Innovation incubators.

Why is it that the US manages to generate so many innovative businesses that grow into billion dollar companies? One of the reasons is the popularity of co-working business spaces in this innovative country. The number of such co-working spaces is growing fast — from only 14 spaces in 2007 to 5 476 in 2020. These shared office spaces are concentrated in convenient or transit-centred locations.

They are focused on maximizing tenants’ efficiency by providing high-speed Wi-Fi; but also fun extra perks such as ping-pong, relaxation zones, and more. They are ideal workplaces for freelancers and entrepreneurs who dislike working in isolation. They can work at the co-working centre and become part of a vibrant, collaborative community instead. Some of these spaces can accommodate up to a thousand smart, super-driven and creative entrepreneurs, feeding off one another’s energy and creativity.

We need something like that in South Africa, but no such luck. Instead, we get the medium-term budget policy statement by Tito Mboweni last Wednesday. He actually admitted that we cannot continue doing what we do, but then he gives a failing SOE like SAA another R10,5 billion! The rand immediately weakened to R16,40 against the US$, emphasizing the fragility of our currency and clearly indicating that should we default on our debt like Argentine and Ecuador did, we would see a massive devaluation of the rand.

So, we all know the rand should strengthen; SA equities should recover from a very low base; US technology companies are expensive; SA has to cut costs and increase growth;  there is a second wave of Covid in some countries; and so on and so forth; but trying to figure out how the markets will eventually react is just not possible.

What we do know, though, is that there are thousands of very clever, ambitious and driven youngsters in the US, China and South Korea going to their co-working spaces daily and developing the next generation of billion dollar companies, and we should get ourselves some of that!

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