At 9:00 a.m we drove to the tallest building in Cape Town, to meet a startup called Zai Lab founded by Nour Addine Ayyoub. After lunch we headed inland to the wine region, Stellenbosch, to visit the Stellenbosch University’s new startup accelerator program, Launchlab. At the end of the day we managed to stop by at a vineyard to try out their wines and to find an amazing restaurant for dinner.

The first excursion begun by stepping in one of the fanciest buildings in Cape Town; we were escorted to the brand new office spaces of Zai labs, which are still being renovated according to the vision of the CEO. It felt like we were stepping into a spaceship. In fact, everything about Zai Labs felt space related. The CEO told us he is a massive Sci-Fi fan, which can be seen even in the product design. The meeting started with a presentation about what Zai Lab does and how they approach design and their business and continued with a presentation of the office spaces and the product itself.

Zai Lab is a self funded start-up building a communication platform for large corporations, creating not only the software for communication between customers and agents, but also creating physical booths for both the agents and the customers. The excursion inspired discussion between the Fellows about the possible strengths and weaknesses of the product. Their goal for launch is in January and we are looking forward to seeing how it goes.

At Stellenbosch we visited Launchlab, which is an accelerator/incubator for startups, using the university’s research IP that the students and professors come up with in Stellenbosch. The program head, Johnathan Smit, gave us a really interesting presentation about the startup ecosystem in South Africa, how the environment is very special but also has many similarities with the rest of the world, i.e the largest age group is the youth but a remarkable proportion cannot read. They explained that the Africans need to create their own solutions to solve their own problems and the start up ecosystem is focusing on social entrepreneurship and impact. The Launchlab is in close co-operation with the university and even sometimes the researchers become CEOs of companies using the IP created by their research. However it is also normal that students with a very good product/IP do not want to become entrepreneurs, since they have better future prospects in working for others. The Launchlab people compared the accelerator and University to Standford and the Silicon Valley due to many similarities, i.e geography, small town-feeling and University-to-accelerator collaboration. They also mentioned, that just like everywhere else, there is a huge demand for developers even though the accelerator is right next to the faculty of computer science.

An interesting day was a very nice to finish off with great South African wines and amazing dinner.

02 Dec. 2015
Okko and Laura Wirtavuori