Johannesburg - Canada’s aggressive recruitment of South African technology entrepreneurs to further its goals of job creation and economic stimulation should be a wake-up call to the South African government, as the country stands to lose vital skills, industry pundits say.
Next month representatives will arrive in the country to help South Africans join the Canadian government’s start-up visa programme, which offers visas and other necessary aid to relocate.
Canada was open for business to the world’s start-up entrepreneurs, while innovation and entrepreneurship were essential drivers of the North American nation’s economy, said Jason Kenney, Canada’s Immigration Minister.
“We need people who can build companies that will create new jobs, spur economic growth and compete on a global scale, hence our new start-up visa,” Kenney noted.
These goals are no different from those the South African government has articulated, with specific emphasis on the growth of the small and medium enterprise segment to stimulate the economy and boost job creation. But it faces the herculean task of preventing local talent from following the footsteps of great South African inventors Elon Musk, Vinny Lingham and Mark Shuttleworth, who now enjoy their fortunes abroad.
Canada, which is home to troubled smartphone maker BlackBerry, ranked 14th in the Global Competitiveness report 2013-14, published by the World Economic Forum last month, down from ninth in 2009.
It slipped four places in factors related to innovation and business sophistication, which was a real concern, Michael Bloom, the vice-president of organisational effectiveness and learning of The Conference Board of Canada, said at the time. South Africa ranks 53rd out of 148 countries from 52nd out of 144 last year.
Roger Norton, the head of marketing and communications for the Silicon Cape initiative, supported the exposure that the initiative presented for entrepreneurs but said: “It is very concerning that they are relocating talent from here and it should be a big wake-up call to the South African government.” Silicon Cape is a non-profit community of technology entrepreneurs, angel investors and developers who aim to create more start-ups.
The Canadians are promising funding, access to North American markets and an opportunity to compete with global developers.
“South Africa has a reputation for technological innovation, some of the brightest professional engineers and generally backed up with a commonly held ethos of entrepreneurial spirit and hard work, all of which are sought after in the technology space,” said South African Gary Boddington, who now lives in Canada. Boddington is accompanying Mike Edwards, a tech entrepreneur in Canada, to recruit start-ups in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban between November 18 and 22.
They will be looking for new software companies, which have graduated from the incubator stage and are earning early-stage revenue.
“It definitely is a serious negative,” Steven Ambrose, the chief executive of Strategy Worx, a business technology consultancy, said on Friday.
“The context is very simple. We live in a world where tech skills are very scarce,” he said, adding that not enough science and maths graduates were being produced.
Mteto Nyati, the managing director of Microsoft South Africa, which runs BizSpark, a start-up outreach programme, said: “The unintended consequences of the action by the Canadians is improvement of conditions for entrepreneurs, globally or in the countries they are targeting.
“We should be happy with this development.”
He added: “Canada’s understanding of the youth unemployment challenges is matched by relevant actions aimed at addressing the problem. They are putting their money where their mouth is. This is something we have to learn to do as a nation.” - Business Report