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Brains trust puts SA on world stage

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South Africa’s untapped brains trust and knowledge network of expatriate assets around the world will soon be activated to help the country be more competitive in realising a better return on innovation and entrepreneurship across both the private and public sectors.

A new initiative, operating from California’s Silicon Valley, launched this week in association with a number of prominent South African private and public sector partners. Dubbed The SABLE Accelerator (South African Business Link to Experts), the business affinity network features an illustrious board of advisors and academic faculty of South African born loyalists.

The SABLE Accelerator has been formed by three South Africans living in Silicon Valley and London and features a core consulting team of influential South African expatriates holding senior positions at international technology, life science and agri-business companies; consulting and professional service firms; venture capital and private equity funds; as well as research and academic institutions, including the new venture spawning ground of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

The international partnership group (LLC) is dedicated to helping South African entrepreneurs, new venture start-ups, academic institutions and companies commercialise technology innovations, promote and protect intellectual property, fund new business concepts, finance growth, as well as expand into global markets.

“We are building a trusted knowledge network of well-placed and highly connected global South Africans who can make a meaningful difference to the country’s brand image and competitive position in world markets,” says Donovan Neale-May, one of the co-founders and managing partners, during a trip to South Africa.

Neale-May runs a global marketing consultancy and is executive director of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council, a worldwide membership group of 6 000 corporate marketers controlling more than $300-billion in aggregated annual marketing spend. He is a graduate of Rhodes University and serves on the university’s board of governors. The CMO Council is among a number of organisational and private sector partners supporting the formation of the SABLE Expert Network. Other partners include the law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosatti, Silicon Valley Bank, NetLine, Nomad Ventures, Hasso Plattner Ventures, Wesgro, GlobalFluency, BizCommunity.com, SAGoodNews.co.za, and Brand South Africa.

“There is an amazing South African talent pool offshore that is eager and motivated to give back and contribute to socio-economic development in their country of origin,” adds Nils Flaatten, CEO of Wesgro, The Western Cape Destination Marketing, Investment and Trade Promotion Agency. Flaatten has joined the board of SABLE and will collaborate closely with its founding members and expert network worldwide. He notsd that countries like India, Taiwan, Australia and Israel were highly advanced in forming expatriate support networks to fund and promote new venture starts and South Africa needed to mobilise its resource base as well.

SABLE members have already referred potential investors to the Western Cape agency and many of its early meetings and consultations have been with technology ventures based in Cape Town and surrounding areas. In addition, academics from the technology transfer and innovation offices of both UCT and Stellenbosch serve on the faculty of The SABLE Accelerator. Other South African universities represented include Rhodes University and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

Earlier this year, SABLE members met separately in Silicon Valley with National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel and Deputy Minister of International Cooperation and Relations Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim. The meetings were hosted by South African academics at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in Palo Alto. This included the dean, Garth Saloner, and the professor of finance, Jonathan Berk.