Kizito Okechukwu, left, the co-chairperson of GEN Africa, and former statistician-general Dr Pali Lehohla during their recent visit to Business Report’s Johannesburg offices.Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency/ANA
JOHANNESBURG - Last week, I was honoured to be invited to the now much talked about Investment Conference, hosted by President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

As I mingled among the various captains of industry, ministers and deputy ministers, premiers and members of civil society, there was a tangible aura of excitement in an environment abuzz with positivity.

The majority of the speakers were in unison about the importance of investing in South Africa and the great economic potential it possesses. This included the eager, work-hungry youth, the country’s gateway status to the continent and the keen understanding South Africa has regarding the value of partnerships and collaboration. During the conference, many significant short- and long-term commitments and pledges were made.

Ramaphosa announced that the total investment raised at the conference was R290billion, while the envoys had also received pledges of R400bn from various global institutions. The next step is signing on the dotted line and bringing these commitments back home.

Here are some of the key investments I think are worth noting and some opportunities for start-ups to tap into:

* Sappi R7.7bn: Potential small medium enterprise (SME) participation in its value chain.

* Mondi R8bn: Potential SME participation in its value chain.

* Mara R1.5bn: This is one of the more impressive investments. Ashish Thakkar, who heads up telecoms company Mara, announced that it would be manufacturing cellphones in South Africa, making it one of the first African-made mobile devices.

* Naspers R6bn: Also impressive, as they have committed half of their investments to fund tech start-ups.

* Industrial Development Corporation: R3.6bn earmarked to support entrepreneurs.

* Amazon: The company has committed to build the Amazon Web Services cloud computing regional centre in South Africa - significant as it allows start-ups to build on their platform.

* Other investments: Vendatta Resources R21bn; Bushveld Minerals R2.5bn; Anglo American R71.5bn; Rain R1bn; Mercedes-Benz R10bn; Sumitono Rubber R970million; Sanral R9.5bn; Naamsa (the national group of car manufacturers) R40bn; Nestlé R663m; P&G R300m; McDonald’s R3bn; Aspen R3.3bn; Vodacom R50bn; Aqua Power R28.7bn; BRICS Development Bank R29bn; MultiChoice R1bn; Tokio Marine R1.3bn; Green Climate Fund R1.3bn

Many, if not most of the investing company’s executives were quick to stress the importance of involving the communities in which they operate and to ensure that start-ups and small businesses are also prioritised and given more opportunity to benefit from these investments.

It will be interesting to see if all these lucrative funding initiatives actually do in fact present small businesses with opportunities. I’m quietly confident they will. Any economy that leaves its start-ups in a cold, frustrating place does so at its peril. Thriving economies like Germany and France are extremely important case studies for South Africa. Countries such as these are the industrial heartbeats, the banking bedrock of Europe at large, thanks to the abundance of SMEs in their value chains.

We’ll all concur that the recently concluded investment conference is a big step in the right direction. Perhaps the next discussions should borrow from Europe and focus on how we build our own capable, strong and diversified SMEs that can support, boost and strengthen the economy.

Kizito Okechukwu is the co-chairperson of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN). 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest start-up campus.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media