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Calling SA’S Top Startups: The Age Of The Entrepreneur – South Africa Leading A Start-Up Boom

  • 4 min read

Light at the end of the tunnel

The coronavirus appears to have unleashed more than a pandemic but also a wave of entrepreneurial resilience through small business startups, which have been more active now than at any time in over a decade. Showing that there is light after a very long tunnel. 

The crisis exposed South Africa’s biggest challenge: its job market. Out of a working-age population of almost 40 million people, only 15 million South Africans are employed, which includes 3 million jobs in the public sector. Although this is a worrying statistic, it seems to have spurred entrepreneurs on to forge new paths. So far, The Financial Times group has recorded South Africa as having the second highest number of startups in Africa, after Nigeria, since the beginning of 2020.

One of the sectors showing a surge is the digital one, which could in the future become a major engine of recruitment. Cape Town alone, dubbed the “tech capital of Africa”, has over 450 tech firms that employ more than 40 000 people. In 2020, a total of 1.2 billion rand of disclosed investments went into its tech startups, according to the World Bank.

SA’s Top 5

Now more than ever, it’s imperative that we highlight key players in our local startup community and celebrate their wins and the resilience they’ve shown in the face of the massive challenges they have had to face amongst a declining economy. 

Since 2017 entrepreneur education platform Heavy Chef has been hosting a credible annual “Top 5 Most Exciting Startups” list that has previously included some of the most successful startups in the South African business landscape. This year, in partnership with Xero and PayFast, they’d especially like to include those that took risks and are rewriting the rules on how new companies work during the pandemic.

“We have a lot to celebrate. Despite all the looting, pillaging and plague-ing going on in 2021, we’ve all been working hard,” says Fred Roed, Heavy Chef CEO. “We entrepreneurial folk tend to sweat behind our laptops until the very last working day, then look up to see that the year has gone. These awards are intended to remind us of the phenomenal projects that have been started on local shores.”

Past winners have ended up being the epitome of the success story. 2017 winner Yoco raised just over R1.2 billion in Series C funding to scale their digital offerings and expand to new markets. Winners from the other years, like SweepSouth, LifeCheque, DataProphet, YeboFresh, Bathu and Jumo are making just as big a splash in their respective sectors, proof that our entrepreneur community can recognise a really good solution when they see it.

Call to action

This is your chance as a community to submit your entries before the end of November and the shortlisted nominees are announced prior to the annual event. The criteria being that the entrants must be operational for less than seven years, have their own IP and be scalable. 

“Having been on the judging panel for the last two iterations of SA’s Top 5 Most Exciting Startups I’m always excited about what the event represents and means to the local startup ecosystem,” adds Heavy Chef Foundation Chairman Lukhanyo Neer. “Given the seemingly unending health and economic crisis that’s engulfed the world, as the HC Foundation we’ve been particularly impressed by how entrepreneurs and startups have toiled in the face of unprecedented challenges. This event is a fitting way of recognising and rewarding the efforts of SA’s best startups.”

The winners will be announced at both a public and livestream event on Thursday, 2 December. It will be hosted by the newly crowned World Champion of Public Speaking 2021, Verity Price and entertainment will be provided by Aron Halevi, (co-founder of Freshlyground), and Divine Mahara, (who wrote the ‘Heavy Chef’ song). 

Register your worthy nomination simply by clicking on this link:

Event details: Thursday 2 December 2021. Workshop 17 Watershed, 17 Dock Road, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town at 18h00.  R250 per ticket (free for Heavy Chef members).

For tickets visit: