, healthcare, fintech and government sectors.

Commenting on the initiative, Véronique Haller, deputy head of mission for the Embassy of Switzerland to South Africa, says: “For 15 years, Switzerland and South Africa have been enjoying an intense collaboration in education, research and innovation.

“The first exchange between actors from both countries using blockchain solutions to tackle real-world issues was initiated in 2019. Switzerland, through its State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, is funding the blockchain ecosystem in South Africa project to promote innovative private sector initiatives – the idea is to kick-start the process to attract further investors and blockchain actors into the initiative.

“It will also allow Swiss knowledge, expertise and experience in blockchain, to contribute to the development of the South African and African blockchain ecosystems.”

In addition, the Swiss State Secretariat for Education Research and Innovation and the South African Department of Science and Innovation are actively pursuing research instruments; for example, joint projects, a research chair and academia exchanges as part of the blockchain ecosystem.

CV Labs has already incubated 22 successful global tech teams’ pathways to success. As the incubation arm of CV VC, CV Labs is the heartbeat of Crypto Valley, Europe’s leading blockchain ecosystem, which is already home to 12 unicorns and nearly 1 000 blockchain businesses.

Blockbuster blockchain

The UJ says one of its strategic thrusts is to lead Africa into the fourth industrial revolution. In order to fulfil its vision of driving the university's industry 4.0 initiatives, IIS operates through three main facets: academic development, strategic research and enterprise development.

Wesley Doorsamy, an associate professor and researcher at UJ’s IIS, says blockchain is rich with possibilities.

“This is a proposed solution for small businesses in the e-commerce space for supply chain management, energy trading and much more. We are striving to involve more young people in this exciting space, so they can develop the technical and entrepreneurial skills necessary to go out and innovate.”

Doorsamy explains the blockchain initiative will foster innovations in the design, use, ethics and regulation of decentralised, blockchain-based technologies.

“The future looks promising for start-ups that are looking to implement blockchain for better speed and security at lower costs.”

UJ also hosts the Coronet Blockchain Research & Innovation Chair in Blockchain for the African Continent, which is currently held by professor Nnamdi Nwulu. The chair is financed at $250 000 for a period of three years.

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