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Techies, startups, entrepreneurs pile in for Silicon Cape meet

There’s a growing startup scene at the tip of Africa. And it was more evident than ever at a Silicon Cape networking event on Tuesday evening.

The energy and passion that the organisers of the Silicon Cape Initiative, a body formed to promote entrepreneurial activity in the tech sector, have been putting into South Africa’s tech community appears to be paying dividends.

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About 700-800 inspired geeks, boffins and enterpreneurs descended on a picture-perfect evening to network at the event — and whereas last July’s winter gathering of Silicon Cape was a sober, intellectual affair in Woodstock, this gathering was a celebration with local mobile phone network Cell C generously picking up the whopping bar tab.

It wasn’t all fun and games though. After Silicon Cape Chairman Rob Stokes’ gracious introduction where he referred to Silicon Cape as a “rallying point for entrepreneurs”, it was the turn of Vincent Maher of local mobile social networking startup Motribe, to take the stage with a passionate discussion of the vital role that cloud computing has played in the growth of his business.

This was followed by seven aspiring entrepreneurs taking to the stage and doing elevator pitches of their startup ideas. The energy for this part of the programme was great but the entries were disappointing. From the predictable (business process software) to the downright bizarre (something about Rocky Horror and underpants?) to the eventual winner (really just a variation on the well-known Springleap’s T-Shirt Crowdsourcing theme), the entrants failed to shower themselves in glory.

But the mood picked up again when the duo behind Twangoo, the startup recently bought by international ecommerce superstar Groupon, took to the stage. Wayne Gosling and Daniel Guasco spoke about how it all began and their plans for Groupon South Africa.

Gosling told the story of how Stokes approached him, suggesting that the company “gets big and sells to Groupon” a few weeks ago, not knowing that Gosling’s partner was actually signing the deal with Groupon at that very moment.

The event appeared to be a roaring success, but if there is a place for criticism, then it is this: Silicon Cape is still a little too male, a little too pale and possibly a little self-satisfied. Pats on the back and insider gossip made it feel like a trendy, exclusive club of the comfortable and the well-heeled.

Perhaps it was just the venue, or the time of year but the hunger of young entrepreneurs and the burning desire to create breakthrough technologies didn’t seem to be in the air last night.

The formal side of the event concluded with Lars Reichelt, CEO of Cell C, introducing a breakthrough technology (MyTools) from his organisation that represents a seamless coming together of mobile and cloud technologies.

Enthusiastic applause and tweets seem to indicate that Cell C has developed a winning technology:

“Cell C is stepping up the battle with MTN and Vodacom with Google-like cloud services for mobile phones #siliconcape”

“Reichelt calls smartphones “app phones”. Says 8 out of 10 South Africans will use them by 2015 #SiliconCape #CellC”

“Customised voicemails can be used for specific callers. A world first by @cellc. Demo looks good.”

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