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Don’t mind the gap: Silicon Cape to learn from London

London, one of the world’s financial hubs, is undergoing a process of bolstering its image as a city working towards the best interests of tech companies and startups.

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This is according to the Lord Mayor of London Michael Bear, who was in Cape Town on a short trip to help foster relations between the UK and South Africa. As part of his itinerary, he took part in a round table discussion with members of the Silicon Cape initiative and some of the city’s up and coming entrepreneurs.

The Lord Mayor noted that there is no reason why Cape Town, or any other emerging market destination could not do the same.

He was flanked by Silicon Cape chairman, Rob Stokes – an organisation created to promote tech entrepreneurship in the Cape Town and wider South Africa

Pointing to London, the Lord Mayor said that one of the most important examples of the city’s new “tech friendly” approach has been the establishment of an innovation warehouse at the heart of the city.

According to the warehouse’s blog, it was established as a place where “entrepreneurs with high growth potential, to meet, work, and collaborate with the investment community and the industries supporting their entrepreneurial activities”.

Another innovation has been the decision to situate the city’s tech companies in clusters, where they can feed off each other.

“In the East of London, we have 300 IT companies in a cluster,” said the Lord Mayor. “The sort of model… of clustering these businesses together is the way forward”

A partner of choice

Bear outlined that the purpose of the discussion was to foster relations between Cape-based companies and the City of London. The CEOs of these companies would also have the chance to ask questions on a variety of topics, including the best ways for startups to get a foot into London, what London has to offer them as a city and why they should consider London in the first place.

Stokes, who is also CEO of marketing agency Quirk underlined the importance of the visit, saying that for many South African businesses the first opportunity to expand “will be to the UK”.

The Lord Mayor, who is of South African extraction, reiterated that the United Kingdom was committed to doubling bi-lateral trade with South Africa.

“South Africa is seen as a partner of choice for us”, he added, “I’m here to try and re-establish our credentials as a partner of choice”.

London still open

He then sought to reassure the assembled CEOs that London is still a viable destination for startups looking to expand internationally.

“London is actually doing okay in challenging times,” he said, adding that recent economic and political turbulence in the UK had not dampened London’s attitude of openness toward foreign workers and entrepreneurs.

“We always look at what it is that makes us competitive” and, according to the Lord Mayor that frequently means attracting foreign expertise. He claims that evidence of this lies in the fact that some 35 percent of the city’s workforce holds a foreign passport.

“We are blind to nationality and blind to ownership. We don’t mind as long as people pay tax,” he said.

Although the Lord Mayor could not give specific advice on how South African companies should attempt to find UK funding, he did make a firm commitment to tapping such firms into London’s rich financial scene.

Two-way investment

He was keen, however, to reiterate that the investment would be two-way. The Lord Mayor also stressed that the UK government was very keen on tapping into the areas where South Africa has an advantage over the UK:

“To survive in the modern economy you needs to have one of the three C’s: Commodities, you have that, Surplus Cash, you’re much healthier than surplus cash than we are, Creativity, it’s innovation and that is really what differentiates that those who are going to make versus those who aren’t”.

“I’ve seen immense creativity here,” he said, adding that “We hope you get the very clear message to say that we’re here to see what we can do for each other”.

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