Disrupting The Odds

An entrepreneur uses his laptop near graffiti-decorated walls at Hubspace in the Khayelitsha township. Emily Jan/NPR

An entrepreneur uses his laptop near graffiti-decorated walls at Hubspace in the Khayelitsha township. Emily Jan/NPR

Entrepreneurship always catches our attention, especially when the odds appear long from the standard perspective:

Far From Silicon Valley, A Disruptive Startup Hub


Starting a business is tough anywhere.

But when you live in a place where many people lack basic services, such as electricity and toilets, it’s even harder.

These are the obstacles facing new business owners in South Africa’s townships — sprawling communities designated for nonwhites during apartheid. Apartheid may be history, but two decades into democracy, townships remain overwhelmingly disadvantaged.

Internet service and office space are difficult to come by. There are few sources of investment from within the community, and if you manage to interest a potential funder who is an outsider, you have to hope you can manage to travel to a meeting.

Despite these obstacles, entrepreneurs across the country’s townships are forging ahead. And while starting a business in a township remains difficult, it may be getting a little easier — in large part to a growing company called Hubspace. Cropping up in cities around the world, communal offices like Hubspace offer small businesses a place to work — and network — with other entrepreneurs.

‘A Cool Space’

A sprawling township about 20 miles outside central Cape Town, Khayelitsha is home to roughly a million people. More than half live in shacks. It’s here, on the second floor of a two-story brick building, that Hubspace opened the country’s first township entrepreneurship hub in 2013.

Hubspace Khayelitsha has a tidy boardroom and plenty of tea and coffee. There’s also a shared landline and a street address. In a township like Khayelitsha, these simple office perks can be game-changing for a fledgling business.

Like many in the room, 25-year-old Cuba has been an entrepreneur since a young age. Last year, he and a group of friends put together an online newspaper, the Times of Ulutsha, to share stories of Khayelitsha.

When a friend first brought Cuba to Hubspace, he was hooked.

“Damn,” he remembers thinking during his first visit, “this is a cool space.”

Not far from the computer where Cuba pulled up the design for Slinch, two other young men leaned back on a couch nearby, typing on laptops near a stack of business magazines. Music from a Detroit hip-hop group floats quietly from speakers through the room, muffled by large canvases on the walls with spray-painted words like “GROWTH” and “PROFIT.”…

Read the whole article here.

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