Current and aspirant youth entrepreneurs have been urged to use the services of the revamped digital Innovation Bridge Portal as an enabling tool to advance their business.

The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the Department of Small Business Development, in partnership with the World Bank, have launched the revamped Innovation Bridge Portal, a digital platform for enabling young innovators to access the vital services needed to grow their businesses.

Dr Blade Nzimande, minister of higher education, science and innovation, says this collaboration is meant to harness the innovative and entrepreneurial energy of young people both locally and across the Southern African region to boost their business acumen and expand their businesses to grow the local economies.

“The Innovation Bridge Portal, brings together public and private sector stakeholders in the entrepreneurship ecosystem to benefit innovators and entrepreneurs. Through promoting collaboration among ecosystem stakeholders, the portal serves as a “one-stop shop” repository of information on opportunities and networks,” he says.

The portal is expected to be the ultimate catalyst for enabling entrepreneurs and innovators to thrive, promoting economic growth and job creation in South Africa and neighbouring countries.

Nzimande says that, over the past months, the Innovation Bridge team has engaged various ecosystem contributors, directing support to underserved entrepreneurs through incubation and mentorship that allowed these entrepreneurs to critique the performance of their respective models in the market.

During the launch event of the portal, a group of 14 entrepreneurs from South Africa, Namibia and Lesotho pitched their ideas for possible funding opportunities, mentorship and training. Ranging from a reworking of the age-old tradition of stokvels to using digital mapping to track cattle, the ideas pitched were both creative and aimed at addressing societal needs.

Abiri Innovations, a South African start-up that provides integrated mapping systems for peri-urban and rural areas, was named Most Promising Entrepreneur at the pitching event. Energetic Nosihle Dlamini’s start-up company Get2Natural Beauty, which produces scientifically approved hair and skin products for African people, won the Best Pitch award. And the Most Innovative award went to Joseph Nyamariwata for his Simple Influence start-up, which connects marketers with vetted influencers and launches marketing campaigns online.

Commending the region for its wealth of talent, Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, World Bank country director for Eswatini, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa, expresses the hope that the portal, and the ecosystem, will continue to grow from strength to strength.

“This is certainly possible in the Southern African region, given the wealth of talent and resources in the ecosystem,” says Marie-Nelly. She also emphasises the need for Africa to pool its resources to strengthen the ecosystem and remove existing bottlenecks.

With high youth unemployment both locally and on the continent, South Africa is investing heavily to enable young people to access the skills needed to succeed in launching their own businesses.

Dr Phil Mjwara, director-general of the Department of Science and Innovation, says that while it might seem that new technologies were reducing the demand for some types of jobs, greater innovation was in reality driving new sectors of growth. “Therefore, we need to start thinking about how to replace those jobs that are gone with something slightly different.”

He adds that creating a vibrant start-up community and helping young entrepreneurs with ideas to build their businesses was extremely important, and had motivated the government to support the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in developing and revamping the Innovation Bridge Portal.