SA Innovation Summit 2020: Trailblazers of female entrepreneurship share what it takes to make it in business


In the lead up to the SA Innovation Summit 2020 – Africa’s largest start-up event – attendees gathered for the first time online for the launch of the Female Founder Takeover; a day dedicated to the female entrepreneurs who are breaking barriers and staking their claim in the world of innovation. Run in partnership with the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), the aim of the day was to empower South African women in tech and tech-enabled start-ups with the entrepreneurial and leadership skills they need to launch and grow their own businesses.

Proceedings began with an opening by Puleng Makhoalibe, the Founder of Alchemy Inspiration, who spoke with Tervern Jaftha, the Head of Incubation at SEDA and a Commissioner on the Presidential Committee for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Together, the pair unpacked the growth of female entrepreneurship in South Africa and explored the role SEDA plays to enable women-owned businesses.

“Females are key to developing the [South African] economy into the powerhouse that it can be,” said Jaftha. “Their caring nature means they will spend more time nurturing their business to ensure it grows properly. In addition, women are highly resilient in that they are able to succeed while managing multiple tasks. This is hugely attractive to investors, and as such, women will be the ones to drive future growth. A higher percentage of support must now go to female founders in terms of resources and guidance – this means creating more programmes focused specifically on them.”

The opening address was followed by a fireside chat hosted by Carmelle Cadet, the Founder and CEO of Emtech, who explored what it takes to run a business and what more needs to be done to grow female entrepreneurship in Africa. She was joined by a roundtable of African trailblazers of female entrepreneurship, including Walda Nxange, the Founder and CEO of Ngovu Wanawake, Titi Akinola, the Head of TEFConnect at the Tony Elumelu Foundation, and Jihan Abass, the Founder and CEO of Lami Insurance. Together, they discussed how entrepreneurship acts as a catalyst for African socio-economic development. They also addressed various issues facing women in business, such as their questioned ability, as well as the mental fortitude required to endure in male dominated environments.

In her response to this, Akinola emphasised the importance of a robust network, saying that, “We often want to do things on our own, but there is power in working together and having role models to look up to. The confidence to ask for help is key to growing successfully in your entrepreneurship journey.”

This was supported by Nxange, who added that having confidence in one’s ability is an integral part of entrepreneurship: “The foundation of any strong business is resilience. Building this demands that you back yourself and that you create a normal for you that is sustainable. If you are not feeling well, you cannot drive your company forward.”

Abass concluded the session by saying that, “To be confident, you’ve got to understand what it is that you are trying to do and be sure of your capability to add value. Doing so will help you put your best foot forward.”

Another highlight of the day was the official launch of the Breaking Barriers publication, which details new research conducted into the experiences of women driving technology start-ups in Southern Africa. Hosted by the Southern Africa Innovation Support programme, the document delves into the importance of having female-driven entrepreneurship in the technology sector as well as the challenges that many women encounter in local tech ecosystems.

Auri Evokari, a research fellow at Loughborough University in London who helped write the publication, explained that, “Communities are catalytic for ecosystem development but issues such as self-doubt and sexism often deter women from entrepreneurship, or severely complicate their ability to excel. In addition to aiding their businesses financially, we mentally support and encourage female entrepreneurs to succeed by sharing their story. This combination of support in turn spurs development in Southern Africa.”

The rest of the day saw 20 female-led start-ups who participated in the Fem-in-Tech entrepreneurship development programme pitching their businesses to potential investors during four sessions of the Demo Day. During these sessions, attendees were also given expert advice on pitching from the likes of Lelemba Phiri, Principal at Africa Trust Group; Abu Cassim, Founder of Jozi Angels; and Gavin Reardon, Managing Partner at Kingson Capital.

To find out more about this years’ event, go to

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The SA Innovation Summit is the largest startup event in Africa. The Summit provides various platforms for developing and showcasing African innovation, as well as facilitating thought-leadership. We bring together top entrepreneurs, investors, corporates, policy makers and thought leaders to support startups and inspire sustained economic growth across Africa.