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Creating Africa’s Own Geek Valley

One of Africa’s successful tech entrepreneurs, Vinny Lingham, is bringing his experience home from the United States to nurture his dream of building Silicon Valley in Africa.

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Woodstock and Stellenbosch in South Africa’s Western Cape are mere dots on the world’s IT map, but they could be Africa’s answer to Silicon Valley in the United States.

Tech entrepreneur Vinodan Lingham wants to make sure South Africa does get its own Silicon Valley and is putting his money where his mouth is.

Five of Africa’s top 20 tech companies are based in this small area of the Western Cape. Some of these companies are making waves on the global tech scene. One of them is internationally recognized Yola, which came second in FORBES AFRICA’s Top 20 Tech Start-Ups in Africa.

Yola is designed to assist small businesses by creating websites for free, initially. You only pay when your company advances and needs a more advanced website.

Lingham founded Yola in Silicon Valley in 2007 and lives there now. He says although adjusting to American culture was difficult, it only took him six months to get funding for his brainchild from JSE-listed Reinet Investments.

With offices in both San Francisco and Cape Town, Yola started out with venture capital of $25 million, but Lingham admits that starting Yola from scratch was not easy and credits naivety for his courage.

“Naivety breeds confidence. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have gone,” he says.

Seeing a large market opportunity, the likely chances of success crushed any doubts or fears the then 28-year-old may have had. Now 33 and one of Africa’s shining tech stars, Lingham was born in the Eastern Cape in South Africa during apartheid to a poor family, and was raised in a segregated area designated for Indians. With the end of the regime, his family rose to middle-class status so he could go to multi-racial Hudson High School, and then on to the University of Cape Town to study information systems.

“I was a total technology geek at school—definitely very entrepreneurial and probably the only person in school who could program when I was there.”

A successful entrepreneur with a third business to his name now, being a varsity drop-out has not deterred him along the way.

“I dropped out of varsity because my family couldn’t afford for me to study there.”

Being a permanent resident in California’s Silicon Valley for nearly five years now, Lingham has been around some of the tech world’s best brains, and says South Africa still has a long way to go.

“The skills are not at a high enough level. A lot of people go out and do theoretical stuff. There aren’t enough partnerships with businesses. Students come out of varsity with no skills. ”

Matthew Buckland, founder of Creative Spark, a digital agency based in Cape Town and a member of the Silicon Cape Initiative, agrees with Lingham.

“Universities also need to come to the party. Many of the world’s great start-ups were conceived at universities. We have a long way to go, but we’ll get there. Entrepreneurs are the future.”

The entrepreneurial spirit appears contagious in the Cape air. And people like Lingham make it look more attractive and tangible.

“I think Vinny is a machine. He’s an inspiration to many and it’s tough making it in San Francisco. I think it is positive for tech entrepreneurs in Africa. Vinny will gain valuable skills and networks that he’ll bring to the continent,” says Buckland.

Lingham criticizes that entrepreneurial spirit and says that, unlike back in California where most of the tech fundis started their companies during their university studies, he thinks the quality in SA is there but it could be better.

“The quality is there, but there’s not enough [of it]. There are about 50 honors students graduating a year from computer science and even less graduating with a Masters.”

Alan Knott-Craig Junior, owner of MXit, and digital media guru Matthew Buckland agree.

Knott-Craig Junior and Lingham cite the lack of updated cable infrastructure of the cables. Lingham criticizes Telkom’s monopoly as having a direct hand in the slow growth of the technology sector.

All three have a vision for the tech industry on the continent.

“I think there is a burgeoning start-up scene in parts of Africa, but it is still miniscule by world standards. Local venture capitalists need to put down real money on the table. They are far too cautious here, talk a big game and deliver little,” says Buckland.

Knott-Craig wants to conquer Africa through his social networking application; it enables users to use Instant Messages at a cheaper rate than SMSes on any applicable phone, not just smartphones.

Lingham sees the light at the end of the tunnel, but in his view it is obstructed by a confused giant.

“Law makers are getting in the way. South Africans just get ripped off on everything and the money isn’t even going to the poor. The Telkom monopoly hasn’t ended.”

Buckland agrees: “Government needs to come to the party with incentives and tax breaks for start-ups like the governments in the UK and France do.”

Hence the inception of the Silicon Cape Initiative, a vision that Lingham (among others) hopes will produce a mini Silicon Valley. It’s a 20-year non-profit vision, based on the same idea as Silicon Valley in San Francisco. It serves as a networking community, enabling self-started companies to have access to each other, and share knowledge and make it global. Funding for the initiative is foreign, and the aim is to expand SA’s talent to new shores.

“The innovation locally is doing well, but the problem is that globally we’re nowhere close to competing with the world. Companies coming out of Cape Town are trying to build new companies for a new market.”

Buckland acknowledges the efforts made by Lingham and company.

“Silicon Cape is an amazing concept. It’s run as a non-profit company by very busy people who do it on a pro bono basis. For the resources it has at its disposal, it has made amazing strides. Silicon Cape is both an idea for inspiration and a reflection of a reality taking place on the ground.”

He credits the guys in the Cape, saying: “The easy part is joining a corporate and learning the ropes. The hard part is coming up with something innovative—most people shy away from that. South Africans need to embrace failure. Young people have little to lose and can still take chances before reaching 30. Just focus on a certain problem that people aren’t working on.”

Entrepreneurs

From The Arab World To Africa

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Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi; image supplied

In this exclusive interview with FORBES AFRICA, successful Dubai-based Emirati businesswoman, author and artist, Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi, shares some interesting insights on fashion, the future, and feminism in a shared world.

Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi wears many hats, as an artist, architect, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She currently serves as the CEO of Paris London New York Events & Publishing (PLNY), that includes a magazine and a fashion house.

She runs Velvet Magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication in the Gulf founded in 2010 that showcases the diversity of the region home to several nationalities from around the world.

In this recent FORBES AFRICA interview, Hend, as she would want us to call her, speaks about the future of publishing, investing in intelligent content, and learning to be a part of the disruption around you.

As an entrepreneur too and the designer behind House of Hend, a luxury ready-to-wear line that showcases exquisite abayas, evening gowns and contemporary wear, her designs have been showcased in fashion shows across the world.

The Middle East is known for retail, but not typically, as a fashion hub in the same league as Paris, New York or Milan. Yet, she has changed the narrative of fashion in the region. “I have approached the world of fashion with what the customer wants,” says Hend. In this interview, she also extols African fashion talent and dwells on her own sartorial plans for the African continent.

In September, in Downtown Dubai, she is scheduled to open The Flower Café. Also an artist using creative expression meaningfully, she says it’s important to be “a role model of realism”.

She is also the author of The Black Book of Arabia, described as a collection of true stories from the Arab community offering a real glimpse into the lives of men and women across the Gulf Cooperation Council region.

In this interview, she also expounds on her home, Sharjah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE and the region’s educational hub. “A number of successful entrepreneurs have started in this culturally-rich emirate that’s home to 30 museums,” she concludes. 

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Kim Kardashian West Is Worth $900 Million After Agreeing To Sell A Stake In Her Cosmetics Firm To Coty

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In what will be the second major Kardashian cashout in a year, Kim Kardashian West is selling a 20% stake in her cosmetics company KKW Beauty to beauty giant Coty COTY for $200 million. The deal—announced today—values KKW Beauty at $1 billion, making Kardashian West worth about $900 million, according to Forbes’estimates.

The acquisition, which is set to close in early 2021, will leave Kardashian West the majority owner of KKW Beauty, with an estimated 72% stake in the company, which is known for its color cosmetics like contouring creams and highlighters. Forbes estimates that her mother, Kris Jenner, owns 8% of the business. (Neither Kardashian West nor Kris Jenner have responded to a request for comment about their stakes.) According to Coty, she’ll remain responsible for creative efforts while Coty will focus on expanding product development outside the realm of color cosmetics.

Earlier this year, Kardashian West’s half-sister, Kylie Jenner, also inked a big deal with Coty, when she sold it 51% of her Kylie Cosmetics at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The deal left Jenner with a net worth of just under $900 million. Both Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty are among a number of brands, including Anastasia Beverly Hills, Huda Beauty and Glossier, that have received sky-high valuations thanks to their social-media-friendly marketing. 

“Kim is a true modern-day global icon,” said Coty chairman and CEO Peter Harf in a statement. “This influence, combined with Coty’s leadership and deep expertise in prestige beauty will allow us to achieve the full potential of her brands.”

The deal comes just days after Seed Beauty, which develops, manufactures and ships both KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, won a temporary injunction against KKW Beauty, hoping to prevent it from sharing trade secrets with Coty, which also owns brands like CoverGirl, Sally Hansen and Rimmel. On June 19, Seed filed a lawsuit against KKW Beauty seeking protection of its trade secrets ahead of an expected deal between Coty and KKW Beauty. The temporary order, granted on June 26, lasts until August 21 and forbids KKW Beauty from disclosing details related to the Seed-KKW relationship, including “the terms of those agreements, information about license use, marketing obligations, product launch and distribution, revenue sharing, intellectual property ownership, specifications, ingredients, formulas, plans and other information about Seed products.”

Coty has struggled in recent years, with Wall Street insisting it routinely overpays for acquisitions and has failed to keep up with contemporary beauty trends. The coronavirus pandemic has also hit the 116-year-old company hard. Since the beginning of the year, Coty’s stock price has fallen nearly 60%. The company, which had $8.6 billion in revenues in the year through June 2019, now sports a $3.3 billion market capitalization. By striking deals with companies like KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, Coty is hoping to refresh its image and appeal to younger consumers.

Kardashian West founded KKW Beauty in 2017, after successfully collaborating with Kylie Cosmetics on a set of lip kits. Like her half-sister, Kardashian West first launched online only, but later moved into Ulta stores in October 2019, helping her generate estimated revenues of $100 million last year. KKW Beauty is one of several business ventures for Kardashian West: She continues to appear on her family’s reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, sells her own line of shapewear called Skims and promotes her mobile game, Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Her husband, Kanye West, recently announced a deal to sell a line of his Yeezy apparel in Gap stores.

“This is fun for me. Now I’m coming up with Kimojis and the app and all these other ideas,” Kardashian West told Forbesof her various business ventures in 2016. “I don’t see myself stopping.”

Madeline Berg, Forbes Staff, Hollywood & Entertainment

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Entrepreneurs

Covid-19: Restaurants, Beauty Salons, Cinemas Among Businesses That Will Operate Again In South Africa As Ramaphosa Announces Eased Lockdown Restrictions

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South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation announcing that the government will further ease the country’s lockdown restrictions.

Restaurants, beauty salons, cinemas are among the businesses that will be allowed to operate again in South Africa.

The country is still on lockdown ‘Level 3’ of the government’s “risk adjusted strategy”.

President Ramaphosa also spoke on the gender based violence in the country.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I stand before the women and the girls of South Africa this evening to talk about another pandemic that is raging in our country. The killing of women and children by the men of our country. As a man, as a husband, and as a father to daughters, I am appalled at what is no less than a war that is being waged against the women and the children of our country,” says Ramaphosa.

Watch below:

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