Silicon Cape’s Boitumelo Menyatswe Has Big Plans For Cape Town’s Tech Ecosystem

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At the age of 28, Boitumelo (Tumi) Menyatswe is helping lead one of the continent’s biggest tech ecosystems – Silicon Cape, a Cape Town-based non profit organisation bringing together tech entrepreneurs, developers, investors and other stakeholders.

Menyatswe was recently appointed as the hub’s new ecosystem manager, she forms part of its new all-female leadership team.

Menyatswe has extensive experience in the tech space. She was last year listed as one of the top five innovators to look out for in 2017 by Barclays Africa Group‘s fintech innovation hub, Rise, and was listed as one of 50 inspiring women working in technology and innovation by the global initiative Inspiring Fifty.

She is also a tech entrepreneur and is the founder of Minderz, an online platform that enables pet owners to find reliable and vetted sitters to perform tasks like pet sitting, dog walking, pet boarding and drop in visits.

Diverse and inclusive

Menyatswe’s appointment forms part of ongoing efforts to help the Western Cape’s tech ecosystem shed its “boys club” tag, Dr Sumarie Roodt, chairperson of Silicon Cape said in an interview with It Web following the announcement, and to create a more inclusive and diverse ecosystem.

“The old boys’ club analogy is no longer applicable. The organisation prioritised diversity as a key focus area some years ago, and has spent and continues to spend dedicated resources on creating a diverse workforce internally as well as being an activist in the ecosystem driving the agenda,” Roodt said.

The face of South Africa’s tech landscape continues to be mostly white and male-dominated. A 2017 Ventureburn Tech Startup survey found that while the number of black tech startups has gone up, successful tech startup founders are still most likely to be white males from the Western Cape.

The gatekeepers

In her new role, Menyatswe says she plans to tackle the lack of diversity head on and from multiple angles.

“We tend to attribute the lack of diversity in most previously male-dominated industries like technology to the company culture, and the fact that the gatekeepers of these industries aren’t representative of the communities that they operate in. From my experience, it’s a combination of a lot of lip service without measurable results, and not understanding the complex set of structural and social challenges that come with each phase of the tech pipeline from a South African perspective.”

Menyatswe shares her plans for Silicon Cape and what she wants the future to look like.

Q: How do you think your experience as a techpreneur has prepared you for your new role?

I think my experience has afforded me the ability to be empathetic, as opposed to sympathetic, when trying to address certain challenges in the ecosystem, because I believe when one operates from an empathetic viewpoint there is a different outcome that comes about from the work that we do.

I’ve been fortunate to have worked and engaged with various stakeholders in the ecosystem, so I have a good sense of what some of their challenges are and what essentially drives them. From a Silicon Cape perspective, I’m able to confidently identify the “right stakeholders” to collaborate with or not collaborate with for the desired outcome of a more inclusive and diverse ecosystem.

Q: What are your three areas of focus in your new role?

The playing field in the South African workforce has never been neutral and in most cases I think we tend to forget that when having conversations about diversity and inclusion, aiding the process of self-awareness for different stakeholders where they can take a step back and be honest about what’s currently happening.

In collaboration with key stakeholders and visionary leaders in the ecosystem, assist in getting to a point where we truly understand the social, psychological and structural barriers in each phase of the technology pipeline and then come up with a framework that we can use in coming up with solutions for some of these barriers.

I think an important focus point for me would also be looking into ways in which Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Lagos can collaborate better to achieve impactful results and avoid duplication.

Q: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing Cape Town’s tech scene right now?

Recognising the value that diversity brings to decision making, being deliberate about creating shared value and having the uncomfortable, but necessary conversations. In South Africa we tend to want to defend ourselves a lot when having discussions about diversity and inclusion, and unless we deal with this stumbling block not much is going to change.

Q: How do you think the ecosystem can become more diverse?

I’m in no way an expert in diversity, but I think it boils down to representation and influence. I know that this is something that can’t be achieved overnight, but that the different stakeholders in the ecosystem need to set specific goals and be specific about achieving them.

There are many initiatives in the ecosystem that are aimed at addressing the issue around the lack of diversity and we need to get to a point where we measure the results, if there are any. The role of leadership is to answer questions and provide solutions to the positioning of black talent while retaining diversity, getting to more ethical decision making, and genuinely crafting solutions from an empathetic point of view.

Q: Despite the challenges, Cape Town’s tech ecosystem is still regarded one of the best on the continent, what can other African ecosystems learn from it?

There is significant collaboration and conversations taking place because I think most people (I would like to think) have realised that Cape Town’s technology sector has a unique opportunity to demonstrate leadership in providing sustainable innovative solutions which also solve many continental challenges.

A lot can be learnt from organisations like Wesgro and Silicon Cape regarding their ability to adapt to what is required of them and quickly move to the next value adding “activity”. These ecosystem enablers prioritise the creation of an enabling environment for all stakeholders involved in service of companies to be world-class and thrive.

Q: Why do you think you’ve been so successful as an entrepreneur?

I’m not sure what your definition of success is, but not underestimating the importance of my voice and my role in this entrepreneurial community, which tends to be male-dominated, has been key.

What I’ve been able to do so far has had an impact on where I am as an individual and where I want to go. It has always been about making sure that other young black women like myself know that it can be done. That you can grow up in the dusty streets of Phokeng, get yourself in the tech industry and most importantly add value and change the narrative. You need to get yourself into the conversations, understand why certain decisions are being made and be bold enough to challenge some of those decisions.

Q: Where do you see Cape Town’s tech scene in the next five years?

I think if we continue in the direction we are currently [going in], of a more collaborative, diverse and inclusive ecosystem, I believe we are going to see the tech scene producing more sustainable companies solving for critical local problems because the companies and people building them will have the understanding required to do so. The overly optimistic part of me is also seeing the African tech ecosystem move away from the current Silicon Valley model and mode of doing things, especially when it comes to funding early stage businesses.

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Michelle Strydom
Michelle Strydom
I'm a journalist for online publication, SME South Africa. I'm a BA journalism graduate from the University of Johannesburg. My areas of focus when it comes to writing are entrepreneurs, startups, marketing and funding. I also enjoy creative writing and proofreading.