After an eventful 2016, it is a relief to start the New Year with fresh optimism. I trust that you had a good break and are looking forward to a positive 2017.
At the end of November last year, I was fortunate to participate in the week-long Discovery MedTech Entrepreneur tour to Silicon Valley in California. Our tour group of 25 included people from Discovery; medical technology entrepreneurs from companies of various sizes; and media representatives. The purpose of the tour was to expose South African MedTech entrepreneurs to the innovation ecosystem that is Silicon Valley.
What an experience it was! Silicon Valley, which incorporates parts of San Francisco, Palo Alto and San Jose, is not that big geographically but it is home to 40% of all the technology innovation that takes place in the world every year. It also is the place where venture capital, ideas and technical talent meet with unparalleled results.
Silicon Valley has an environment designed to encourage and foster innovation, by giving entrepreneurs access to venture capital while at the same time removing as many bureaucratic obstacles as possible. The California Government has deliberately cut red tape to encourage small business development, and promotes entrepreneurial education through all the major centres of learning in the Valley.
The universities in the greater Bay area actively focus on and encourage entrepreneurship. For example, at the University of California, the Bio-Medical Research laboratories are packed with state-of-the-art research equipment that would be unaffordable to most life sciences entrepreneurs. But, thanks to nominal time-based costing models, start-ups can use the equipment for their research and development.
Another good example is the Bio-Design Centre, part of the Stanford University Medical School. One of its programmes pairs post-graduate medical doctors with mechanical engineers for two years full time for the purpose of identifying and solving real-world health and life sciences problems, and then turning the solutions into viable start-up companies.
The goal is to increase business and employment, and ultimately to boost the economy of San Francisco and California.
We visited a number of start-up companies, and what really struck me was the age of the teams. Most are younger than 30, brimming with confidence, energy and passion. It made me feel old!
A highlight of the trip was a visit to the Tesla factory in San Jose. Tesla is of course the pioneering electric vehicle manufacturing company founded by Pretoria-born Elon Musk, who is quite literally changing the world. The scale of his vision and drive is simply staggering, and the cars, by the way, are beautiful.
It was encouraging to meet a number of South Africans in Silicon Valley. There is certainly no shortage of talent and good ideas emanating from our small country.
On this entrepreneurial note, I wish you all the best for 2017. I truly hope that politically and economically it proves to be a better year for South Africa.
Till next time. - Andrew